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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

THE HORROR OF VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS

Last year I had a posting entitled, RAINBOWS, KILAUEA AND GOLF.  For reasons that confound me, this entry regularly registers among the top ten viewed for the day.  I don't think "golf" is the reason.  Possibly, "rainbows" might be the attraction, for  TEACHING RAINBOWS is regularly pinged.

I think, though, that volcanoes are the greater allure, for EYJAFJALLAOKULL, KATLA AND KILAUEA has received considerable attention.  People are particularly interested in natural disasters, and volcanic eruptions are constantly occurring.  That's big E to the right in 2010, causing considerable grief to European flights.

The Washington Post recently had an article about why volcanoes are erupting all over the place right now.  Of the theories mentioned, one had to do with a minute change in the rotation of Planet Earth, and second...GLOBAL CLIMATE WARMING!  Love this topic, for volcanic eruptions make for spectacular photos.  So here is another one from Iceland.


The journal, Terra Nova, showed that changes in the Earth's rotation tended to be followed by increases in global volcanic activity.  Basically, cracks are induced due to stress variations and magma rises to the surface.

The greater cause, however, is suspected to be climate change, for historically, the loss of planetary ice not only increases sea levels, but results in a significant spike in volcanic activity.  For example, 19,000 years ago, glaciation was at peak, with even much of Europe under ice.  Mind you, this is a time in history when farming had not yet developed.  Volcanic eruptions became much more frequent.  But it takes time, for it was between 12,000 and 7,000 years ago that the global level of volcanic activity rose by up to six times.  Iceland, already one of the most active sites, in that period was 30 times more active.  Why?  Ice sheets are heavy, where the absence of ice reduces rock stress, allowing magma to ooze up to the surface.  I might add that volcanic eruptions add carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


Activity is waning in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, but has picked up in Iceland (above), Ecuador Indonesia, Mexico, Japan and Hawaii.  Mount Ontake, 130 miles west of Tokyo suddenly erupted this past Saturday trapping 250 hikers:


Thirty six are confirmed dead and 32 are still missing.  Watch this spectacular footage.

There are 110 live volcanoes throughout Japan, and the biggest worry is Mount Fuji, located 60 miles from Tokyo:


While the last major eruption was in 1707, scientists have linked the Great Tohoku earthquake of 2011 to risky subsurface conditions under Mount Fuji and have expressed considerable concern.


The front page headline of the Honolulu Star Advertiser was Kilauea's UNSTOPPABLE FLOW, referring to the molten lava heading for Pahoa.  While the flow has slowed, there seems to be a sense of inevitability that the town will in time be consumed.  No plans are being considered to slow or stop the activity for fear that the damage could occur somewhere else.  That photo shown on the front page was a failed attempt in 1986 to stop the advance into Kalapana using water.

Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes happen right away.  Hurricanes and lava flows are incessant, and all you can do is hope that the storm fizzles or goes elsewhere, and the eruption to stop.  Kilauea (right) has now been exuding molten rock for more than 30 years.  What are the odds?

As I assess this posting, it occurred to me that I shouldn't have used horror in the title, for these two depicted eruptions are almost trivial relative to the truly great ones.  As for example:

  • The 1980 Mount St. Helens explosion, while only producing around one cubic kilometer of material, about one-fourth of a cubic mile, was nevertheless much more severe than Kilauea and Mount Ontake.  Well, actually, I did some research, and it turns out that in 31 years, Kilauea has produced about one cubic mile of lava, so I guess, this is not inconsequential.
  • The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on what is now Indonesia emitted 160 cubic kilometers, and caused global cooling.
  • In 1783 Laki on Iceland erupted, and killed 6 million people, including a million in Japan (from famine), but less than 10,000 on the island.
  • Between 1650 and 1500 BC, Santorini (today to the right) in the Mediterranean destroyed the Minoan civilization, and cause famine in China, leading to the collapse of the Xia dynasty.
  • Around 70,000 years ago, Lake Toba (over a volcano), also Indonesia, had an eruption that, it is said, killed most of humanity, leaving, perhaps 3,000 humans alive.
  • How they get this info should be interesting, but 132 million years ago, when Africa and South American had not yet separated, there was an eruption of 8,600 cubic kilometers.
So, mentally change "horror" in the title above to "anguish."

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Tropical storm Phanfone is now at 60 MPH, will attain Category 3 strength, head straight for Japan, but, if computer models are right, will pass north of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, and should turn northwest, skirting the eastern coastline of the country:


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1 comment:

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