The destruction caused by the lava of Kilauea are grabbing the attention of the international media. Last week, footage showed this eruption claiming its first house in Pahoa and people began to question whether to try to halt the flow of lava and how you might go about it.
But the daughter of the family’s home that was destroyed was remarkably sanguine about losing the family home:
If you’re going to live on a volcano, it’s about her (the Hawaiian Goddess Pele), not us … if she wants her land back, then get out of the way. I like to call it ‘paradise tax’.
The volcano is part of their culture. Pele is such a dominant force in Hawaiian’s lives they tend to accept the possibility that it might erupt. For a lot of Hawaiians, their respect for the volcano god appears to override their fear of eruptions.
For instance, the now-displaced family is building another home on older, solidified lava. Hawaii is entirely volcanic due to being situated on a hot spot resulting in a continual output of volcanic material. As far as I am aware, the family did not have insurance. This shows their ability to bounce back and recover from a hazardous event.
Not everyone responds in the same way. Some people are scared, some panic or remain anxious. And yet Hawaiian people have dealt with Kilauea’s almost continuous eruption for more than 50 years now. Over the course of many generations, they are actively learning about the volcano and the risks it poses.
Hawaii hasn’t lost many lives to the lava of Kilauea – mainly because the lava flows are slow (due to a combination of its properties and the land it flows over) – slow enough, at least, for people to respond in time and adjust to the situation (for example evacuating like the Pahoa family did a month before their home was destroyed) but also because of the combined efforts of the public, the civil defence and government authorities.
To date, Kilauea has destroyed more than 200 properties, many roads and claimed the lives of four people in modern times. Historically, the largest number killed by a Mount Kilauea explosion was in 1790, ranging from 80-400 people, a number still being debated.
Someone’s got your back
The civil defence teams, with the combined efforts of volcanologists and all those involved in keeping the people safe, have experience in how to deal with and adapt to the ever-evolving situation. A recent update shows a collective calm and professionalism, presenting the information in a way that Hawaiians can comprehend.
The risk of property being destroyed is neither exaggerated nor underestimated. The authorities explain the risk by presenting as much information as available – and Hawaiians tend to trust that the authorities are being realistic. This feeds into how people learn and assess the risk to themselves and their properties.
Business as usual
At present there appears to be little chance of halting the advancing lava flow. The properties of the lava and external influences, such as the steepness of the terrain, mean that the point at which the lava flow might stop naturally is not yet apparent.
What has been shown in news bulletins are the more runny lava flows that volcanologists call “pāhoehoe” (the “hoe” meaning “to paddle” in Hawaiian) but this is not representative of the reality of the eruption which is producing more viscous, slower moving lava (“aʻā”). As in Italy and Iceland there have been attempts to stop lava flows in Hawaii but with mixed results. For instance, according to a report in NPR, a US$2m engineering project successfully diverted lava flows near Mount Etna in 1983. But a similar attempt in Hawaii in 1955 and 1960, however, failed because of lack of proper understanding of the situation.
Given the effectiveness of the volcanic hazard management system in place in Hawaii, I have no doubt that such attempts will be made if they are reasonable, through the combined efforts of volcanologists, engineers, the civil defence and a guaranteed investment for the project.
But in case the Hawaiian authorities don’t succeed in halting or diverting the eruption and the flow of lava, we mustn’t underestimate the power of Hawaiian culture and belief to deal with such volcanoes. Living in such parts of the world, disaster resilience is not an urgency but a way of life.
What an explosive year 2014 was for volcanism (pun intended). In this post, I have picked 1 volcano for each month, those that made the international news and some that did not make it that far. It will be brief but I will provide some hyperlinks to places where you can read on further if you wish.
UPDATE: Glossary page has been updated to give a brief definition of some terms that are found in this post.
Cleveland, Chuginadak Island
Date: 28th December 2013 – 2nd January
Well I never heard about this one at all! According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, an explosion was detected on seismic and infrasound instruments and increased surface temperatures following the explosion were also detected. The third explosion occurred on the 1st January and the next day the aviation colour code was changed to orange. The volcano erupted again in February.
Kelut (Kelud), Java
Date: 13th – 15th February
Ah yes I remember this picture. Satellites first detected the eruption plume at 23:09 local time (16:09 UTC) and parts of the ash plume reached just a short of 30 km. The large amount of heat emitted caused the plume to be buoyant over the equilibrium level which is pretty impressive but what I find interesting is that this buoyant plume did not produce any significant pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) especially since the eruption forced its way through a 2007 lava dome.
The eruption was classified as a 4 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) making it a subplinian eruption. It was one of the largest eruptions since the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle eruption in Chile which happened in 2010.
Date: 5th March 2013 – ongoing
It is one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala and can be easily seen from the capital, Guatemala City. Its common activity is strombolian activity and lava flows. On the 6th-7th and the 9th-10th March this year, small explosions generated ash plumes, a minor avalanche and during the 8th-9th lava flows were observed along with steam plumes rising 200 m above the crater.
Date: 22nd November 2010 – ongoing
This volcano is impressively persistent. On the 2nd April, it was reported that there was an explosion in the morning and at night, with large incandescent blocks tumbling down the flanks. The explosion in the night ejected incandescent blocks and produced an ash plume. On the 4th, an explosion lasted for 5 minutes and generated PDCs.
Reports about the eruption continued throughout the month. Here is a news article where you can learn what Tungurahua means. Media can be informative sometimes.
San Miguel, El Salvador
Date: 29th December 2013 – 28th July
It is amazing how often national news does not make the international stage.
On the 10th May, the volcano emitted small amounts of ash that fell as less than 1 mm, but on the 19th, the activity increased greatly. There was an increased frequency and magnitude of gas emissions and small explosions along with ashfall. San Miguel continued the on/off activity until July.
Date: 31st May – 23rd June
Pavlof is the most active volcano in the Alaskan region (current status is minor activity). Its eruptions are mainly strombolian to vulcanian and sometimes produces lava flows. In the above picture, to the right of Pavlof is its twin, Pavlof Sister.
On the 3rd June a steam plume was observed and PCDs generated a low-level of ash. Seismicity remained constant during this time and elevated surface temperatures were also observed. Lava fountaining was seen on the 4th. On the following day, two strong explosions were detected along with lightning. Activity continued until the 9th but at a diminished rate. Pavlof erupted again in November.
Date: 15th September 2013 – ongoing
People should remember the news story back in February. Evacuations were ordered when there was unrest in September 2013 but unfortunately there were still fatalities.
Activity was still persistent in July, with a white plume reaching up to 2,000 m above the crater during the 8th-14th July. The plume also changed colour between brown and blue (which is pretty awesome). PDCs were observed on the 10th, extending 3 km south and further PDCs on the 12th also travelled south by 3-4 km.
A lot of sulphur dioxide emissions (which causes the blue illumination) were emitted from Sinabung during this month: 1,252 tonnes/day between the 8th-14th July and up to 3,796 tonnes/day during the 11th to the 18th.
Although in February it was a ‘big’ eruption, it has still been categorised as a VEI 2 eruption. So 2 magnitudes smaller than Kelut.
Date: 29th August – ongoing
The media were all over this one in Europe because everyone thought it would be like EyafjallajÖkull back in 2011. I remember the excitement within the volcanology community and especially on my Masters course. The media left it alone when they learned it would not produce the same effect as Eya which is a shame because it is one beautiful eruption. One of the reasons why the eruptions differ from one another is due to the role of the ice.
Date: 27th September – ongoing
People started blaming the Japanese volcanologists for predicting the eruption that killed 57 people. Read my supervisor’s take on why it could not be predicted. I shall say no more, I can get passive aggressive another time.
A phreatic eruption occurred just before midday with only 11 minutes of precursory tremor and uplift detected beforehand. The eruption generated a PDC that travelled more than 3 km south and an ash plume that ascended 7-10 km and drifted east.
The eruption is still ongoing with waning strength but still…it has effectively disappeared from the international news has it not? (I am sure most people can detect my problem with the media…in another post I shall explain).
Turrialba, Costa Rica
Date: 29th October – 8th December
Seismic activity began in late September and in mid-October a 3 day volcanic earthquake swarm occurred. Degassing intensified on the 28th and 29th emitting sulphur dioxide up to 2,000 tons/day. A small phreatomagmatic eruption occurred at 23:10 and lasted for 25 minutes, ending with a strong explosion. This strong explosion generated an ash plume that rose 5.8 km and drifted westsouthwast.
I find it odd that some of the news articles say it is the ‘biggest eruption for the volcano in 100 years,’ because…well the Smithsonian has recorded it was categorised a VEI 2, with the previous 2 eruptions in 2013 and 2012 also at VEI 2. Like I have mentioned for Kelut already, that eruption was 2 magnitudes bigger.
Fogo, Cape Verde
Date: 23rd November – ongoing
I have been quite disappointed with the international media coverage of the destruction caused by Fogo, which last erupted in 1995.
This volcano’s destruction has impacted the island’s economy severely in the short term and long term. Like the activity update says, the consequences is the destruction of property, infrastructure, utilities, agriculture and tourism. It will take a considerable amount of time to get the destroyed villages of Portela and Banaeira to rebuild and for livelihoods to return back to normal. That is even if those that have been displaced are willing to return. The BBC provides some powerful photos of those displaced from the eruption.
It is the baby volcano! The latest update is from the 27th December but the continuous Strombolian activity and lava flows has been building up the island throughout the year. Since November, the volcanic island has doubled in size. This blog post describes its evolution, comparing it to Surtsey off the coast of Iceland very nicely.
One to watch
A friend brought this volcano to my attention and I can see why: during August, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported the growth of a new lava dome, ground deformation, increased volcanic gas emissions, earthquakes and rockfalls. From mid-August there was emission of white steam plumes. Inflation was observed in the edifice throughout September, along with the first signs of incandescence in the crater. Since then, the alert level has remained on 3 (out of 5).
She is gonna blow at some point.
Of course, the 12 volcanoes featured were not the only ones to erupt this year. About 60 or more eruptions happen each year and some are continuously erupting without any sign that they will stop. 2015 is a new year for volcanoes, with some grabbing the spotlight and others not so much.
A Q&A Sunday (brother suggested it because it rhymes) will appear in the near future and a glossary page will appear soon after and will be updated often.