Tag Archives: Earthquake

Eruption Update

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I may have bee quiet on eruption updates lately but that is far from meaning our restless Earth has been quiet. Here is some of the recent updates.

Kilauea 

As Kilauea has been in a constant state of eruption since 1983, some don’t consider changes in activity as news. However as the June 27th lava showed us this relatively calm giant still poses a threat to people.

USGS reports suggest that the summit is still inflating; 7.5 microradians were recorded in the past week alone. Over the weekend we saw rapid filling of the Halema’uma’u crater from a depth of 90 ft from the crater rim to within 10 ft by Sunday lunch time. Yesterday (April 29th) the webcam observed small explosions and spattering with rock falls as the crater began to overflow.

Seismicity remains at an increased level towards the summit and East rift zone where wide spread breakouts from the eruption site are active as close as 8 km of Pu’u ‘O’o. There has be net inflation of Pu’u ‘O’o over the past week but not as significant as at the summit. As the June 27th Lava flows nears its 1 year anniversary incandesance indicates that surface flows remain active northeast of Pu’u ‘O’o.

Calbuco

Although the more explosive phase of the eruption seems to have died down, there are still high ash emissions and flight disruption is still an issue across both Chile and Argintina with ash plumes trailing to the north and south east at just over 1.5 km high. The 20 km exclusion zone is still inplace however it is belived that some people have returned to their homes within the area with maximum displaced 6,514 at the begining of this week. Seismicity has since declinded but it is still under observation.

Sinabung

Collapse of the lava dome on April 28th caused a pyroclastic flow to surge down the flanks. Luckily exclusion zones are still in place from activity over the past few months. The Darwin VAAC  said an ash columb exceeds 14,000 ft although satalitte confirmation has not been possible due to cloud coverage.

Aira

JMA reported that 29 explosions from Showa Crater at Aira Caldera’s Sakurajima volcano ejected tephra as far as 1,300 m during 20-24 April. Nine of the explosions generated ash plumes that rose 3 km above the crater rim; one explosion, on 24 April, produced an ash plume that rose 4 km. Incandescence from the crater was visible on one night. The Alert Level remained at 3 (on a scale of 1-5). Based on JMA notices, the Tokyo VAAC reported that explosions during 22-28 April generated plumes which rose to altitudes of 1.5-4.9 km and drifted S, SE, E, NE, and N.

Tungurahua

Moderate-to-high seismic activity at Tungurahua during 22-28 April, characterized by long-period events, tremor, and explosions. On 28 April an emission with a minor ash content rose 3 km and drifted W. Roaring was noted and lahars descended the La Pampa (NW) and Rea drainages.

Popocatepetl

During 22-28 April the seismic network at Popocatépetl recorded 25-91 daily emissions mostly consisting of water vapor and gas. Cloud cover sometimes prevented observations of the crater, although gas plumes and nighttime crater incandescence were noted daily. On 22 April an explosion at 01.21 produced diffuse gas and water vapor emissions. Explosions at 16.43 and 17.58 local time generated ash plumes. The Alert Level remained at Yellow, Phase Two.

Krakatoa

PVMBG reported that during 1 March-21 April diffuse white plumes rose 25-50 m above Anak Krakatau, although foggy weather often prevented observations. Seismicity continued to be dominated by shallow and deep volcanic earthquakes, as well as signals indicating emissions. The Alert Level remained at .

Sheveluch

During 17-24 April the lava dome extrusion onto Sheveluch’s N flank was accompanied by incandescence, hot block avalanches, and fumerolic activity. A thermal anomaly was detected during 16-18 and 23 April; cloud cover obscured views on the other days. The aviation code remained at Orange.

Figure 1; http://fineartamerica.com/featured/halemaumau-by-moonlight-grant-kaye.html

Figure 2; http://news.yahoo.com/image-asia-pyroclastic-flows-erupt-mount-sinabung-121702289.html

Nepal Earthquake

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I sat in a bar last Thursday night discussing the rarity of large-scale natural disasters with several of my non-geologically minded friends. They were shocked to hear just how common certain hazards actually were. I explained that media coverage is scarce depending on fatalities or area of the occurrence, but we have actually been lucky not to have seen any particularly deadly events in a while. Sadly I spoke to soon…

Figure 1. Remains of the Bhaktapur temple, once a UNESCO world heritage site

At 11.56 am local time (06.11 UTC) Saturday, Nepal was rocked by its strongest earthquake in decades. The Mg 7.8 quake was intensified by its shallow depth, just 11 km below the surface, meaning waves had less time to dissipate and disperse leaving the region to feel its full force. This morning officials have raised the estimated death toll again to just under 4000 but it could be weeks before we have real figures. The rescue operation has been hindered by hundreds of aftershocks many over a Mg 5 and even several over a Mg 6 making them devastating events in their own right.

The effects where far-reaching with all neighbouring countries feeling the tremor. India has so far reported 67 deaths and China and Bangladesh 20 and 8 respectively. 19 people lost their lives on Mount Everest as the quake induced avalanches across the snowy region. It is the mountains highest fatality since explorers began ascending its flanks in 1953, scores of hikers are still believed to be stranded.

Figure 2. South Base camp was struck by an avalanche soon after the earthquake killing 12

Why has this earthquake been so devastating?
The answer is a combination of two factors;

Firstly the region is extremely tectonically active. The processes that caused this earthquake are the same that have given rise to the highest mountain range on the planet, the Himalayas. The Indian plate is moving north-northwest towards the Eurasia plate at a rate of 40-50 mm per year. The thick continental crust of the Indian plate instead of simply subducting under the Eurasian plate in to the mantle, like oceanic crust would, actually lifts the opposing plate creating the Himalayan mountain range. Large scale earthquake are relatively common along the subducting surface of the Indian plate as it sticks to the overriding plate, there have been 4 in the last century including Saturdays event. The largest was a Mg 8.0 back in 1934 roughly 240 km southwest of the recent quake; over 17,000 lost their lives. The last was back in 1988 claimed nearly 1500.

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Figure 3.

Secondly despite all this knowledge the country and many of its neighbours are grossly unprepared for such events. Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest countries, many of its residents live in extremely poorly constructed buildings and in many cases shacks. Building codes and regulations in place in richer at risk regions, say San Francisco, are simple non-existent in the Himalayan region. The epicenter was just 77 km north-west of the countries densely populated capital Kathmandu, were it’s believed at least 800 have lost their lives. Surrounding villages have seen complete devastation with no building and very few people surviving.

Figure 4. Huge displacement due to the quake.

Only last month at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction identified the potential threat in the region but no further measures were put in place. Hopefully when the rebuilding process begins steps will be taken to limit the threat of future earthquakes.

Figure 1; http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2015/apr/26/nepal-earthquake-death-toll-exceeds-1500-rolling-report

Figure 2; http://unofficialnetworks.com/2014/04/12-confirmed-dead-everest-avalanche

Figure 3;

Figure 4; http://www.cidi.org/disaster-responses/nepal/#.VT5EMpMYGuQ

Tsunami Awareness Week 2015

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March 22nd – 28th marks international Tsunami Awareness week. In the past decade humanity have witnessed to devastating tsunamis; Boxing day 2004 and Sendi March 11th 2011, both giving the world the bleak reminder of waters destructive power. But what actually is a tsunami and why are they so destructive?

Cars, trees and even buildings can be swept away as if they are mere toys. Japan March 11th 2011

tsunami

tsuːˈnɑːmi/
noun
noun: tsunami; plural noun: tsunami; plural noun: tsunamis
  1. a long, high sea wave caused by an earthquake or other disturbance.

The literal translation of ‘tsunami’ is ‘Harbour Wave’. This comes from the fact in open water a series of tsunami can travel thousands of mile visibly undetectable until they reach shallower waters causing them to rise up to the walls of water we know them to be.

They are caused by a large displacement of water most commonly by an earthquake or landslide, and are by far one of the most deadliest types of natural disaster. If you are in a coastal area and feel an earthquake it is often best to head to higher ground even if a tsunami alert has not been given, although most areas prone to tsunamis have quiet good warning systems waves still travel at speeds of up 500 km per hour, so even a few minutes warning may not always be sufficient.

The first warning of an income tsunami is often what is known as draw back. As water is displaced is often pulls water out to sea, so if you were sat on the beach it would appear as if the sea was withdrawing like at low tide but very quickly. Again if you see this, always best to get to high ground as quickly and calmly as possible.

A common misconception is that a tsunami is one wave, it is actually a series of waves. Also the first is often not the most powerful. This is why it can seem as the water just keeps coming as it gets further inland, its being forced by further waves.

Subduction zone earthquakes tend to cause the most powerful and deadly tsunamis such as the Boxing day or Sendi however the largest ever wave ever recorded was from a landslide induced tsunami at Lituya Bay, Alaska in 1958. Waves reached over 500 meters tall all this is in part the the shape of the bay as opposed to a landslide going in to open waters. Over 80% of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean, the ring of fire.

If you are on a coast line in a at risk area, especially if holidaying and not too familiar with the area, make sure you check for evacuation routes and either easy access to high ground or strong, stable buildings which you can take shelter on high floors (wooden or unstable structures can be washed away!).

If you would like to know more here is a list of Tsunami Awareness Week links;

Mg 6.9 Iwate and Tsunami warning

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At 8.06 am local time a magnitude 6.9 submarinal earthquake occurred of the coast of Iwate, Japan. JMA have claimed it is an after shock from the mg 9, March 11th megathrust quake in 2011.

The following tsunami alert was released although this was played up by some media stations to a full blown warning.

This Tsunami Warning/Advisory was issued in the past
Occurred at 08:06 JST 17 Feb 2015
Region name Sanriku Oki
Depth about 10 km
Magnitude 6.9
Click the map to zoom in

Tsunami Forecast Region Category of Tsunami Warning/Advisory
IWATE PREF. TSUNAMI ADVISORY

Tsunami Warnings / Tsunami Advisories

Issued at 08:09 JST 17 Feb 2015

******************Headline******************
Tsunami Advisories have been issued for the following coastal regions of Japan:
IWATE PREF.

*******************Text********************
Tsunami Advisories have been issued for the following coastal regions of Japan:
<Tsunami Advisory>
IWATE PREF.

***********About Tsunami Forecast************
<Tunami Advisory>
Marine threat is in place.
Get out of the water and leave the coast immediately.
As the strong current will continue, do not get in the sea or approach coasts until the advisory is cleared.

<Tsunami Forecast (Slight Sea Level Change)>
Though there may be slight sea-level change in coastal regions, no tsunami damage is expected.

******* Earthquake Information ********
Occurred at 08:06 JST 17 Feb 2015
Region name SANRIKU OKI
Latitude 39.9N
Longitude 144.5E
Depth about 10 km
Magnitude 6.9

The following arrival times were issued;

Tsunami Forecast Region/
Tsunami Observation Site
High Tide Time Estimated Initial
Tsunami Arrival Time
<Tsunami Advisory>
  IWATE PREF. ( Area where tsunami is
expected to arrive first )
08:30 JST 17 Feb
    Miyako 13:28 JST 17 Feb 08:40 JST 17 Feb
    Ofunato 13:36 JST 17 Feb 08:40 JST 17 Feb
    Kamaishi 13:36 JST 17 Feb 08:40 JST 17 Feb
    Kuji-ko 13:23 JST 17 Feb 08:50 JST 17 Feb

The warning was then terminated at 10.21 local time.

Today in Geological History; 17th January – Northridge and Nyiragongo

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The Northridge Earthquake 1994

At 4.30 am local time, the residents of the San Fernando Valley region of L.A were awoken by a shallow magnitude 6.7 earthquake. It is estimated to be one of the most costly natural disasters the state has faced causing up to 40 billon US dollars and killed over 60 people.

The earthquake struck along a fault line which was previously unknown off, the Northridge blind thrust fault. It produced the highest ever recorded ground motions at the time and literally threw many buildings off their foundations. It sparked greater mapping of the L.A fault systems so places could be better prepared for further destructive quakes in the future.

Some of the most dramatic pictures of the destruction came from the many freeways and interstates which suffered structural failure and/or collapse.

One of the most unusual outcomes of this earthquake was the outbreak of coccidioimycosis, or more commonly known as Valley fever. There were over 200 cases reported in the weeks after the quake and 3 fatalitites. Valley fever is a respiratory disease brought on by airborne spores of fungus. It is thought that landslides caused by the earthquake sent a cloud of the spores in the the air which the wind carried to surrounding areas.

 

Nyiragongo 2002

After months of increased activity at the stratovolcano in the DRC, a 13 km fissure opened along the southern flank of Nyiragongo in a matter of hours. The fissure reached all the way down to the town of Goma and Lake Kivu.

Over 400,000 people were evacuated from Goma and the surrounding area, many across the border to Rwanda. Despite these efforts 147 were killed, mainly from asphyxiation and some from collapsing buildings from volcanic tremors. About 4,500 buildings were destroyed in Goma and two-thirds of its airport left unusable as lava devoured the run ways.

When the flows reached Lake Kivu, due to the high gas emissions, a new fear was put in place. Similar to events at Lake Nyos 1986, there was a chance that the high emissions of carbon dioxide and methane could be stored in the lake waters and released lethal limnic eruption. Although this was not the case there have been numerous cases in the area around Nyrigongo of particularly children dying from asphyxiation due to random degassing of the volcano. An experimental syphon was put in place in 2001 to try to limit the amount of gas in the bottom waters, but it was not untill 2004 when an energy company wanted to harness the gas as a resource, did any really system come in to place to limit the risk of limnic eruption.

Nyrigongo is one of the 17 decade volcanoes, ones believed to pose greatest risk to human life. Caused by a mixture of rifting and hot spot activity, unlike many volcanoes of its kind, its lavas have an extreamly low silica content. Predominately melilite nephelinite, instead if more common more common basalts, it is extreamly fluid and can reach speed on average of 100 km/ph. It has also had a near constantlty active lava lake giving us the gentle reminder that it can fatally burst to life at any time.

 

1. Http://dart2.arc.nasa.gov

2. http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2014/jan/15/northridge-earthquake-anniversary-20/

3. http://www.unisdr.org/2006/ppew/info-resources/ewc2/UK/galerie/pg000057.htm

4. http://www.geo.arizona.edu/geo5xx/geos577/projects/kayzar/html/nyiragongo_volcano.html

Today in Geological History; January 14th – Kingston Earthquake 1907

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The small Caribbean island of Jamaica is not one you usually associate with quakes but it does in fact transverse several fault lines. It lays where the Caribbean plate is moving westward relative to the Gonâve microplate with the main fault lines being the Enriquillo-Plantain garden fault zone in the east and the Walton fault zone to the west. The faults cause an average of 200 – 400 minor quakes a year on the island and is a part of the same fault system which cause the devastating Haiti quake of 2010. Jamaica its self has had a fair few big earthquakes, luckily there tends to be around 100 years between events. January 14th 1907 was one of the worst in recent history.

At 3.30pm local time a magnitude 6.5 earthquake along the sinstral strike-slip fault. Every house in Kingston was damaged and a local tsunami was triggered causing waves 6-8 ft crashing in to the northern coastline. Fires raged for hours after hindering rescue attempts for people trapped under the collapsed buildings.

It is estimated between 800 to 1100 people were killed although even official death tolls varied greatly. Over 10,000 were left homeless and over $25,00 000 worth of damage was caused leading it to be refered to as one of Jamaica’s worst natural disasters. Most of the damaged occurred in Kingston, although Buff Bay and Anotto Bay were also badly effected.

The main tremor lasted 35 seconds and was followed almost immeadiatly by a slightly weaker after shock. The only seismograph on the island was actually damaged by the earthquake meaning that magnitude and epicentre had to pretty much be guessed from witness reports. Over 80 aftershocks occurred over the next month pulling down already destroyed buildings. At the time buildings were poorly constructed to withstand any level of earthquake and this was made worse by the bedrock of the area being mainly unconsolidated sands and gravels meaning a greater intensity on the surface and ground deformation.

One positive outcome was the greater awareness of the seismic threat to the island. Building codes were put in place as the city was rebuilt to limit future destruction, earthquake and fire insurance became available to residents and better monitoring systems were put in place. Sadly a full seismic network was not put in place until after the 1957 Montego Bay earthquake.

 

 

Comparing Past and Present

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Over the last 12 months we have seen some amazing eruptions, felt the Earth shake on numerous occasions, and remembered some historic events. But was the active of 2014, both volcanically and seismically, more than any other year? I have read several spam articles recently, scare mongering that fracking has trebled earthquake numbers, God’s wrath has been shown by volcanic eruptions and even one drunken woman tried to tell me that Japans tectonic misfortune is due to the Pearl Harbor attack!

Lava field at Holuhraun, Iceland September 2nd 2014.

1. Lava field at Holuhraun, Iceland September 2nd 2014.

Now straight away I can assure you that karma or religious intervention has nothing to do with the science behind the mechanics of the planet beneath our feet. Fracking is up for debate and its effects on seismicity although even were proven the effects are still negligible. So has 2014 really been worse than previous?

Seismically

I found quiet a nice table to demonstrate this one courtesy of Wikipedia.

Number of Earthquakes Worldwide for 2004–2014

  Magnitude Ranging

Between

 2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012  2013  2014
8.0–9.9 2 1 2 4 0 1 1 1 2 2 1
7.0–7.9 14 10 9 14 12 16 21 19 15 17 11
6.0–6.9 141 140 142 178 168 144 151 204 129 125 144
5.0–5.9 1515 1693 1712 2074 1768 1896 1963 2271 1412 1402 1577
4.0–4.9 10888 13918 12838 12080 12292 6805 10164 13303 10990 9795 14941
Total 12560 15762 14703 14350 14240 8862 12300 15798 12548 11341 16674

2014 actually had the lowest number of strong, magnitude 7 and above earthquakes then in the past 5 years. On the flip side of this we had many more lower magnitude  4-5.9 giving us the highest total of quakes in the past 10 years by about 900 earthquakes. 2009 actually is the strangest year on this list with a good 4000 less earth quakes of any magnitude than any other year. 2007 also stands out with an exceptional number of stronger earthquakes. It could be theorized that the greater release of stress and strain with in the crust during 2007 gave us a quiet period the following years. All though this is a very short time scale it does show that yearly variation is great.

625 people were killed in earthquakes last year with most of these during August 3rd’s Ludian County earthquake in China. 6 lost their lives in the strongest quake of the year in Iquique, Chile which was mg 8.2. Nicaragua and Papua New Guinea also had one fatality each. This is actually quiet low value with over 1500 loosing their lives the previous year or as high as nearly 300,000 in 2004!

Uplift caused by Mg 8.2 Chile Earthquake.

2. Uplift caused by Mg 8.2 Chile Earthquake.

Volcanically

2014 was a pretty explosive year with Sinabung kicking us off with a bang January 3rd as it has done this year. In February the same volcano killed 11 as people began to cross the exclusion zones to take a closer look after the pyrotechnics the month previous.

Bárðarbunga stole the show over the summer. The sleeping giant started a ‘will it, won’t it’ game months before any real activity started in August. Many feared we would see an Eyjafjallajökull 2010 style explosion that would disrupt air traffic at the height of the summer period. Earthqaukes then began to indicate magma was on the move through a dyke heading north-west from the main vent. New fears struck as experts wondered would we see devastation similar to Laki 1783. August 29th saw the start of a large fissure breaking the surface, although it has not reached the status of Laki, the eruption is still continuing today

3. San Miguel

3. San Miguel

 

The next lot a fatalities happened when Mount Ontake surprised all with a phreatic blast on September 27th. 57 lost their lives as hikers and tourists where making their way to a shrine on the mountains flank.

Fogo was the volcano to cause chaos in the final month of the year forcing thousands from their homes. Media coverage of this even has been so light on this event, I am unable to find precise news to if the eruption is ongoing. At December 23rd lava was still pouring from the Pico vent and destroying all in its path.

Obviously these are but a few of the hundreds of volcanoes rumbling through 2014. Others include; Colinma, Etna, Aire, Asonsan, Manam, Merapi, Popcatepetl, Shishaldin, Cleveland, Sabancaya, Zhupanovsky, Sheveluch, Santa Maria, Mayon, Dukono, Turrialba, Poas, Fuego, Ubinas, Tungurahua, Reventador, Pacaya, Karymsky, Kelut, Stromboli, San Miguel, Pavlof, Chirpoi and even all that does not cover them all!

But is this more than usual?

In terms of lava output, last year is definitely high up there as we saw several huge effusive eruptions(with Bárðarbunga probably producing more material than most others put together!). However in the grand scheme of things there were few other major events.

68 people lost their lives which is relatively high thinking that on average maybe one or two die yearly unless there are major volcanic events, but then when thinking like that 68 is actually extremely low.

If we were to pull out any year for increased volcanic activity, for me it would have to be the events of 1902. In a list compiled by Wikipedia* of the most deadly eruptions, although none of the top 5 occurred in 1902, 4 in the list of 40 that occurred did, meaning 10% of the most fatal eruptions occurred in the one year. Well over 40,000 were killed over these four eruptions.

4. Somber scene after Mount Pelee eruption May 8th 1902.

4. Somber scene after Mount Pelee eruption May 8th 1902.

Just over 30,000 of these deaths were caused by Mount Pelee, Martinque on May 8th. Just hours before, La Soufriere a few islands away on Saint Vincent killed 1680.

There will always be years there is more geologically activity than others. The Earth is like a living breathing organism; it is ever-changing and adapting, this is part of the reason predicting events can be tricky.  People always look to blame or find meaning behind tragedy, it’s a coping mechanism, but rarely leads to scientific truth.

Figure 1. http://mashable.com/2014/09/11/iceland-bardabunga-volcano-eruption-photos/

Table 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquakes_in_2014

Figure 2. http://www.sneakymag.com/life/the-sneakington-post-3/

Figure 3.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10541931/El-Salvador-begins-evacuations-due-to-volcano-eruption.html

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_volcanic_eruptions_by_death_toll

Figure 4. http://www.explorevolcanoes.com/Martinique-caribbean-volcano.html