Thursday, May 3, 2018

Kilauea Heats Up [UPDATED 5-25-2018 ]

Hawaii is a land of sea and fire. From the Northwestern islands to the Southeastern, it is a chain of magmatic glory. I currently reside on Oahu, the most populous of Hawaii's islands, in its capitol of Honolulu. Honolulu is surrounded with relatively young volcanism, from the world-famous Diamond Head and Koko Crater tuff rings, to the slightly lesser known features of Punch Bowl and Kailua Volcano. Anywhere you look, you realize these islands are volcanic.

On Maui, Haleakala volcano, which is still considered to be potentially active, rises above the clouds, revealing a Mars-like landscape, save for the famed silver sword plants - endemic only to this mountain. Evidence of volcanism, as recently as perhaps 300 years ago, is everywhere, from the black sand beaches on the road to Hana, or evidenced in the hundreds of waterfalls carved into layered basalt flows, now overgrown by vines and ferns.

But it is Kilauea, next to its mammoth neighbor, Mauna Loa (larger from sea floor to mountain top than any mountain on earth, and man more times by sheer volume), which is the most famous of all volcanoes of Hawaii. And it is putting on quite a show right now.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, has been monitoring the Big Island of Hawai'i since its inception in 1912, and is the oldest of USGS Observatories.

Kilauea has, for the last month or more, displayed a great deal of activity, ranging from the lava lake at Halema'uma'u summit crater overflowing, to the caldera floor of Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater collapsing, and sending magma East and West down subterranean rift fractures.

Today, HVO and USGS put neighborhoods and schools on alert, to be ready for a possible eruption along the Southeast Rift Zone of Kilauea, extending form Puʻu ʻŌʻō to the Eastern tip of Hawai'i. 

Residents in these areas are advised to ready any emergency supplies and kits in easily moveable containers, and prepare in case they are told to evacuate. Local Hawaiian radio stations are broadcasting updates, and urging residents in affected areas to remain tuned to those stations in order to receive immediate updates.

HVO's Facebook page has been cautious in addressing the danger to the local population and neighborhoods, correctly stating that magma intrusions often do not result in an eruption, and that it is impossible to predict well ahead of time when and where an eruption will occur. However it does clearly state that the heightened attention to the area of earthquakes and deformation is currently a highly monitored situation.

The situation with Mauna Loa, the towering NW neighbor to Kilauea has been on Yellow Alert (watch) status for nearly a year now, due to an inflating magma chamber, detectable uplift, and an increase in seismicity beyond 'normal background levels'. 

The magma chamber of Mauna Loa is believed to have begin inflating some time in 2008 and continued on a steady pace ever since. The magma chambers of Mauna Loa and Kilauea are not believed to be connected, however it is theorized that pressure changes in either can affect the behavior in the other.

The current situation at Kilauea should be closely followed by both its residents, and by the world, as Kilauea serves as a constant reminder that Earth is very much alive, and on occasion, very angry.

*****UPDATE 5/4/2018******

Yesterday was marked by large quakes. A 5.0 quake struck in the vicinity of Puʻu ʻŌʻō, and caused further collapse of the crater. A large, pinkish ash plume was observed. Shortly after, around 4:30pm, a fissure broke out in the Leilani Heights district, issuing lava flows and forcing the community to evacuate.

As of right now (1:30pm HST) a 6.9 quake struck the South Eastern flank of Kilauea. No tsunami warning has been issued.

Google Earth screenshot with USGS overlay.

The situation is rapidly changing and highly dynamic on the Big Island. Quakes are occuring over the entire South Eastern flank of the volcano, along with deep and large quakes just South of Puʻu ʻŌʻō, and heightened microseismicity at Halema'uma'u crater. 

It is my opinion that Kilauea will probably have some changes to Halema'uma'u and Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater relating to magma chamber drainage, and that the Eastern Rift Zone is at a high likelihood of more fissure breakouts, and possible land instability. Time will tell.

At this time Hawaii's Gov. Ige has mobilized the National Guard, and the Red Cross is on scene helping evacuees. No deaths or injuries have been reported at this time.

The main hazards to the areas are volcanic gas (SO2/CO2), lava and forest fires, and ground instability. Several structures have already been lost in the Leilani Heights/Puna area.

Stay tuned as updates of this article will be frequent.

*****UPDATE 5/11/2017*****

The number of fissures spewing gas and lava in the Leilani Estates on the Big Island of Hawai'i has stopped at 15 as of 5/9/2018. The lava has stopped erupting for now, but is expected to resume any time. The apparent lava dike has migrated further NE of Leilani, and is expected to continue until another fissure or cinder eruption occurs.

Meanwhile at the Halema'uma'u summit crater at Kilauea, the lava lake which has been in existence since Kilauea's 2008 eruption continues to drop. This has cause USGS officials to close Hawaii Volcanoes National Park out of fear that if the lava drops below the water table, a phreatic (steam driven) eruption could occur. This has happened before at Halema'uma'u. The same is possible with the Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater, although less likely.

Subsidence quakes and volcanic tremor related to magma movement continue under the summit, and aftershocks from 5/4's 6.9 magnitude tremor continue, but are diminishing in frequency.

The main focus of activity now seems to be entirely at the East Rift Zone.

Hawaii Civil defense has urged all residents from Kalapana to the Eastern tip of the Big Island to be prepared to evacuate at a moments notice, as S02, C02, and H2S gases, coupled with the possibility of lava, ash, and acid rain, may make the area too dangerous to stay at in the near future.

Governor Ige has signed a request for Federal Emergency to be declared and it has been sent to President Trump. Damages so far have included about 34 structures lost, the majority of which have been houses, with costs estimated upwards of $3 million so far.

The Puna Geothermal Venture, a hydrothermal plant just N of Leilani Estates moved several tons of pentane gas from its facilities as the plant seems to exist on the exact vector the fissures have been erupting on. This was a big concern for residents who were worried that the gas might explode and create more problems, but at this time, those fears are now taken care of.

On the rest of the Hawaiian islands, a haze of vog (volcanic fog) has settled over the horizon. On Oahu, where I live, you can no longer see the Western mountain as it is obscured by a bluish haze. The vog is a serious irritant to those with lung issues such as Asthma and COPD, and doctors are urging residents to remain aware and take appropriate precautions to reduce exposure if possible.

*****UPDATE 5/16/2018*****

The summit crater of Halema'uma'u has begun emitting ash plumes upwards of 12,000 feet, prompting HVO to raise the volcanic alert level to RED. This advisory is intended to warn air traffic that ash is reaching levels which may be hazardous to aircraft, and to avoid the area.

Meanwhile the fissure count is at about 21, with 'Fissure 6 and fissure 20' currently the only fissures with active lava flows. A great interactive map that is kept up to date with the current fissure activity can be found here.

The summit eruptions at Halema'uma'u are related to rockfall and water/gas explosions deep within the now-draining lava lake. USGS and HVO are watching this closely as the potential for a much bigger eruption grows more likely. If the lava lake drops below the water table, HVO has said that this could cause a large phreatic eruption which would dwarf the current activity.

All communities to the S and SE of the fissure swarm have been urged to evacuate, and vacation rentals have ceased in the area due to the hazardous gas and ash, and the potential for more lava flows. Access to Leilani Heights is cut off, with residents allowed to return for a few hours during the day to check on their houses or pack up more things.

The fissure swarm continues to be restricted to a NE/SW vector and so far has not deviated from this. It is likely more fissures will open to the NE toward highway 132 and Kapoho. The largest lava flow so far has been issued from Fissure 17. The lava is moving at about 20 yards per hour in an Easterly direction towards the ocean, however observations have indicated that this flow is slowing down, and is unlikely to reach the ocean at this time.

Air quality for the area is now formally listed as 'unhealthy' as vog (volcanic fog) levels rise and the wind dies down, coupled with intermittent ash emissions from the summit. People with breathing problems are advised to stay indoors and close their windows, and use an air filtration system if available, as the sulfur content in the air can worsen conditions such as Asthma or COPD.

Despite the rush to buy face masks, these do not help protect the user from gas, only ash particulates. People are simply advised to leave the area if they are being negatively affected by the poor air quality.

*****UPDATE 5/17/2018*****

Early this morning at approximately 4am HST, the Kilauea summit caldera of Halema'uma'u had an apparent phreatic eruption, and an ash cloud was ejected upwards of 30,000 feet. Kilauea is still at aviation code RED, and poses a risk to aircraft due to ash.

The fissure swarm continues to be active, and more cracks have developed and widened in the last 24 hours, however the only fissures currently issuing lava spatter are now number 13, 16 and 17.

Local officials are advising that anyone downwind of the ashfall stay indoors unless necessary. Masks will help with ash, but not gas, and air quality is still a problem for people near the volcano.

*****UPDATE 5/18/2018*****

Today marked an increase in activity at the summit, and reactivation of fissures, plus a couple of new ones.

At current, 7 fissures are now active, and pahoehoe lava flows are now being issued (much more fluid lava). I did expect this to occur, since the initial lava flows were blocky and more solidified, which suggested the magma was a little older than the hotter flows that are now being issued.

Subsidence at the caldera is now in full swing, and the former lava lake pit at Halema'uma'u has now nearly tripled in diameter, along with ring fractures growing near the collapse pit. This increases the likelihood of rockfall-generated ash eruptions.

Early this morning, another large phreatic (steam-driven) explosion occurred at Halema'uma'u, and sent another ash plume upwards of 30,000 feet.

The RED aviation alert remains in effect.

On the East Rift Zone, fissures 21, 15, 20W, 20E, 16 and 17 are active or reactivated, and are issuing lava and gas. 40 structures have now been confirmed destroyed (mostly homes) and several more are currently threatened.

No new fissures have opened past the NE trending fissure swarm past fissure 17, but I expect that to change at any time as the magma advances to the NE point of the Big Island near Kapoho.

GPS deformation data clearly indicate that magma is still being fully supplied to the East Rift Zone, and that the magma is still on a NE trend. I suspect the next breakout will occur near or just South of Kapoho road if this trend continues.

I also expect that erupting lava will become more fluid as the eruption progresses.

Given the summit subsidence and the cessation of major activity at Puʻu ʻŌʻō, I expect that the East Rift Zone will probably remain active for months, if not years, which of course is bad news for the residents in the area. It seems that magma has found an easier path to the East Rift zone than it currently has to the summit, which means that this eruptive activity could remain a constant threat in the area for quite some time, until at least the lava channel cools or is blocked to the point the summit begins to inflate again.

*****UPDATE 5/22/2018*****

The eruption at the East Rift Zone continues.

The latest major developments are that the fissure 20 system is now steadily issuing a fountain of lava that has now reached the coast after crossing Highway 137. Laze (a noxious mixture of hydrochloric acid and glassy ash particles) is being steadily emitted and making conditions far too dangerous for tourists to view the flow.

A live camera of the most active vent can be viewed here.

USGS/HVO has produced a very nice timeline of the events here.

Changes at the summit caldera of Halema'uma'u continue to develop, and minor ash eruptions continue.

Satellite Images show expansion of the former lava lake crater, and subsidence area to the E.

The activity so far appears to be changing to a much more fluid eruption with faster flowing lavas and pahohoe flows.

The Puna Geothermal Venture power plant to the Northwest of Fissure 6 is now threatened by slowly advancing lava flows, and has apparently had a warehouse on its property destroyed by lava.

As stated in my last update, I do not expect that the eruption will end any time soon, and more fissures and lava flows should be expected as the lava becomes fresher, and flows faster from the source.

*****UPDATE 5/25/2018*****

The eruption at the East Rift zone continues with new lava ponding in the Leilani Estates subdivision, and active lava flows entering the ocean. The fissures in Leilani Estates that reactivated and are ponding lava are 8, 2, 7, 21, 14, 3, and 4, with fissures 6 and 22 producing the flows reaching the ocean.

Updated flow maps can be viewed here.

A new lobe of lava entered the ocean to the SW of the other active ocean entries, adding new coastline and emitting more 'laze' (a mixture of lava and haze).

At the summit, Halema'uma'u crater continues with intermittent rock collapse events and ash eruptions.

You can view live cameras here.

The current lava flow activity is close to the fissure eruption of 1955 in terms of land covered, and I expect that it will eventually surpass it in the coming weeks and months if activity continues as expected.

No new fissures have activated past the NE tip of the fissure swarm yet, and earthquake activity seems to have stopped advancing NE, so for now the locus of major activity is restricted to Leilani Estates, and fissures 6 and 22. Fissure 17 is still apparently weakly active, but is now labeled as inactive on the USGS website.

Live lava cams of fissure 22 can be found on Youtube, CNN, and other sites, and I highly recommend the viewing experience.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

It's Been A While!

Aloha readers,

I realize it has been a while since my last post. I have been hard at work settling into my new home in Honolulu, Hawaii. A big part of this has been getting solid employment, which I am thankful to have now, and time to actually research and write new articles.

I'm happy to say that work on this blog will soon resume! I have found a great job with a law firm as a Network/System Administrator and have gotten back into the swing of things.

I don't want to leave anyone hanging, so here are some things I am planning for the so-called re-launch of activity on this blog:

1) I will be implementing an RSS feed for these articles.

2) Articles will be posted weekly, or when there is serious or unexpected volcano news.

3) I will be looking into publishing my interactive Google Earth database in a LIVE format. Meaning that there should eventually be a shared and community edited version of my decades of volcano research. This will be a long project, and I will need to be able to control and authorize changes by vetting contributors. This will take a while to set up, but the idea will be that there is a visual database of global volcanoes from the earliest of epochs until now. I will detail this project later.

Anyhow, please look forward in the coming weeks/months to some major changes in how I'm presenting volcano news and data. It will be fun, educational, and informative.

And look forward to some great local pictures of Hawaiian Volcanoes!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Katla Volcano Has Strong Quakes {UPDATED}

Katla volcano under the Myrdalsjökull glacier just had a magnitude 4.4 quake with many smaller tremors. This is the strongest quake at Katla in the latest unrest which has seen swarms occurring weekly. Katla is thought to be primed for an eruption at any time. Webcam views of Katla are not clear at this time due to fog, so it's impossible to see what is going on. Since this quake sequence just now occurred, it will take some time for Iceland Meteorological Office to give any statement.

Screenshot from Iceland Meteorological Office showing large quake swarm at Katla.

I will update this post as the sequence continues.

*****UPDATE 7/28/2017 *****

After a 3.0 magnitude quake at Katla, harmonic tremor (read: fluid movement and/or magma) is on the rise. You can track the tremor here: 
Tremor is continuing to rise and so far is not showing signs of stopping. This could very well lead to an eruption within hours (or days). Now is a good time to keep your eye on Katla, you can watch the webcam feed of it here (note, you may need to use an older browser such as Internet Explorer to view the cam feed as newer browsers have ceased to support Flash): 

Large Earthquake Swarm In Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula {UPDATED}

A large and somewhat powerful earthquake swarm is currently underway in Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula in the area of the Krysuvik volcanic center. According to blogger Jon Frimann and the Icelandic Meteorological Office, this swarm is partly tectonic and magmatic in nature. At the time of this writing there have been 9 earthquakes above magnitude 3.0, with one 4.0 tremor so far in the sequence, and dozens of lower magnitude quakes.

Screenshot from detailing current quake swarm at Rykjanes Peninsula.

Krysuvik volcano last erupted in 1340 CE, according to the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program. It is unknown whether or not this could lead to an eruption. Reykjanes volcano however last erupted in 1926 CE, but this was a submarine eruption, not on the main island.

If this does end up as an eruptive event, it could put thousands of Icelanders at risk as the area is close to the towns of Volgar, and Grindavik. Previous eruptions of Krysuvik and Reykjanes have been fissure and flood basalt driven, which would mean that large lava flows and gas release would be the biggest hazards. It is still too early in the sequence to tell if this will end up being just a rumble, or develop into an eruption.

Google Earth screenshot showing satellite view and location of volcanic centers. The swarm is occurring between Reykjanes and Krisuvik volcanic centers. 

At current, the Icelandic Meteorological Office has not raised the alert level for the region, which might suggest that they are not anticipating this to develop into an eruption. This could change at any time based on how long this swarm continues for. Since the Krysuvik volcano has not erupted for around 700 years, it is more probable that this swarm is related to the Reykjanes system.

If anything further develops I will update this post.

*****UPDATE 7/27/2017*****

The vigorous quake swarm continues:

Second picture is showing increased harmonic tremor which could indicate magma movement. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Katla and Bardarbunga Rumble In Iceland

Katla volcano, and its neighbor Bardarbunga are putting on quite a seismic show in Iceland as of late. Weekly to monthly quakes above magnitude 3.0 have been occurring at both volcanoes, raising anxiety about if or when both of the giant volcanoes will blow. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull still fresh in the memories of Europe, when it paralyzed national airports and cost billions to various economies.

Katla volcano is stealing the show today, with large earthquake sequences pulsing now almost daily (which is rather unusual behavior in recent times). It is probable that this is related to magma movement under the crust, and the depths of these quakes are getting shallower. Katla has long been thought 'overdue' for an eruption, although no volcano is ever truly 'overdue' as they do not have scheduled eruptions.

Screen capture from - Iceland Met Office showing Katla earthquake activity

Katla is thought to be connected in some way to its neighbor Eyjafjallajökull via a magma sill, but the two magma chambers are considered separate. Historically (according to evidence) Katla typically erupts soon after Eyja. This has not occurred yet, although it is suspected a minor subglacial event took place in the year after Eyja's eruption, which was indicated by harmonic tremor and glacier outburst flooding. If there was an eruption, it did not breach the icecap.

Bardarbunga is also rapidly inflating, and has regular quakes within its caldera, and along the old fissure from the Holhuraun lava field eruption. During Bardarbunga's last eruption, the caldera floor dropped many meters, indicating magma chamber drainage via the fissure to its NNE. Current activity has resulted in weekly quakes within the caldera with one or two quakes over 3.0 per pulse. The depths of the quakes and continued deformation indicate that Bardarbunga is far from done with its currently active cycle. 

Screen capture from - Iceland Met Office showing Vatnajökull earthquake activity

For now nothing seems imminent, but it is especially prudent to keep up with Katla at this time.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Quake Swarm Along Nevada California Border

A cluster of large earthquakes occurred 12/28/2016 along the CA-NV border with three main events followed by hundreds of smaller quakes. This occurred just north of the Aurora Crater volcanic field along a fault that trends from the Aurora Crater area to Lake Tahoe to the NW. The quake sequence, according to geologists, was tectonic in nature and not related to any volcanism. The last volcanic activity in the area occurred ~25,000 years BP (although the volcanic features are well-preserved due to the arid climate).

Three large quakes struck within hours of each other, at depths ranging from 12km to around 6km. Two quakes registered magnitude 5.7, and were reportedly felt as far away as San Jose to the WSW. The third registered at 5.5, with many aftershocks.

Location of quake swarm. Screenshot form Google using USGS overlay and my modified Smithsonian GVP database. 

According to the Smithsonian GVP, the Bodie-Aurora field is described as follows:

"Aurora-Bodie volcanic field in west-central Nevada near the California border NNE of Mono Lake contains well-preserved cinder cones and lava flows of late Pleistocene age. The most prominent feature, Aurora Crater, is a 25,000 years before present cinder cone surrounded by lava flows. Mud Spring volcano is another late Pleistocene vent with a well-preserved lava flow. Older volcanics of the field include Pliocene andesitic lava domes and Pliocene cones such as Beauty Peak and Mount Hicks."

It is highly unlikely that volcanism is in any way related to this swarm, but full analysis of the swarm is not yet completed by CalVO. Aftershocks are likely for some time, and there is of course always a slight risk that these events could be foreshocks to a stronger event. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Campi Flegrei Could Be Close To An Eruption

A new scientific paper published by Italian and French volcanologists is raising anxiety levels over the possibility of a new volcanic eruption from Italy's version of Yellowstone - Campi Flegrei. The Flegrean Fields have long been known for their simmering hotsprings and fumeroles, and it has been known for decades that the land was rapidly inflating. Ancient ruins that showed signs of previous submarine immersion are a-plenty in Naples, and the landscape betrays a violent past.

Geysers, solfataras (which coincidentally owe their name to the region), mudpots, fumeroles, and gaseous fissures plague the region, and new gas vents have recently opened up as the land expands. Now, as it turns out this could spell absolute disaster for Italy, which has already experienced an unfortunate amount of strong earthquakes. Campi Flegrei is near ready to rupture, according the the study.

Now, take this with a grain of salt here, this report does not mean the eruption will happen tomorrow, if at all. But if current trends continue, it does not look good.

There is of course a vigorous debate as to whether inflation in the region is caused by the injection of mew magma into the supervolcanic magma chamber, but competing theories suggest the deformation is hydrothermal in nature. Neither scenario is particularly great.

If the deformation and inflation of the volcanic system is *only* hydrothermal, this could easily end up being a catastrophic phreatic eruption. This could be just as powerful as any fresh magmatic eruption, though likely brief. However if this is the result of new magmatic injection, as the study (linked at top) suggests, then this is definitely very bad news.

The study indicates that there is a 'point of no return' in regards to gas concentration and temperature, where gases that decompress could be hot enough to overcome the tensile strength of the crustal ceiling of the magma chamber, which would result in rapid decompression - an eruption. The study bleakly suggests that this threshold is RAPIDLY approaching. And if this is true, and the current rate of inflation holds steady, then Campi Flegrei is likely to erupt. How strong, nobody is sure, and when, or how strong cannot be accurately predicted.

A super-eruption of Campi Flegrei would immediately put the city of Naples in dire peril, if not effect outright annihilation. The initial eruption would quite quickly generate a tsunami and ash cloud, with the tsunami wiping out vast areas of coastal Tunisia and Algeria. The ash fallout (depending on wind currents) would likely circumnavigate the globe in days to weeks, ushering in a global winter for many years. Keep in mind, the famed 'year without a summer' was generated by a *mere* VEI7 eruption of Tambora. A VEI 8 is at least a thousand times more powerful.

The last super eruption seen by mankind was the eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia, some 75,000 years ago (according to ice cores and sediment records). This reduced a robust population of early humans down to about 5,000 individuals according to genetic and geological/archaeological studies. Today's human population has a better shot at survival due to our level of technological development on many fronts, but the poorest areas of the globe would likely suffer devastating losses.

To put this into visual perspective....

Italy as thus increased the threat level of the volcano from "green" to "yellow" warranting urgent study. If in fact this giant is ready to blow, we'll likely need all the information we can get, and as soon as possible.