Tag Archives: volcanoes

Doing historical volcanology

So every year I say I should do more blogging…we will see how that goes. But in the mean time, I asked Twitter for some ideas of what to write and got this suggestion from my friend and fellow PhD volcanologist Geoff Lerner (he is doing some awesome stuff out in New Zealand, do check out his Twitter!)

twitter

So using inspiration from Geoff…I’m going to attempt to give a general overview of how historical volcanology works.

dog and book gif

To begin: how did we come to know about the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, and the destruction of Pomepii and Herculeum? The observations of Pliny the Younger. He was a man who lived in the distant past who observed a volcanic eruption. We also have countless volcanology studies about the eruption (and others that happened since). We also have unearthed archaeological sites and artefacts. Thanks to all this evidence, we now know that this eruption happened and its impacts on the surrounding society.

pomepii
…and I guess we have the movie now?

A historian is a person who researches past events that relate to humans through narratives. Volcanologist one way or the other look at past volcanic eruptions…so you could say we are “Earth” historians.

history
Look I just googled “history gif” and I do not know why it is of an animated iceskater okay?

Volcanology in itself is diverse and researchers come from all different backgrounds: geology, petrology, geophysics, engineering, geochemistry  – I labelled here a number of “physical” science disciplines. In volcanology we are increasingly seeing the inclusion of the “social” sciences when exploring the impacts of volcanism on an exposed population.

Historians use tangible (sites, objects, instruments, remains) and intangible (memories, narratives, indigenous knowledge) artefacts. So a historical volcanologist uses tangible and/or intangible artefacts to understand past volcanic events from the human perspective. For me, I have mainly used intangible artefacts, with written records in archives and interviewing people remembering an eruption. Archaeologists are particularly good at using tangible artefacts, with plenty of research out there of looking at deep past volcanic events and their impacts on early human civiliations.

indiana

If a volcanologist looks at past volcanic events, combining the understanding of how people responded to the event within the historical and social context, with the scientific understanding of volcanism, it provides a richness and numerous perspectives of the story of an eruption that may not have been captured if doing a single disciplinary approach. Looking at the past, we can see how much the volcano and the society that live around it, have changed or not. Further social volcanology studies for a given volcano would benefit from the historical perspective in this way. Furthermore, a “traditional” physical volcanology study would complement a historical volcanology study and vice versa. One or the other could find things the other had not found before, which could lead to a fuller picture of what happened!

lightbulb

So to end this post I have compiled a little checklist I have gained during my PhD doing a historical volcanology project:

checklist

  1. Whatever “physical” science approach to volcanology you use, think outside of the box of how it would be beneficial to the society who has to live with the particular volcanic region you are researching;

imagination

2. This is important for every volcanologist – do your research on your volcano: its past activity, current activity, what signs and hazards it is known to produce and any probablitic scenarios of any potential future impact on society;

3. And now we take it up a notch: do your homework on your volcano in the context of the society who had to live with it. Here I mean the social and cultural significance of the volcano, what they knew and do not know about it, and perhaps most importantly (if using intangible artefacts): what language was used to describe what they saw and felt about the volcano? In times of activity would be a priority, but if you have the time (and money) look at quiet periods too;

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4. And now, if you are looking at a historical eruption and you want to see what is in the archives* ask yourself: has the language to describe any volcanic phenomena associated with the volcano, similar or different to the present? You will need to be very aware that in the past, especially before the modern notions of “volcanology” as a science, people were very descriptive when observing volcanic activity (think “curtains of fire”, “it grew dark during the day”, “we heard rumblings” and so on);

*Using archives first requires identifying a collection: in most places this is available online, others it requires contacting the specific department and arranging a visit to see what is there. If a collection may prove useful, be prepared to go down some rabbit holes and not come back up for a while…it takes perseverance to find what you are looking for.

rabbit hole
Actual representation of what it is like doing archival work

5. Be respectful of the words written/spoken, objects etc. of those who are no longer here. As a volcanologist, and as a scientist, you can interpret what was observed with rigour but never dismiss other people’s own interpretations when they were within the moment, observing a phenomena they may have never witnessed before. Like all disasters, volcanic eruptions induce stress and anxiety (usually temporarily, but sometimes longer), occurring in their own social and cultural context that is different from your own;

6. Be extra mindful when researching volcanoes in countries that were colonised/occupied. I say this because written records that have survived are usually of one dominant “voice” and many others have either been manipulated or silenced. For my investigations into the 1812 and 1902-1903 eruptions of La Soufrière, I found that the voices of women, children, African slaves, freed persons of colour and indentured servants were almost entirely absent or manipulated (the experiences of myself, my family and POC friends allowed me to have a trained eye to stereotypical/racist language and behaviour). I tried to correct this by doing my interviews for the 1979 eruption by including men and women of varying ages and ethnicities – remember: each voice who provided a narrative is valid as many people experienced these violent events with their own education, experiences and perceptions;

7. Seek out local historians, they may know information that you could not find. I have been in contact with a local Vincentian historian who has been super helpful in pinpointing locations that no longer exist on maps today – then of course give credit where credit is due;

8. Lastly, give back! I have used documents from multiple archives in 3 different countries, all have had a dedicated curator/librarian to help me find what I needed and are super keen to help in anyway possible. As a way of saying thanks and to provide knowledge for any future researcher, give a copy of your finished work to the archive you used. For public dissimination, certainly put the country whose volcano you are researching first – you may be as creative and collaborative as you like!

Historical volcanology has been a new and exciting avenue to me, I have learned a lot about the volcano, the country, its people and myself. I know people say “leave the past in the past” but how else would we know how to better ourselves as a people and know how far we have come in living on this dynamic planet?

To embrace the future…why not start with the past!

Jazmin

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To aspiring girls everywhere

Hello! The Inthecompanyofvolcanoes blogging ladies have called upon women who do volcanology around the world (including myself) to share why love what they do and encouraging words to girls (and boys) to get into STEM and geoscience. 

It’s an inspiring read with so many fantastic women featured, so do check it out and share with kids! You can find it here.
It will be updated as time goes on, so do check it out every now and then! 

Jazmin

Cities on Volcanoes 9 experience

Upon returning from US fieldwork, I only had a number of weeks to create a conference poster and be on my way to the airport. I was preparing for the Cities on Volcanoes 9 (CoV9) international conference in Puerto Varas, Chile.

I did not know what to expect from the country or the conference. Luckily, both exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot from those who viewed my poster to the talks and other posters, met/made many new contacts and friends, as well as seeing some familiar faces.

CoV is an international conference occurring every 2 years hosted at an alternative city in the vicnity of a volcano(es). The aim is to bring together volcanologists, disaster managers and other researchers concerned with volcanic impacts on society, through the promotion of inter/multi-disciplinary research and establishing colloboration between physical and social scientists, as well as stakeholders like town planners. The particular theme for this year was “Understanding volcanoes and society: the key for risk mitigation”. CoV is part of the IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior), which represents all volcanologist throughout the world.

I am not entirely sure how many delegates there was, but it certainly had to be over 500. There was such a rich representation of research across the world, in poster and oral form. There was a lot of them so it was impossible to sit in all talks and speak to everyone about their poster. My priority is to stick the talks and posters that are relevant to my project as well as my research interests, then if I have the time to see/read others, then I will.

Talks/posters I focused on related to agricultural impacts of volcanic eruptions, risk perceptions, historical reconstructions of volcanic eruptions, lahars, PDCs, risk and politics.

The conference itself had opportunities to visit some volcanoes (Chaitén, Calbuco, Osorno and the Laguna del Maule Volcanic Complex) before, during and after the conference. Unfortunately I could not afford any of them but luckily the ones during the conference were included, to visit either Calbuco or Osorno. I chose Calbuco, as it erupted last year. As this was a recent eruption that was on the ‘door step’ of Puerto Varas, it was talked about a lot at the conference. Wired has a nice summary of the activity.

del-rio-j-2015
Del Rio J. (2015) Calbuco in eruption, taken in Puerto Varas.

We went to an area that was impacted by lahars, but a year on the rivers/streams have been cleared and artifically transformed, mainly by moving the bigger boulders on the banks. There was a primary school in this area…right under Calbuco to be exact. We walked up the river to a destroyed fish farm. The building was still standing, but was far beyond being operational again with the giant boulders that the lahar carried down. Walking up a little bit more we came to the waterfall in which the lahar came down, it was impressive to see if not slightly unnerving that a vast amount of water filled with volcanic material flowing down the river with such severity. The most interesting part was that we went back to the school and got first hand experiences from a number of individuals from the surrounding villages. The main things that I took away from their experiences were:

  • As farmers, their main priority was to secure their livelihoods. They accepted the risks and did everything they could to save their livestock;
  • For many, this eruption was the first they experienced, so a lot of things were learnt as the eruption of occurring;
  • They were fully aware of their needs, but the government did not and tried to impose what they thought they needed and ignoring what the villages really needed. This frustrated the communities and in the end they had little assistance from the government;
  • Throughout the event and afterwards, they built and maintained community resilience, social cohesion and social networks, key aspects of withstanding hazardous impacts.

Overall, I am so glad I went. I met some great people, learned a lot and have had valuable feedback from those who came to look at my work on the historical impacts of La Soufrière on the agricultural industry. Most importantly, it gave me confidence and belief in my work and that I could be a valuable member of the social volcanology community.

I am looking forward to the next one in 2018, when it returns to Naples! Hopefully I will be a stage to give a talk.

Jazmin

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The “p” word: preparedness

So this week and the following week there are volcano awareness activities occurring across the northern half of the island. But something interesting happened yesterday.

I was telling the host I am staying with about where I will be and what time I will be back and other bits of housekeeping and she asked why I am going to all these places and what are “those people” (those involved in organising the week and running the activities) doing. I explained it is about raising awareness of the volcano and making sure the communities have the most up-to-date information, as well as participating in community resilience activities. The host burst out with, “that’s stupidness, everyone you talk to knows about the volcano. It’s there, how more obvious does the ‘awareness’ need to be? It’s a waste of government money which would be better used elsewhere.”

I for one, was shocked. I tried my best (and calmly) to convince her that people’s awareness of the volcano must be continuous, with more research on the volcano, and for communities to engage in planning for a potential future volcanic crisis.

She was not having any of it. So I said “we will agree to disagree” and left it at that.

I have had a similar conversation with her and a couple of her friends when they recounted their experiences with the 2013 tropical storm, and also when they felt the earthquakes from the volcano Kick em’ Jenny in 2001 (still the coolest volcano name ever). I asked out of curiosity, “What do you do in an event of an earthquake? Where is the safest place if you were in the house?”

“The cupboards in the kitchen”, one replied.

I remembered looking into the kitchen and noted the gas cannister connected to the cooker, which was next to said cupboards. Sure I can see why he would choose the cupboards but…there was pressurised gas next to it. I asked in return, “what about the dining table?” It was quite a sturdy and big table. The person laughed and told me it is not safe as it would collapse under the weight from the roof if it caved in.

Earthquake, tsunami and volcano awareness does happen in this country. But apparently some do not participate in these events or even appreciate the necessity for them. I said that preparing for such events is important, in which I was told:

“Prepare for them? The only preparation you need is to make your peace on Earth and confess your sins because God might be coming for you.”

 photo whatjusthappened3_zpsea76de68.gif
This was me moments before accepting defeat.
For being taught from undergrad all the way through my current PhD that awareness and preparation towards natural hazards is vital (along with all other aspects of disaster management), I have now been stumped twice in people’s attitudes towards it all. Granted these people are of a completely different generation so that might have something to do with it.

But I have asked myself: why did I get the response that I did? Did I explain preparedness wrong? Did I make it relevant to them? Is it ignorance? I have always held onto the belief that in no given society that is exposed to hazards that people are ‘ignorant’ about them, people just choose to perceive them and their environment, differently. Like I was told, La Soufrière is right there for all to see. That is being very conscious of its existence.

Maybe it is complacency? This woman was actually living in the UK during 1979, so maybe she responded in the way she did because she has not experienced the volcano in eruption?

But the way she said it, so full of venom, and making me feel that the other job of being a volcanologist, to raise awareness of your chosen volcano’s dangers, is not worthwhile…I just cannot shake it. Of course, I am going to participate in the awareness week though, I am not going to let one woman’s opinions stop me trying to make a difference.

But what is it about this volcano that makes people on this island view preparedness in such different ways? Is it related to what I observed last week?

Only time will tell…

Jazmin

*When I came back to the house late afternoon, with a gigantic payapa cut down from a neighbour in hand, all seemed to be forgiven for the morning’s disagreement. So not to worry, I have come to accept that some people’s beliefs and opinions cannot be changed.

2014 Volcanism

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.

January

Cleveland, Chuginadak Island
Date: 28th December 2013 – 2nd January

Cleveland
Image by Anon. (2014). Taken from here.

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.

February

Kelut (Kelud), Java
Date: 13th – 15th February

Image by Dzakaaul H. (2014).
Image by Dzakaaul H. (2014).

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.

March

Pacaya, Guatemala
Date: 5th March 2013 – ongoing

Image by Conred (2014). Taken from here.
Image by Conred (2014). Taken from here.

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.

April

Tungurahua, Ecuador
Date: 22nd November 2010 – ongoing

Image by Anon. (2014). Taken from here.
Image by Anon. (2014). Taken from here.

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.

May

San Miguel, El Salvador
Date: 29th December 2013 – 28th July

Image by Zelaya E. (2013). Taken from here.
Image by Zelaya E. (2013). Taken from here.

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.

June

Pavlof, Alaska
Date: 31st May – 23rd June

Image by the Alaska Volcano Observatory (2014). Taken from here.
Image by the Alaska Volcano Observatory (2014). Taken from here.

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.

July

Sinabung, Sumatra
Date: 15th September 2013 – ongoing

Image by ATAR/AFP/Getty (2014). Taken from here.
Image by ATAR/AFP/Getty (2014). Taken from here.

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.

August

Bárdarbunga, Iceland
Date: 29th August – ongoing

Image by Norddahl E. and Norddahl B. (2014).
Image by Norddahl E. and Norddahl B. (2014).

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.

September

Ontake, Honshu
Date: 27th September – ongoing

Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.
Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.

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).

October

Turrialba, Costa Rica
Date: 29th October – 8th December

Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.
Image by BBC News (2014). Taken from here.

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.

November

Fogo, Cape Verde
Date: 23rd November – ongoing

Image by BBC News (2014).
Image by BBC News (2014).

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.

December

Nishino-shima, Japan
Date: On-going

Image by the Japan Coast Guard (2013).
Image by the Japan Coast Guard (2013).

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

Mayon, Philippines

Image by Esplana M. (2014). Taken from here.
Image by Esplana M. (2014). Taken from here.

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.

Toodle-pip

Jazz