Kilauea Update: No Eruption, Some Refilling of Middle Rift Zone

Update, October 21, 2018: From an October 18th HVO update:

A slight inflationary trend near and east of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō suggests that magma may be refilling the middle East Rift Zone. Low seismicity and reduced gas emissions do not indicate that the magma is shallow, but HVO continues to closely monitor this area and will report any significant changes.

Original post:
This VEI 3 eruption, which actually began in 1983 at Pu’u O’o, doesn’t seem to be over yet.

On October 16th, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) reported that ground deformation indicates that the middle East Rift Zone is refilling (current status updates here). This would be around the area of the Pu’u O’o crater.

Recall that this past May, the LERZ eruption that made headlines all summer was preceded by floor collapse at Pu’u O’o, followed by the disappearance of the summit lava lake, which had filled a crack at Halemaumau, the summit crater, that first opened up in 2008.

And here is what the Halemaumau area looks like today. As volcanologist Erik Klemetti notes, much of it slowly collapsed after the lava lake drained.

This volcano is a very dynamic place.

We will just have to wait and see what Pelee has planned next for Kilauea’s neighbors and a watching world. I’ll continue to add significant updates at the Kilauea page linked up top.

Here’s the HVO Kilauea page

Featured image: Grace Simoneau/FEMA via Wikimedia


Guest Videos: Veniaminof Volcano in Alaska

Credit later corrected to A. Eckert and Captain J. Timmreck)

Credit later amended to note that video was captured by A. Eckert

Here’s what it looks like from space:

And this is what Veniaminof looked like (from a distant town) when it erupted in 2013, per the National Weather Service:

More information:

Alaska Volcano Observatory:

Wikipedia page

Global Volcanism Program page

Featured image: Cyrus Read/Alaska Volcano Observatory/US Geological Survey

Guest Videos: Fire and Ice

I saw some news recently about possible increased activity in some Icelandic volcanoes and was confused about where the threat was.

There was an outburst flood (indicating heat near the surface) from Vatna Glacier, and an uptick in seismicity at Bárdarbunga volcano (which is partly covered by Vatna), probably because the Bárdarbunga system is inflating again, after its 2014-2015 eruption, as fresh magma moves into the system).

There are so many active volcanoes here, with such exotic-sounding names to a native English speaker, that it is easy to get them confused. These events actually involved separate activity at two of the most impressive volcanoes in Iceland.

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June 3, 2018, Fuego Eruption

July 18, 2018: I had to back off from the horror of this disaster, even though I don’t know anyone involved; volcanoes are beautiful, but they are so dangerous and they can change your world so quickly, yet so impersonally. Feeling better able to cope with this now and send love and encouragement to all Guatemalans. Here is an overview of things currently, from “The Guardian”:

June 10, 2018: It has been a week, and this is the last update, although the anonymous heroes continue to work in the midst of hot pyroclastic flow deposits, ongoing activity at the volcano, and tropical heat.

Per CONRED today, 197 are still missing, 110 are dead, and a total of 132 are injured (I don’t know the difference between damnificadas and heridas). Some 12,600 people are still evacuated and almost 4,500 people are homeless (though some have gone to stay with nearby relatives).

June 4: This is an amazing picture:

Now the hard news.

As of 5 p.m. local time, CONRED in Guatemala reported these figures:

  • 65 dead. This will probably rise, as rescue efforts reportedly were interrupted by a second eruption today, as well as a landslide.
  • 46 injured
  • 1.7 million people affected
  • 3,271 people evacuated and cared for
  • 1,916 people in shelters
  • 1 airport affected
  • 2 power grids affected
  • 1 bridge destroyed

Original post from June 3 follows.

I just heard about this.

Officially, at least 6 dead and tens of people injured. The Guardian reports multiple fatalities. (Update: At least 25 dead, hundreds injured. Per Reuters, “Officials said the dead were so far all concentrated in three towns: El Rodeo, Alotenango and San Miguel los Lotes.” The “lava” overflowing its banks s/l either a pyroclastic surge or a huge lahar, probably the former; doubt it was actually lava.)

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Guest Videos: Nyiragongo’s Lava Lake

Molten rock at Kilauea’s summit has disappeared from view, but the world’s largest lava lake is still bubbling away in the crater of Africa’s Nyiragongo Volcano.

The tricky part is getting down there to check it out.

It isn’t easy for tourists to approach Nyiragongo’s summit, either.

But the fascination of that incandescent glow is intense.

More information:

Smithsonian Global Volcanism page


OSU article on “The Most Dangerous Volcano in the World” (videos of Hawaiian lava flows aren’t from 2018)

Photovolcanica: Nyiragongo

Mount Rainier

This was first published at my other blog on May 3, 2014.

There is a king in the Pacific Northwest, his brow crowned in glittering ice.

Mount Rainier starts to rise only about 25 miles from the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. Today this beautiful Cascades stratovolcano, towering 14,410 feet above Puget Sound, dominates the skyline of towns and cities that sit on material that once made Rainier almost 2000 feet taller.

Flank Collapse

About 5600 years ago, around the time when the ancient Egyptians were getting organized, Mount Rainier’s northeast flank and summit collapsed. It was dramatic even as described by scientists, who say that a cubic mile (4 cubic kilometers) of flank and summit material (now called the Osceola Mudflow):

…washed across Steamboat Prow and Glacier Basin and then ran up to about the 6400-foot level of Goat Island Mountain and Sunrise Ridge. It then descended the White River valley 80 to 150 m (260- 490 ft) deep, spread out over 210 km2 (82 mi2) of Puget Sound Lowland 70-100 km (44-62 mi) from source, and flowed into Puget Sound, moving underwater up to 20 km (12.4 mi) to the present sites of Tacoma and the Seattle suburb of Kent. The contemporaneous phreatic and phreatomagmatic explosive eruptions blew hydrothermal clay and mud northeastward across Sunrise Ridge and spread pumice across an arc from south to northeast of the volcano. The Osceola edifice collapse left a horseshoe-shaped crater open to the northeast at Mount Rainier, much like the open crater formed at Mount St. Helens in 1980.

Mount St. Helens composite image by Ewen Roberts

Mount St. Helens composite image by Ewen Roberts.

Geologists believe that this collapse happened because the rock had been weakened by the circulation of hot, acidic water inside the volcanic structure. Over time, through many eruptions, Rainier built itself back up into the majestic but dangerous structure everyone today knows and loves.

The USGS says it has seen no change in the pattern and expects Rainier to continue growing, erupting and collapsing.

Volcanic Hazards

Today, about 80,000 people are at risk from a potential mudflow, also known as a lahar, from Mount Rainier, say experts at the United States Geological Survey (PDF). This could be triggered by the sort of volcanic activity that the USGS monitoring network would pick up, but it might also happen without warning as another flank collapse. Such a collapse, say the geologists, could reach Orting, Washington, in as little as 40 minutes.

For this urgent need, an acoustic network now surrounds Rainier. Pierce County, Washington, also is developing a specific volcanic hazard plan (PDF) for Mount Rainier.

No one wants to live in fear when there is so much beauty and wonder about this monarch of the Cascades. Having recognized its dangers, people are working to minimize them so that everybody can continue to enjoy this beautiful mountain.. This requires a lot of work but, as shown in Jayson Yogi’s video of a 2011 Rainier summit climb via the Emmons Glacier, difficult struggles have their own special rewards.

Update, July 17, 2014: “Detailed imaging of Mount Rainier shows subduction zone in glorious detail.” Scott Johnson, Ars Technica.

Front Page Image of Mount Rainier is by Michael Lehenbauer.


Mount Rainier,” United States Geological Survey: Volcano Hazards Program.

“Mount Rainier – Living Safely With A Volcano In Your Back Yard.” (PDF) USGS Fact Sheet 2008-3062

Timeline — B.C.” Air War College: Contents of 12,000 Year Timeline.

“Volcanoes of the Cascades: Their Rise and Their Risks.” Richard L. Hill. Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticut. 2004.

Fuego and Acatenango

This is a post from my other blog, Clear Sight, published on August 30, 2015. Since then, Fuego (Guatemala) has been very active; Acatenango, not at all.

There are two frequently active volcanoes in Latin America called Fuego (“fire,” in Spanish). English-speakers tend to refer to the one in Mexico simply as Colima, but Spanish-speakers also call it Volcán de Fuego, or just Fuego.

Today we’re going to look at the other famous Volcán de Fuego – the one in Guatemala – and its neighbor Acatenango, both of which are southwest of Atitlan and close to urban areas around Antigua and Guatemala City.

This Fuego is exciting, too!

(I’m pretty sure this video, taken at sunset, also captures the astronomical phenomenon known as the Belt of Venus…basically, Earth’s shadow as the Sun disappears beyond its limb!)

Those people are camping on the Fuego-Acatenango massif, a string of multiple volcanic vents. The massif runs perpendicular to the coast-hugging Central American volcanic front that’s related to the subduction of the Cocos tectonic plate underneath the Caribbean plate.

Indeed, thanks to the complicated plate-tectonic picture in this region, Central American volcanism happens in a number of distinct segments.

The volcanoes in this massif are at least 17,000 years old, fairly young in geological terms. Together with Agua, a third nearby colossus, they are the stereotypical pointy type of volcanoes (stratovolcanoes or composite cones). The ones that concern volcanologists and emergency planners are Fuego and Acatenango. In terms of hazard, briefly, besides the usual eruption effects they also tend to collapse unpredictably over geologic time.

1974 eruption (Image: Paul Newton, Smithsonian)

A subplinian VEI 4 eruption at Fuego in 1974. (Image: Paul Newton, Smithsonian)

Volcán de Fuego

Almost 4-kilometer-high Fuego Volcano was erupting in 1524 when the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado first saw it. There are many legends and historical reports (Spanish language) about Fuego.

Experts say that Fuego spends many years in basically an open-vent condition. The eruption captured on video above was one of its many small events, but this volcano has also had 60 subplinian explosive eruptions during historic times, most recently in October 1974.

Fuego’s last activity was a month ago, as of this writing, when per the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program website:

Based on INSIVUMEH notices, CONRED reported that for a 30-hour period during 30 June-1 July activity at Fuego was at a high level, characterized by explosions, high-temperature pyroclastic flows (that began on 1 July), and ashfall. Ash plumes rose 4.8 km above the crater and drifted 25 km W and NW, producing ashfall in 22 local communities. The majority of material deposited by pyroclastic flows was in the Las Lajas drainage. Activity decreased later that day. During 4-6 July, INSIVUMEH reported that explosions produced ash plumes that rose as high as 800 m above the crater and drifted 8-10 km SW and W. Incandescent material was ejected 100 m high, and avalanches descended the Santa Teresa and other nearby drainages.

Michigan Tech has an incredible Fuego web page – check it out!

Although the two volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango are physically joined together in an area called La Horqueta (“the fork”), their magma is very different. Fuego’s magmatic products have become more mafic (like basalt) over time, scientists report.

Fuego (left) and double-peaked Acatenango tower over nearby Guatemalan fields.  (USGS)

Fuego (left) and double-peaked Acatenango tower over nearby Guatemalan fields. (USGS)


This volcano sits a little to the north of Fuego and appears like Fuego’s twin, but its magma is the grey explosive type known as andesite. The ridge between Acatenango and Fuego is actually all that remains of a much older volcano called Meseta that may have begun forming some 230,000 years ago and remained active until as late as the last Ice Age.

From what I’ve read, I think Acatenango is a little older than Fuego, but don’t quote me on it. At any rate, both volcanoes are younger than the Los Chocoyos ash that Lake Atitlan laid down some 85,000 years ago. The current edifice called Acatenango is actually the second volcano to form there – the first one collapsed some 40,000 years ago. Twenty thousand years after that catastrophe Yepocapa, the northernmost of the current double summits, was in place. Next came the summit that’s called Pico Central or Pico Mayor.

This volcano’s eruptive history isn’t as well known as Fuego’s. Certainly it has had several prehistoric eruptions, but the first documented one was in December 1924, a VEI 3, on the north slope of Pico Central. Pico Central itself had a VEI 2 deruption from August 1926 to May 1927. The last eruption at Acatengo was on the Pico Central-Yepocapa saddle in late 1972 (VEI 1).

Left:  Debris avalanche remnants at modern Acatenango.  (Smithsonian)  On the right is the ashfall map for a major eruption at Fuego-Acatenango - note Guatemala City and Antigua are both at risk.  (USGS)

Left: Debris avalanche remnants at modern Acatenango. (Jim Vallance at MTU/Smithsonian) On the right is the ashfall map for a major eruption at Fuego-Acatenango – note Guatemala City and Antigua are both at risk. (USGS)

Volcanic hazards at Fuego and Acatenango

Landslides triggered by heavy rain or earthquakes are as much a hazard at the Fuego-Acatenango massif as are eruptions. So is the possibility of a major collapse on the scale of the flank failure at Mount St. Helens in 1980, which might or might not be accompanied by an eruption.

Magma breaks rock as it moves inside a mountain. This causes seismic activity that seismographs detect. Other eruption precursors include ground deformation and increased gassing. Guatemalan geoscientists are monitoring Fuego for these.

However, landslides and debris avalanches happen without warning. Landslides essentially happen anywhere on sloped ground when downward-moving forces are stronger than forces holding the soil in place. It doesn’t take much to trigger a landslide when the soil is saturated with water from rain or earthquake-induced liquefaction.

Volcanic landslides are much bigger in scale. They were first recognized at Mount St. Helens in 1980 (hard to miss, that!). They are absolutely terrifying both because of their size and their speed (over 60 mph/100 kph).

Such a collapse happened to the first edifice at Acatengo, when some 4 cubic miles (15 cubic kilometers) of material suddenly sped down to the Pacific coast in a huge flow that was over 30 feet (10 meters) deep. It moved so fast that it traveled easily over 19 miles (30 km) of essentially flat ground at the end of its run-out.

Events like this have happened at least twice at Fuego-Acatenango. Now 100,000 people live in the path of the next one.

I’d like to say that everybody is prepared for the volcanic hazards. Unfortunately, I can’t.

Not yet.

Featured image: Fuego, February 2017, from Acatenango, by Arden at Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

More information:

10 Terrifying Ways the Earth Can Kill You Quickly

This post first was published at my other blog.


All but 2 of the almost 30,000 residents of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, died minutes after Mount Pelee erupted, sending down a lethal pyroclastic density current in 1902.

All but 2 of the almost 30,000 residents of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, died minutes after nearby Mount Pelee erupted, sending down a lethal pyroclastic density current, in 1902. (Image: Wikipedia)

10. Gravity currents

Yes, gravity is the culprit when you fall off a cliff but let’s not forget its effect on things around us. It can cause gravity currents, which work a little like lava lamps, but are much more deadly.

The “lava” sitting on the lamp bottom is heavier (more dense) than the water. As the lamp heats up, this “lava” expands, becoming lighter (less dense), and it rises.

In the real world, you just need density or temperature differences in the same material. That’s what goes on in powder-snow avalanches and volcanic pyroclastic flows. Since cold air is denser than warm air, a gravity current can also rush down during a storm as a microburst. These things move fast. A loose snow avalanche, for instance, can whip along at close to 200 mph (300 km/hr).
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Be patient with Nature . . .

. . . and it will reward you with wonders.

Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico is currently in an active phase and I am live-blogging that. As part of the process, I save webcam images, from the three online volcano cams CENAPRED has set up around the volcano, and make time-lapse movies.

Anyone with a fairly recent computer (mine is four or five years old) and at least DSL speed on their Internet connection can do this easily. Continue reading

The world’s known worst natural disasters


When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
— Mr. (Fred) Rogers

That said, here is a list of some of the worst known earthquakes, eruptions, tsunamis and floods in recorded history. note
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