Since the dawn of man people have seen volcanoes as expressions of the rage of the God’s, punishments for poor behaviour on Earth. This was really brought home to me while working on Masaya last year. A huge cross now stands where, mainly women and children, were thrown in to the lava lake below as a sacrifice to the gods to spare the towns on the volcanoes flanks. Luckily human sacrifice is a thing of distant memories in most cultures but this does not mean people do not still worship at volcanoes.
The Tenggerese people are an ethnic minority in eastern Java who claim to be the descendants of the Majapahit princes. Predomintaly Hindu they have also incorporated many Buddhist and Animis elements. Yesterday marked the 14th day of their yearly festival Yadnya Kasada. Thousands flocked to the crater edge of Bromo to ask for blessing from the main deity Hyang Widi Wasa and Mahadeva, the God of the Mountain (Mount Semeru) by presenting annual offerings of rice, fruit, vegetables, flowers, livestock and other local produce
On December 5th last year Bromo’s PVMBG raised the volcano’s alert status to “siaga” (alert), or 3 on a scale of 1-4, it has remained around this till now with ash emissions continuing at fluctuating levels. Currently an ash column towers just under 1000 metres above the main vent, a sulphurous order lingers in the air. None of this however swayed the visitors eager for blessings. Many who ventured right up to the crater rim can be seen to wear rags around their faces to protect from the fumes, no effort was made to prevent people from entering the area.
The days of virgin girls meeting a fiery death may be long gone and now mainly goats and chickens lose there lives, but it is still shows the connections and respect people have for our planet and its power. This festival is not the only one world-wide which has a similar theme and I feel no matter the scientific findings about the inner working of our planet it will never deter such worship.
Before the eruption in the early 90’s, Pinatubo was a rather unassuming mountain on the island of Luzon, Philippines. Standing only 2000 ft above surrounding peaks, it was almost obscured from vision. It’s flanks covered in lush green forest, without an eruption in memorable history, people never saw it as a threat. This change in June 1991 when it produced the second largest eruption of the 20th century (after Novarupta 1912).
Figure 2. Damage from the earthquake in 1990.
In 1990, on July 16th a magnitude 7.8 rocked the island of Luzon. A strike-slip along the Philippine Fault System it caused a surface rupture oer 125 km long. Killing over a thousand people it became the deadliest earthquake in Philippine history but may also have been the start of something much greater, geologists have long been convinced that it is linked to Pinatubo’s activity the following year. However it has never been proven if this earthquake stirred the sleeping volcano or if the reawakening caused the quake. For a few weeks after locals reported steam coming from Pinatubo, but when it was visited by PHILVOLC’s scientists there was only landslide evidence and not emissions.
Seismicity kicked off activity again on March 15th 1991. The north-west side of the volcano felt a swarm of tremors increasing in intensity over the next two weeks. On April 2nd a 1.5 km fissure opened along the summit with phreatic explosions dusting the local area in ash. seismicity continued to increase causing volcanologist to rush to its flanks to place monitoring equipment they had never thought to place while the mountain lay in slumber. The volcanoes eruptive history had very been studied before and they were surprise to learn it had large eruptions as recent as roughly 500, 3500 and 5500 years ago. On April 7th the first formal evacuations took place. With the Clark Air base just 14 km from Pinatubo the USGS aided PHILVOLCS in setting up 3 zones the first, a 10 km radius from the summit was the initial area to be designated unsafe and people were quickly evacuated to safety. Further zones from 10-20 km and 20-40 km were deemed safe for now but people were told to be alert to the possibility of evacuation if the mountain showed any sign of getting worse.
Activity stepped up in May with sulfur dioxide emissions rocketing from roughly 500 t p/d at the beginning of the month to over 5000 t p/d by May 28th. At this point emission slightly decreased and inflation began to increase rapidly leading many to believe pressure was building with the magma chamber.
On June 3rd the first lava was noticed signalling that a magmatic phase of the eruption had begun which eased some people’s mind as activity seemed relatively effusive. The first large explosion cam four days later on June 7th. An eruption column towered 7 km above the summit prompting the second wave of evacuations with people in the 10-20 km zone being prompted to leave their homes. A lava dome began to grow dramatically in the next few days reaching in excess of 600 ft wide. Activity seemed pretty constant at a low-level until 03:41 on June 12th when a new, more violent phase of eruptions began. As explosions intensified over the next few hours the eruption column grew to over 19 km. Pyroclastic flows surged as 4km from the summit in some valleys. Ash and tephra rained down on the surrounding area as the intense explosions lasted over . The final wave of evacuations was called for on the morning of June 13th as a small but intense earthquake swarm saw in a third phase in the eruption.
Figure 4. On of the most iconic images from the 1991 eruption.
People as far as 40 km away, and even further if possible, were urged to leave the area as quickly and calmly as possibly as Pinatubo showed no signs of slowly down its activity. The column peaked again, this time over 24 km high. Several more large explosions were recorded for the next 24 hours including one at lunch time on the 14th with saw another 21 km eruption column and more pyroclastic flows obscuring the view of the flanks.
From midday on June 15th the eruption reached its most climatic point. By 2.30 pm on the June 15th readings stopped being received from seismometers and other remote censoring equipment which the USGS had placed at Clark Air base indicating the area had been over some by the pyroclastic material still being ejected at a terrifying rate. An ash cloud covered an area greater than 125,000 km2 bringing near total darkness to much of the island of Luzon and ashfall was recorded as far as neighbouring countries of Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam. By 10.30pm that night all fell quiet and Pinatubo’s fury seemed to be over.
Figure 5. Mapping the spread of the SO2 released by Pinatubo.
The VEI 6 eruption spat out over 10,000,000,000 tonnes of material and a whopping 17,000,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide. It was the later which signed Pinatubo’s fate in people’s minds as the SO2 emitted quickly covered the globe causing the mean global temperatures to drop by 0.5°C for the following two years. Sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere reflects the Sun’s radiation back in to space meaning the Earth’s surface received up to 10% less sunlight in the following year. It also meant an increase in ozone damage, with the hole above the Antarctic being at the largest it had ever been.
An estimated 847 people lost their lives (many from collapsing buildings under the weight of the ashfall),but problems continued past initial fatalities in the aftermath. Over 2.1 million people have believed to have been affected by the disaster. Agriculture was severely effected both my ash fall and then following effects of the climate. Lahars plagued the region for years after with each heavy rain fall. It is often put by the end of 1992 the eruption and resulting lahars caused the country losses in excess of 400 million US dollars.
Despite this, the events of 1991 are often hailed a volcanological triumph with quick responses, prediction and evacuation believed to have saved the lives of thousands. It enabled us to gain an insight to volcanic impacts on climate and how we monitor the risks.
Today marks the 130th anniversary of Tarawera bursting back to life after 500 years of sleep. It was one of New Zealand’s largest eruptions in recent history and killed up to 150 people making it the countries most deadly since the arrival of the Europeans.
Tarawara was last active in 1315 and is believed to have had a great hand in the Great Famine of 1315-137 throughout Europe. In 1886 the mountain gave little warning of up coming events. On June 1st a series of waves were recorded on the surface of Lake Tarawera suggesting seismicity in the area although no one reported feeling quakes and there where no seismometers at this time. Tourists claimed they saw a phantom canoe floating across the waters with Maori warriors on board. Although there were multiple accounts on the sighting many believed it was simply a rogue wave caused by increased seismicity, tribal elders at Te Wairoa however claimed that it was a waka wairua (spirit canoe) and was a portent of doom.
All was quiet again in the following days and people though little of the complex. Many geologists at the time didn’t even consider the edifice to be active due to the lack of solfataric or fumarolic activity in comparison to New Zealand’s other volcanoes.
At 2am local time on June 10th this all changed. Locals where awoken by large tremors shortly followed by explosions heard as far away as Blenheim over 500 km to the south. by 2.30 all three peaks of Tarawera were eruption with fire fountains lighting up the pitch black, ash filled skies. The eruption began to the northeast side and spread rapidly along a fissure from Tarawera to Lake Rotomahana into the Waimangu Valley. The eruption was believed to be caused by a series of basaltic dikes which rose from depth and intersected the very active hydrothermal system under Tarawera and Lake Rotomahana, causing rapid steam/magma explosions, driving the plume that was observed and creating, by some accounts, fire fountains as tall as 2 km which explains the high explosively of a basaltic eruption.
The darkened skys were seen as far as Christchurch and was catapulted in the stratosphere where it lingered effecting climate for at least a year. The ash fall from the eruption – called locally the “Rotomahana Mud” – can be found into the Bay of Plenty almost 40 km away. This tephra covered 15,000 km2 over the North Island and over 4,500 km2 of the area with at least 5 cm of tephra.
The eruption itself produced at least 1.3 km3 of tephra (~0.7 km3 of dense rock equivalent), likely at a rate of higher than 6 x 104 m3/s. It also produced a base surge that travelled over 6 km from the craters moving 40 m/s and were large enough to top hills that were 360 meters tall which buried several Maori villages.
The Buried Village Rotorua is now a popular tourist destination often branded New Zealand’s answer to Pompeii. As well as the human impacts it also buried the Pink and White Terraces.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the pyroclastic flow from Mount Unzen which claimed the lives of 43 people.
Mount Unzen is actually several over lapping volcanoes on Japan’s island of Kyushu. It was the cause of Japan’s largest ever volcanic disaster in 1792 when a lava domed collapsed and caused a mega tsunami which killed nearly 15,000 people. After this even the volcano lay silent until beginning to stir in 1989.
Seismic swarms began in the November of 89 about 10 km west of the summit and gradually migrated eastward until the first phreatic eruption a full year later in November 1990. By May 20th 1991 fresh lava began to flow from the highly inflated summit area prompting the evacuation of almost 12,000 locals.
The threat of another eruption to the scale of 1792 brought journalists and scientists alike flocking to the surrounding area to monitor the activity of Unzen and its potential threat. Sadly this curiosity resulted in the deaths of 43 when on June 3rd activity peaked due to a possible lava dome collapse. This sent a huge pyroclastic flow surging down its flanks and funnelled in to a valley point in the direction where volcanologists and journalists had set up a base at what was thought to be a safe distance, over 4.5 km, from the summit.
Activity continued well in to 1995 and over 10,000 pyroclastic flows were recorded over this period. By the end of the eruption a new lava dome was in place 1.2 by 8 km wide. Its volume was approximated at 0.1 cubic km. In total, about 0.21 cubic km of plagioclase-phyric dacite magma was erupted over the course of the eruption at peak effusive rates of 7 cubic metres per second in 1991. Over 2000 buildings were destroyed by these flows in Shimabara City alone. Matters were further complicated between August 1992 and July 1993 when heavy rains caused multiple lahars destroying a further 1300 homes along the Mizunashi and Nakao Rivers, requiring the sudden evacuation of several thousand residents.
Mount Unzen has been placed on the official decade volcano list and is one of Japan’s most highly monitored areas.
Maurice and Katia Krafft
The Krafft’s were French volcanologists and soul mates who met at the University of Strasbourg. Their love for volcanology almost reviled their love for each other. The specialized in documenting eruptions as best and often as close as possible, their end was almost inevitable.
Their most famed contribution was the documentation of Nevado del Ruiz which when shown to the Phillipine president Corazon Aquino who was then convinced to evacuate the area surrounding Mount Pinatubo before its catastrophic 1991 eruption almost certainly saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.
Over a 20 year period, when volcanology was still a relativity young science, the married couple documented hundred of eruptions. They fillmed over 300 hours of footage, took thousands of photos and published multiple books.
While in the Philippines during Pinatubo’s early stages, Maurice was interviewed by a local news agency where he told the journalist “I am never afraid, because I have seen so much eruptions in 23 years that even if I die tomorrow I don’t care.” From here they flew out to Japan where activity was picking up at Unzen. The pair perished together when they were overcome by the pyroclastic flow on June 3rd.
Harry was an American volcanologist who although was based at USGS was funded by outside organisations. He specialised in volcanic debris flows and was closely involved with research on St Helens with his doctoral thesis ‘Rockslide-debris Avalanche of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington‘ being recognised as a leading paper on the event.
Glicken cheated death on St Helens as he was meant to be the volcanologist on duty May 18th however swapped with his then mentor David Johnston who was killed by the blast.
Sadly I awoke this morning to the news Mount Sinabung in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia had claimed the lives of three farmers working in the fields by the Gembar Village. This figure has since risen to 7 and is feared to continue to rise with several more critically injured and the Red Cross and army looking for further victims.
Mount Sinabung has been in a near constant state of eruption since late 2013. Pyroclastic flows sweep down its flanks on a regular basis which has lead to 4 km exclusion zone being enforced around the summit. On February 1st 2014 people were killed by one such pyroclastic flows.
About 10,000 people have been displaced by activity at the volcano which has been on the highest state of alert for well over a year. Sadly the volcano is positioned in a relatively poor and over populated area of the world, many people have little choice but to continue to farm on the volcanoes fertile flanks. Officials have struggled to keep the people to stick the ‘red’ exclusion zones and it is unclear how many people were on the mountain at the time of the recent activity.
Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei has instructed Karo Regent to take quick measures to vacate the red zones (Gamber village, Simpang Empat district and Karo Regency) but they know that this is easier said then done. The pyroclastic flows caused by partial collapses of the growing lava dome occurred in a series at 14:28, 15:08 and 16:39 local time on Saturday. Rescue attempts went through the night and in to Sunday morning. An ash column remained for hours, towering over the area darkening the skys and hampering the search operation.
The pyroclastic flow captured here to the left happened only a week ago on May 16th showing the power and regularity of such activity. On May 9th a lahar swept through Kutambaru near the Lau Barus River killing 1 and leaving one person still missing now also presumed dead.
Sinabung lay silently for nearly 400 year until springing back to life back in 2010. It has now killed at least 25 people since its rousing. Volcanism on the island of Sumatra is caused by the subduction of the Indo-Australian plate beneath the Eurasian plate along the Sunda Arc which creates the andesitic-dacitic composition magmas which are prone to such explosive activity. Sinabung sits just 25 miles north-east of the Toba Super Volcano caused by the same tectonic motion.
In the past week the Japanese Island of Kysushu has be ravaged by earthquakes.
Japan is a highly seismic area with noticeable quakes in some areas occurring nearly daily. But things began to escalate for the Kyushu region on Thursday night when a magnitude 6.5 quake brought several buildings down. As rescue efforts began the region had two more huge after shocks during the night, one over Mg 6 and the other > Mg 5. By midday Friday the death toll stood at 9 with over 800 injured and although the aftershocks kept coming many >Mg 4 people were still being pulled from the rubble. Sadly these events were quite possibly a precursor to something larger.
At 01.25 local time (15.25 GMT) a Mg 7.3 struck just north of Kumamoto just kilometers from the large earthquakes which had already occurred. Much of the seismicity in the Kyushu region is related to the subduction of the Philippine Sea plate at great depth. However this series of earthquakes have occurred at very shallow depths several hundred kilometers northwest of the Ryukyu Trench. They have been cause by strike-slip faulting within the Eurasian plate.
So far 22 more people have been reported dead but this is expected to rise in the coming days with at least 80 people known to betrapped in rubble. 11 of which are trapped in a Tokai university apartment in the town of Minami Aso.
The shallowness of the earthquakes means damage to the surface is high and it is not just collapsing building which are a hazard. People have fled the area down stream of a dam which collapsed soon after the earthquake. Landslides in the area have taken out roads and power lines and with heavy rain anticipated over the coming days JMA have advised mudslides will be a huge problem for rescuers.
The seismic problems of Kyushu may have also set in motion another geohazard in the form of Mt Aso. Yesterday one of my favorite volcanology bloggers Eric Klemetti tweeted “Quite a few volcanoes on Kyushu and these earthquakes have been centered near Unzen, Aso, Kirishima. This is NOT to say these earthquakes will trigger any eruptions, but could be worth watching over the next year.” Several hours late JMA reported a small scale eruption at Aso. Smoke plumes have migrated 100 meters above the summit and it is not yet clear if the activity is magmatic (caused by movement of magma towards the surface) or phreatic (steam explosion caused by heating of groundwater).
Eruptions and earthquakes do not always come hand in hand but each one can contribute to the other or not at all depending on the circumstances. One indication a volcano is about to erupt is volcanic tremors; these low frequency earthquakes are usually caused by the migration of magma or changes to magma chamber. Although they are rarely higher than a magnitude 4. On the other side large earth quakes can cause faulting in bed rock which allows magma to exploit a new weakness and find a path to the surface it previously could not intrude on. The same can happen for ground water with faulting caused by a quake allowing it to seep in to geothermal areas it previously did not have access to due to the impermeability of the rock. When earthquakes hit volcanic regions volcano observatories always keep a closer eye on vulnerable or highly active volcanoes as a precaution but it is not always needed.
The Aso Caldera complex has one of the world’s largest calderas. It is comprised of a 25 km north-south by 18 km east-west Caldera and a central cone group comprised of Mt. Neko, Mt. Taka, Mt. Naka, Mt. Eboshi, and Mt. Kishima. Mt Naka where the eruption has just taken place is the most active with its most recent eruption taking place last October. Although much of Aso’s activity in the past century has been relatively small it has had a violent history with at least 4 VEI 7 events in the past 300,000 years.
It’s is not clear whether the earthquakes in the past few days did trigger the current current eruption but JMA are keeping a close eye on the situation and I will update this page as I know more.
The second strongest earthquake ever recorded occurred at 5.36 pm AST (3.46 am 28/03 UTC) on Good Friday in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Registering a massive 9.2 on the moment magnitude scale, it shook the region for 4 and a half minutes and generating a tsunami which propagated through out the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Plate moves northward and subducts under the North American plate along the northern edge of the Pacific Ocean creating a highly seismic zone and the explosive volcanics of the Aleutian Islands. On March 27th 1964 the Pacific Plate jolted forward in a megathrust earthquake causing major vertical and horizontal displacement in an area spanning over 250,000 km2
At the time of the earthquake Alfred Wegener’s theory of plate tectonics was only just being proven by surveys of the worlds oceans. Although the study of seismology and the several large subduction earthquakes which happened in this era helped prove the theory it meant little was understood about the mechanics of megathrust earthquakes (a termed created in the wake of the Great Alaskan Quake). Earthquake resilient building standards where at the time and all where unprepared for the events of the Easter weekend.
At a depth of just 23 km the focus was just 125 km northwest of the states capital Anchorage which took most of the damage.It hit a high of XI on the Mercalli Intensity scale, the second highest mark, indicating the intensity of the shaking experienced in the area. The shaking tore apart buildings and subsidence ripped apart roads. Anchorage was built on sandy bluffs and clay, the earthquake caused a landslide which buried 75 homes. The control tower at Anchorage International airport was reduced to rubble.
139 people lost there lives, mainly due to the tsunami which badly hit much of the Alaskan coastline but also claimed lives as far away as Crescent City, California where 12 were killed. At its maximum the tsunami reached as high as 220 ft in Shoup Bay, but most were much smaller. Alaska was actually hit by multiple tsunami, one caused by the earthquake itself and then several local smaller waves up to hours later prolonging the suffering and hampering rescue operations.
The Great Alaskan Earthquake changed much of our understanding of the sheer power of our planet, which rang like a bell with vibrations for days after. Waterways as far south as Texas sloshed from side to side as the seismic waves where felt throughout the continent.
USGS worked quickly to collect data, recording the subsidence and uplift in the region. They began to see how secondary faults accommodated the erratic displacement. They also began to form a much clearer picture of the Aleutian Trench where the Pacific Plate subducts cementing the idea of plate tectonics. It also shone light on the major part soil liquefaction had in the destruction of the area. Core samples taken along the Copper River indicated that the Good Friday was not the first megathrust event in the area. Analyzing just 50 ft cores scientists revealed evidence of 9 megathrust earthquakes in the past 5,500 years.
The events of March 27th lead to the USGS beginning installation of an extensive earthquake-monitoring network across Alaska as part of the Advanced National Seismic System. In 1966 the National Earthquake Information Center was established as apart of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and was transferred to USGS control in 1973. By 1977 Congress passed the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act, the world was beginning to take the threat seriously.
I am pretty sure I have covered this event before but seeing as today marks the 5 year anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in the past decade I thought it deserves a much more in depth look. The events of March 11th destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and claimed the lives of nearly 20,000. For me, it opened my eyes to a world of geohazards and mad me realized this was something I wanted to study and understand so such loss of life would not happen again.
There are three elements to the events of March 11th that I am going to look at here; the earthquake, the tsunami and the Fukushima power plant. Each aspect a huge disaster in on there own but interlinked as they were caused devastation for Japan.
Japan is a volcanic island which stretches along where the North American, Pacific, Eurasian and Philippine plates all collide at different points. It is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the world’s most tectonically active area. Practically all of our planets largest and most destructive earthquakes occur along the ring, one of which rocked the east coast of Japan at 2.46 pm JST (5.46am UTC) on March 11th 2011.
The magnitude 9 quake struck at the shallow depth of just 32 km roughly 70 km off the Oshika Peninsular. The area was already alert to seismic activity as several large foreshocks had occurred in the run up including a Mg 7.2 on March 9th and followed by three more above a Mg 6. Of course no one knew these were precursors to something much larger…
Initial reports from JMA and USGS put the March 11th quake at a 7.9 but this had risen first to a 8.8 and then to a 9 before most of the seismic waves had even hit Tokyo 373 km away. Luckily thanks to Japans intense seismic network the countries capital had at least 80 seconds warning before they felt the strong shaking.
The megathrust earthquake occurred where the Pacific Plate subducts beneath the North America Plate. The Pacific Plate moves at a relative speed of roughly 9 mm per year but it is not a smooth decent, tension can build and release in a large snap causing an earthquake. On March 11th this happened in epic style causing over ~50 meters of displacement near the Japan Trench which caused the tsunami which swept across the Sendai planes. The earthquake was so powerful that up to 1.69 meters of co-seismic deformation has permanently altered our planet and affected the Earths tilt shaving 1.8 microseconds of the day (not that we would ever notice!)
It was the forth largest earthquake ever recorded and the largest ever to strike Japan.
The displacement on the sea bed in turn caused a huge displacement of water in the Pacific ocean its self. Across a 180 km stretch there was recorded up thrust of 6-8 meters. Above the rupture the tsunami waves would have looked like no more than ripples on the surface radiating out across the ocean. It is as the waves reach the continental shelf and the water is forced upwards that they begin to take on their characteristic ‘wall of water’ appearance.
At its maximum height (recorded at Miyako, Iwate) the waves hit 40.5 m high (133 ft). The Pacific has the most comprehensive tsunami warning systems in the world but even this gave only about 15 minutes warning from the earthquake to waves hitting the coast line. Travelling at speeds up to 500 mph the water surged up to 6 miles (10 km) inland.
It was not just Japan which felt the repercussions of the event. Tsunami waves propagated out through out the entire Pacific. 11,000 miles away the coast of Chile experienced waves in excess of 2 meters along with most of the America west coast right up through to the Aleutian Islands and as far south as Antarctica where it broke chunks off the Sulzberger Ice Shelf
An estimated 5 million tonnes of debris began washing up on shore lines across the Pacific in the months and even years after the initial Earthquake. In April 2013 a 20 ft boat ran aground in California and was later identified as belonging to the marine sciences program at Takata High School, Japan. NOAA have kept tracks and aimed to clear as much of the debris as possible to minimize risk to ships and wild life but the operation can take more than a decade.
The melt down at the Fukushima was the worst nuclear disaster the world has seen since Chernobyl in 1986.
The plant ran by TEPCO had 3 of its 6 units shut down for inspection when the earthquake struck. Units 1, 2 and 3 then under went automatic shutdown cutting off power. 50 minutes later the waves up to 15 meters high breached the measly 5.7 meters seawalls and flooded the basements of the turbine buildings and disabling the emergency generators. The lack of power meant the cooling systems of the 3 active reactors failed and eventually the heat caused by decay caused the containers to burst leaking radioactive material.
It was classified a Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) and its was the way the event was handled from the very beginning my TEPCO which saw the escalation in the threat. Approximately 15 PBq of caesium-137 was released along with some 500 PBq of iodine-131, luckily all the failed reactors were in concrete containment vessels, which limited the release of strontium-90, americium-241 and plutonium.
No deaths were caused by the events or short term radiation exposure but it is thought people in the area worst hit will have a slightly higher risk of developing certain cancers in the future. Now 5 years on there is still a 12.5 km is still in place with thousands of people still exiled from their homes. The wild has reclaimed the land making it look like a scene from an apocalyptic film.
It could be centuries before the area is truly deemed safe to live on again.
Pre-Warning; This has happened before
Japan is no stranger to tsunamis; the 1896 and 1933 Sanriku earthquakes (Mg 8.5 and 8.4 respectively) also brought deadly waves. For this reason tsunami barriers have been constructed both on and off shore, trees were planted along the coastline, vertical evacuation buildings were built to the highest standards and regular evacuation training was introduced. But none of these were built to with stand the sheer force of a tsunami of this magnitude.
In 2001 a team from Tohoku University published an article in Journal of Natural Disaster predicting such an event occurring every 800-1100 years. Within the Sendai Plain there is evidence of at least 3 major tsunami deposits all left within the past 3000 years. On July 9th 869 BC what is believed to be a magnitude 8-9 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sanriku causing a major tsunami which left deposits up to 4 km inland. So given that we knew an event like this had occurred before, why was Japan not better prepared for March 11th?
Sadly human nature does not always listen to the reason of science. It is often easier to believe ‘it won’t happen in my life time’ and then brush the threat under the carpet for future generations. The problem is it does not matter how much we study the mechanics of our planet we are still no where near being able to predict these disasters with any degree of accuracy meaning preparation is our best defence.
A report issued by the Japanese government in May 2015 claimed the events of March 11th 2011 caused $300 billion dollars. A confirmed 15,894 people lost their lives, 2,562 people are still unaccounted for.
5 years on the area is yet to recover. An estimated 174,000 are still displaced mainly due to the exclusion zone still heavily in place around the Fukushima plant. Soon as the initial rescue operation was completed the Tohoku Earthquake Tsunami Joint Survey Group was assembled. A team of natural scientists and engineers from 63 universities world wide set out to understand what made this tsunami so powerful and how we can protect our selves from further events. By the end of 2011 the Japanese government had passed laws to establish “tsunami-safe cities” and pledged billions of dollars to an intense 5 year clean up operation. It was clearly a bigger job than they originally thought….
Today there are still over 60,000 people living in temporary accommodation.For residents once living near the Fukushima power plant they will probably never return to there own homes. Sendai is still trying to recover from the tragic events but also now living in fear that this could occur again.
It is for this reason I choose to go in to studying geoscience. We all live at the mercy of our planet and most of us never even consider the risk the land beneath our feet poses. Prediction, preparation and knowledge can save lives and this is what I one day want to help with.
For years a major thing on my bucket list was to swim in a crater lake, which as the name suggests is a body of water formed in a volcanic crater or caldera. Luckily I got to tick this one of when I visited Nicaragua last year and swam in the blissfully warm Apoyo Lagoon, but of course this only appealed to my addictive nature and made me dream about going one better…how about a crater lake formed by a super eruption. When my friend told me she was off travelling for a few months and her first port of call would be New Zealand, I decided she could live my dream for me on this one and I straight away advised her to head to Lake Taupo. Of course to any one without local knowledge or a familiarity with historic eruptions, this would not be of any significance. To be honest neither would me telling them I want to go swim in a random lake in New Zealand. So I decide to write a peace on one of the largest eruptions in the past 70,000 years to explain just why it is so important.
With a surface area of 616 square kilometres (238 sq mi), it is the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand and the second largest freshwater lake in Oceania. Now it’s a popular tourist destination, an area of true natural beauty, but this tranquil lake was born from a violent even which occurred roughly 26,000 years ago.
The Taupo volcanic zones spans a hug area in North Island 350 kilometres (217 mi) long by 50 kilometres (31 mi) wide. Mount Ruapehu stands 2797 high and marks its southern limits, while a submarine volcano, Whakatane volcano, 85 kilometres (53 mi) beyond White Island is considered it’s north-eastern. Several volcanoes in the zone are still very active with Ruapehu and Tarawera causing New Zealand’s most deadly eruptions in the past few centuries (both events killing around 150 people each). None of these small events come close to the Taupo volcano itself after which the zone is named. The zone is caused by east-west rifting within plate the at a rate of 8mm per year, slowly pulling the Northern Island apart.
Taupo’s last eruption is referred to as the Hatepe eruption and has be dated at roughly 180 AD was a VEI 7 making it one of the largest in the past 5,000 years. It coincided with reports as far away as Rome and Northern China of brilliant red skyies and disruption to climate for several years. Haptepe spewed more material in to atmosphere than several of the largest eruptions of this century combined, but still it was nothing compared to the event which form the Taupo caldera and in turn Lake Taupo; the Oruanui eruption.
The Unit as the level of the volcanologists feet is an exposure of an unwelded pyroclastic flow deposit from the Oruanui eruption. The light- coloured air fall pumice are from varying eruptions between Oruanui and the uppermost layer of deposits which were laid by the Hatepe eruption.
Its hard to imagine what the Northen Island looked like before the Oruanui eruption 26,500 years ago with out the gapping hole that is Lake Taupo at its heart. The eruption released an estimated total of 1,170 km3 (280 cu mi) of material, a VEI 8 eruption making it the largest eruption of the past 70,000 years. It effected climate world wide for decades, many people saying it had a helping hand in the last glacial maximum. The effects are hard to comprehend when the largest volcanic eruption in human times was only a fraction of the size.
The eruption caused the Taupo magma chamber to collapse on its self creating the vast caldera which today Lake Taupo occupies just over two thirds of. Ash fall deposits from the eruption have been documented over 1000 km on Chatham Island showing the intensity of the blast. An event like this would decimate modern day New Zealand quiet possibly leaving no survivors on the Northern Island if not enough warning was given. Luckily though all is peaceful and scerene on the shores of the Great Lake and no threat appears to be imminent. That said Taupo still shows us gentle signs of the power beneath with its Craters of the Moon tourist attraction filled with steam vents and mud pools as well as numerous hot springs.
When people ask me why I study volcanology when the risk is “minimal” to human life in comparison to say earthquakes or flooding, this is a prime example which shows how little people know about what our planet is capable of. So Ginge, I hope you enjoy your trip and now understand a little more why Taupo is one part of your adventure I sincerely wish I was there!
It has often been pointed out that the deadliest volcano is the one you did not know about. This is our dilemma. When you try to identify the potentially most dangerous ones, by necessity you have to go out on a limb to find those that are not well known nor well studied and there is always the chance to end up with egg on your face. But in this we are not alone. As an example, it was long thought that a particularly heavy layer of volcanic dust in ice core samples dated to c. 3650 BP belonged to Thera. Only recently has most of this been identified as belonging to the far larger, contemporaneous, 100km3 DRE Aniakchak eruption in the Aleutians, Alaska.
When it comes to large volcanic eruptions, one of the more striking features is the Sunda Arc that runs from Sumatra via Java and the Sunda Strait through the Lesser Sunda Islands. Sumatra is home to the Toba caldera, source and result of the largest volcanic eruption in the past 100 kA. Recently, a vast body of magma underlying Java was discovered, one that feeds that islands prodigious volcanic activity. But of the southern part of this arc; the Sunda Strait and the Lesser Sunda Islands, little is known. Yet this part of the Sunda Arc is home to two of the largest volcanic eruptions of the past 1,000 years; Rinjani (~1257 AD, <80 km3 DRE) and Tambora (1815, 33 – 41 km3 DRE). Sufficient to say, was there a repeat of either of those eruptions today, the islands hosting these giants are home to some 4½ million people each and neither such VEI 7 blast would be survivable. As both had “mega colossal” eruptions recently geologically speaking, neither is a good candidate for another one in the foreseeable future. But on the premise that a similar magmatic feed into a similar geological setting will most likely result in similar volcanic activity, let’s take a closer look! Lightning did after all strike twice here within the past millennium!
From a birds-eye view, this area is characterised by the formation of very large stratovolcanic cones with a prominence in excess of 3 km (eg Raung, ancestral Catur, Ancestral Batur. Agung, Rinjani, Tambora and the partly submarine Sangeang Api), volcanic complexes (eg. Biau, Buyan-Bratan and Batur) and 10-15 km calderas (eg. Biau, Bedegul, Batur). It all comes together on Bali, tropical island paradise and the place to go for a romantic holiday. Apart from the 1963 VEI 5 (5.3) eruption of Gunung Agung, little is known about the volcanism of Bali.
With a population of 4,225,000 as of January 2014, Bali is home to most of Indonesia’s Hindu minority which according to the 2010 Census constituted 84.5% of the island’s population. Just over a quarter of a century ago, the economy was mainly based on agriculture. Before the 2003 terrorist bombings, over 80% of the economy was tourism-related and Bali had become the richest of all Indonesian territories. Annual tourism is in excess of eight million with five being Indonesian and the remaining three international. To crown it all, Bali was host to the 2013 Miss World pageant.
The crust beneath Bali Island is about 18 km thick and has seismic velocities similar to those of oceanic crust (Curray et al, 1977). The depth of the Benioff Zone beneath the Batur Volcano is 165 km, which has been computed by multiple linear regression analyses (Hutchison, 1976). The depth of the seismic zone beneath the arc reaches to approximately 650 km depth between Java and Flores. The oldest widely exposed rocks are lower Tertiary shallow marine sediments, which are intruded and overlain by plutonic and related volcanic rocks in a zone only slightly south of the present-day volcanic arc (Bemmelen, 1949). The rocks of the Sumatra to Bali sector range from tholeiitic through calc-alkaline to high-K calc-alkaline series.
Volcanism in Bali is concentrated to three areas, the Buyan-Bratan volcanic complex which formed roughly 100,000 years ago but holds several young stratovolcanic cones to the SSW, the Batur Caldera which formed <100,000 to 25,000 years ago and has the highly active stratovolcanic cone of Batur. Both areas contain large lakes within the caldera perimeters. Finally, there is Gunung Agung which had a powerful VEI 5 eruption as recently as 1963. However, the eruptive record of Agung extends no further back than to the 1808 VEI 2 eruption and that of Batur to a VEI 2 eruption in 1804. Being located just south of the Equator, the tropical climate and vegetation quickly covers whatever volcanics that have been deposited. This may create a false sense of security.
Buyan-Bratan Volcanic Complex
The age of the 6 x 11 km Bedegul caldera which formed when ancestral Mount Catur collapsed is unknown although it must be substantially older than ~30,000 years and possibly even hundreds of thousands of years. The field of young stratovolcanoes to the SW, the Byan-Bratan Volcanic Complex, is heavily vegetated, thus the latest period of activity remains unknown but has been tentatively placed hundreds or thousands of years ago (Wheller, 1986). Two of those stratovolcanoes, Tapak and Lesung must have formed after the last large eruption of the nearby Batur Caldera as they not covered by deposits of its youngest dacitic pumice eruptions. As this has been dated to 20,150 years ago, these stratovolcanoes with prominences of 625 and 669 m respectively as measured from the surface of Lake Beretan must therefore be less than this age. Inside the caldera, geothermal activity is exploited at the Buyan-Bratan geothermal power plant and there are at least a dozen hot springs in the area.
The outline of the remaining caldera walls suggest that there may have been two events; the first forming the 9 to 10 km diameter Western part with the stratovolcanic cone of Tapak forming subsequently near the centre, the second forming the smaller 5.5 to 6 km diameter Eastern part. Very tentatively and assuming that the calderas were formed by the subsequent collapse of those edifices following a major eruption, also assuming that the ancestral volcanoes were similarly steep to the nearby Mount Agung, we can make an educated guess at the size of those eruptions. Ancestral Catur (Catur A) would have been about 3,300 m high (a.s.l.) and the caldera bottom, allowing for subsequent infill, would have been about 600 to 800 m deep as measured from the remaining walls. This yields a figure on the order of 52 + 16 = 78 km3 or borderline VEI 7 for the larger caldera, Catur A. Catur B would have been about 2,400 m a.s.l. and the caldera ~500-600m deep as measured from the remaining walls prior to infill. This results in figures of 11.3 + 4.7 = 16 km3 or a small to medium-sized VEI 6 eruption. Please note that this is speculation on my part! No doubt better-informed readers will hasten to correct my assumptions from a position of superior knowledge!
Apart from the already mentioned Gunung Tapak (1909 m), the volcanic field subsequent to the caldera forming event(-s) includes at least another five major stratovolcanoes – Batukaru (2,276 m), Adeng (1,826 m), Pohen (2,063 m), Sengayang (2,087 m), Lesung (1,865 m). There is no information on any eruptive activity but as previously stated, due to the tropical climate and vegetations, all we can definitely state is that there has been no activity in the past two to three hundred years as there is no historical record of any. With at least two of them being younger than ~20,000 years, the likelihood is that all have been active recently, geologically speaking. What their presence does suggest however, is that the original magmatic system of ancestral Catur (Catur A & B) has been well and truly destroyed and that if in the future, there is renewed volcanic activity in the Buyan-Bratan volcanic complex, this will be from one or more of these young stratovolcanoes and most likely not greater than VEI 3, possibly a very small VEI 4 eruption in the sense that the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 counts as one. As an example, at Tapak there are at least five layers of scoria separated by four layers of paleosoil, indicative of at least five periods of extended eruptive activity separated by four periods of repose. (Watanabe et al:2010). Watanabe and his co-authors repeatedly lament the fact that while Batur Caldera nowadays is relatively well studied, almost no research whatsoever (apart from their own exploratory field study, author’s note) seems to have been undertaken of the less easily accessible Buyan-Bratan Caldera and volcanic complex.
Gunung Batur (1,717 m.a.s.l., prominence 700 m) is a small stratovolcano in north-central Bali and its most active. It has several craters and remains active to this day. The first historically documented eruption of Batur was in 1804 and it has erupted over 20 times in the last two centuries (VEI 1 – 2). Larger eruptions occurred in 1917, 1926 and 1963. Clinopyroxene from the 1963 eruption of Batur record crystallisation depths between 12 and 18 km, whereas clinopyroxene from the 1974 eruption show a main crystallisation level between 15 and 19 km. Furthermore, plagioclase melt thermobarometry indicates the existence of shallow level magma reservoirs with depths between 2 and 4 km for the 1963 eruption and between 3 and 5 km for the 1974 event (Geiger:2014). This suggests the existence of a very large and rather deeply lying primary or lower magma chamber as well as a moderately substantial upper magma chamber.
The term “Batur” often refers to the entire caldera, including Gunung Abang, Bali’s third-highest peak, which is situated along the rim. Batur is a popular trekking mountain among tourists, as its peak is free from forest cover, offers spectacular views and is easily accessible.
Batur has produced vents over much of the inner caldera, but a NE-SW fissure system has localized the Batur I, II, and III craters along the summit ridge. Historical eruptions have been characterized by mild-to-moderate explosive activity (Strombolian?) sometimes accompanied by effusive emissions of basaltic lava flows from both summit and flank vents which have reached the caldera floor and the shores of Lake Batur in historical time.
The Batur caldera formed in two stages. Through radiocarbon dating, we have a relatively good idea of when. The first and larger of these is associated with the 84 km3 dacitic ignimbrite known as the “Ubud Ignimbrite” which in locations is over 120 m thick. About 29,300 years BP, Ancestral Batur had a “mega-colossal” VEI 7 eruption which caused a steep-walled depression about 1 km deep and over ten km in diameter. The second ignimbrite, the 19 km3 dacitic “Gunungkawi“ Ignimbrite”, erupted about 20,150 years BP from a large crater in the area of the present-day lake. The second eruption triggered a second collapse, which created the central 7½ km diameter circular caldera, and formed a basin structure. Both the Ubud and Gunungkawi Ignimbrites are of a similar dacitic composition although the latter is more mafic, white to red in main with less than 10% dark grey to black dacitic pumice clasts. In the case of the second of these ignimbrite, two different cooling layers were identified. The lower, thus first ejected, is finely grained and welded, hence it was far hotter. In places, it is between 5 and 20 m thick. The upper, coarser, partially welded and hence “cooler” unit has suffered much erosion but is in places up to between 50 and 70 metres thick. The calculated volume of erupted material for the Ubud (84 km3) and Gunungkawi (19 km3) Ignimbrites coincide with and are proportional to the size of related collapses of Caldera I (80 km3) and Caldera II (18 km3).
After these eruptions, there were two further ignimbrite-producing eruptions, both mainly intra-caldera. The Batur Ignimbrite is a densely welded dacitic ignimbrite, typically 50 – 200 m thick, which at one point overflows the caldera rim to form 30 to 70 m thick layers of non-welded ignimbrite. The Blingkang Ignimbrite is a non-welded to moderately welded intra-caldera ignimbrite deposit between 5 to 15 metres thick. Sparse charcoal clasts scattered in this sheet give an age of 5,500 ± 200 years B.P. The thick phreatomagmatic and surge deposits which are found below the ignimbrite indicate that this was preceded by phreatomagmatic eruptions. In addition to these four sequences, basaltic to basaltic andesite lavas and pyroclastic deposits are inter-layered with and underlie the ignimbrite sequences, particularly in the southern slope of the caldera.
In spite of the frequently erupting modern Gunung Batur with its moderately sized eruptions, this caldera cannot yet be said to have shot its bolt due to the implied existence of a very large magma reservoir, one that was apparently not destroyed by the caldera-forming eruptions. Both the Batur and Buyan-Bratan calderas illustrate a recurring theme where first a very large stratovolcanic edifice is built after which there is a substantial VEI 7 ignimbrite-forming eruption followed by the formation of a dacitic to andecitic dome complex after which a large, ignimbrite-forming VEI 6 eruption follows. Even if one of these volcanic complexes almost certainly is no longer capable of such large eruptions and the other probably not in the foreseeable future, there remains one gigantic stratovolcano on Bali, one that has dimensions of 8 x 11 km as measured at the 1200-m isoline, 2,000 m above which its somewhat truncated summit towers.
Located in the eastern part of Bali, Mt Agung is a young basaltic to andesitic composite volcano. Bordered to the east by the inactive or extinct volcanic cone Seraja, to the south by an ancient volcanic complex and to the NW by a valley that separates it from the Batur volcanic complex, Agung goes all the way down to the Indian Ocean to the NE and through a long unimpeded decline over the Buyan-Bratan and Batur ignimbrites and lahar deposits to the SW and WSW, all the way to the capital Denpasar and beyond. South of Agung, there are older Tertiary volcanic deposits as well as remnants of coral reefs. The present-day volcano is surrounded by older Quarternary andesitic and basaltic-andesitic lavas and pyroclastic deposits, something that has prompted the conclusion that Agung overlies an older caldera formation (S. Self et al:1979).
The eruptive record of Agung goes back only to 1808 when the volcano had a VEI 2 eruption. Since that date, Agung erupted again in 1821 (uncertain) and 1843, both VEI 2 eruptions after which it remained dormant for 120 years until the great eruption of 1963. Prior to 1808 is a big unknown, although the relative symmetry of the mountain, the state of its upper slopes as well as a comparison with similar volcanoes suggests that Agung would have erupted relatively frequently.
On February 18th 1963, locals reported hearing a loud explosion after which a dark eruption cloud rose over Agung. The first explosions were probably phreatic or phreatomagmatic. On February 24th, highly viscous lava oozed over the northern slope, 0.5-0.8 km wide and 30-40 m in height. It was moving so slowly that it took 18 to 20 days to reach 500 m a.s.l after travelling some 7 km down from the peak. This works out at a speed of about 4 mm per second or 14 m per hour. The volume of lava erupted was estimated to be on the order of 0.05 km3. After this, the eruption continued with a combination of effusive and explosive events.
On March 17th came the main eruption. The eruption cloud reached 8-10 km above the volcano but the lower portions fell down the slopes as nuees ardentes that travelled with a speed of about 60 km/hour up to 12-15 km from the crater down the valleys to the south and east. From this description, it seems the eruption was peléean. The pyroclastic flows destroyed many villages around the volcano and caused the deaths of many people living near the river valleys. Estimates are that 820 people were killed by the pyroclastic flows, 163 people were killed by ashfall and volcanic bombs and a further 165 people were killed by lahars.
For the 1963 Agung eruption, results from clinopyroxene melt thermobarometry suggest dominant crystallisation levels between 18 and 22 km depth. Plagioclase melt thermobarometry indicates the existence of shallow level magma reservoirs, with depths between 3 and 7 km for the 1963 eruption, located around the boundary between the (upper) sedimentary and the oceanic type mid- to lower crust. The deep magma storage regions notably coincide with lithological boundaries in the crust and mantle beneath Bali, at the boundary between MOHO and crust, while the shallow reservoirs are consistent with recent geophysical studies that point to regional shallow level magma storage. An along-arc comparison reveals this trend to be characteristic of Sunda arc magma storage systems. According to Harri Geiger, the author, the result “highlights the utility of a thermobarometric approach to detect multi-level systems beneath recently active volcanic systems.” (Geiger: 2014)
As was remarked at the beginning; a similar magmatic feed into a similar geological setting will most likely result in similar volcanic activity. This premise is further substantiated by the conclusion presented by Geiger, that the deep magma storage regions notably coincide with lithological boundaries in the crust and mantle and that this is a characteristic of the Sunda Arc. The conclusions that can be inferred from these observations are:
Very large caldera-forming, ignimbrite depositing eruptions VEI 6 to 7 are a characteristic of Lower Sunda Arc volcanism
The location of the deep magma reservoirs is such that these are not likely to be destroyed by the caldera-forming eruptions unlike those at other locations (e.g. Roccamonfina, Mt Mazama, Aniakchak)
Bali contains no less than three such volcanic systems of which the currently inactive Buyan-Bratan Volcanic complex is in a phase of stratovolcanic dome construction, the Batur Caldera is in the process of rebuilding a main stratovolcanic edifice while the Agung system is meandering towards the end of that phase
All three volcanic systems pose potential hazards to the Balinese population and require further studies as well as systematic monitoring
Of the three, the greatest danger is posed by the Agung system and at present, there is insufficient data to rule out a very large, caldera-forming and or ignimbrite depositing eruption
For these reasons, Bali is our proposed number six on the New Decade Volcano program.
Acknowledgement: I am indebted to Shérine France for finding and bringing Watanabe et al 2010 and Geiger 2014 to my attention.