Volcanoes discovered in the South Sandwich Islands waters

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 12 July 2011

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have discovered previously unknown volcanoes in the ocean waters around the remote South Sandwich Islands. Using ship-borne sea-floor mapping technology during research cruises onboard the RRS James Clark Ross, the scientists found 12 volcanoes beneath the sea surface — some up to 3km high. They found 5km diameter craters left by collapsing volcanoes and 7 active volcanoes visible above the sea as a chain of islands.

A plume of sulphur and molten lava erupts from the West Mata Volcano nearly 4,000 feet beneath the Pacific Ocean, south of Samoa

The research is important also for understanding what happens when volcanoes erupt or collapse underwater and their potential for creating serious hazards such as tsunamis. Also this sub-sea landscape, with its waters warmed by volcanic activity creates a rich habitat for many species of wildlife and adds valuable new insight about life on earth.

Speaking at the International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences in Edinburgh Dr Phil Leat from British Antarctic Survey said,

“There is so much that we don’t understand about volcanic activity beneath the sea — it’s likely that volcanoes are erupting or collapsing all the time. The technologies that scientists can now use from ships not only give us an opportunity to piece together the story of the evolution of our earth, but they also help shed new light on the development of natural events that pose hazards for people living in more populated regions on the planet.”

Source: British Antarctic Survey

Life erupts on Mount St. Helens

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 02 November 2010

When Mount St. Helens blew its top in 1980, it wasn’t a surprise that it happened, but even today the extent of the damage is hard to fathom. The eruption knocked down 100-foot trees like matchsticks and killed just about everything in its path. There have been several smaller eruptions since then, but nothing like what happened in 1980.

Mount St Helens 1980

Evolutionary biologist and ecologist John Bishop knows Mount St. Helens well; he has been working on the mountain for 20 years. “It began with the largest landslide in recorded history that uncorked an explosion that was directed horizontally and leveled the forest 13 miles out,” recalls Bishop. “It was just a barren landscape, gray-and-pumice-colored, covered with rocks.”

Today, dead tree trunks still litter the landscape. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll see another kind of eruption; an eruption of life on the mountainside. For Bishop, it’s a blessing. “It’s a rare opportunity for scientists to get to study a devastated area and how it comes back from scratch in such detail,” he says.

With help from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Bishop is documenting the return of living things to the once lifeless mountain. “Up until the last 10 years, the landscape has been completely dominated by lupins,” says Bishop. He says these flowering lupin plants are able to create new soil from volcanic ash. That new soil has created a habitat for the Sitka willow. But, Bishop says there is a problem. “One of the things we’ve realized about these willows is that they’re not getting big. And that’s important because they create habitat for birds and mammals.”

The culprits are small invasive weevils that are on the attack. They’ve taken up residence inside the willows’ stems, stunting the plants’ growth or killing them. Bishop says there is a lesson in all of this. “Seemingly insignificant organisms, like insects that consume plants, play an extraordinarily important role in the sorting out process of deciding, essentially, which plants are going to stay in the landscape and which ones are going to disappear.”

Bishop points out that the imbalance between plants and insects on Mount St. Helens should be expected in rudimentary systems and will cause instability until a more complex community of plant and animal species is sustainable, or until the day Mount St. Helens itself changes the equation once again.

By: Miles O’Brien
Source: NSF

Mixing magma holds key to historic eruptions

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 03 August 2010

A new study has found that a mixing of two different types of magma is the key to the historic eruptions of Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain, and that eruptions often happen in a relatively short time – weeks or months – after this mixing occurs.

Mount Hood is the highest mountain in Oregon at 3429 metres

This behavior is different from that of most other Cascade Range volcanoes, including Mount Hood’s nearby, more explosive neighbor, Mt. St. Helens.

The research results are reported this week in the journal Nature Geoscience by geologists from Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of California at Davis, in work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“These results clarify details of the processes that trigger Mount Hood eruptions,” said Sonia Esperanca, program director in NSF’s Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. “Similar triggering processes may occur in several of Earth’s most active volcanoes.”

“The data will help give us a better road map to what a future eruption on Mount Hood will look like, and what will take place before it occurs,” said Adam Kent, a geoscientist at OSU. “It should also help us understand the nature of future eruptions and what risks they will entail.” Continue reading

Iceland’s volcanic eruption may just be the opening act

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 22 April 2010

For all the worldwide chaos that Iceland’s volcano has already created, it may just be the opening act.

A column of steam and ash rises from the volcano near Eyjafjallajokull Photo: REUTERS

Scientists fear tremors at the Eyjafjallajokull volcano could trigger an even more dangerous eruption at the nearby Katla volcano – creating a worst-case scenario for the airline industry and travellers around the globe.

A Katla eruption would be 10 times stronger and shoot higher and larger plumes of ash into the air than its smaller neighbour, which has already brought European air travel to a standstill for five days and promises severe travel delays for days more.

The two volcanoes are side by side in southern Iceland, about 20km apart, and thought to be connected by a network of magma channels.

Katla, however, is buried under ice 500m thick – the massive Myrdalsjokull glacier, one of Iceland’s largest. That means it has more than twice the amount of ice than the current eruption has burned through, threatening a new and possibly longer aviation standstill across Europe.

Katla showed no signs of activity yesterday, according to scientists who monitor it with seismic sensors, but they were still wary.

Pall Einarsson, professor of geophysics at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland, said one volcanic eruption sometimes causes a nearby volcano to explode, and Katla and Eyjafjallajokull have been active in tandem in the past.

In fact, the last three times that Eyjafjallajokull erupted, Katla did as well.

Katla also typically awakens every 80 years or so, and having last exploded in 1918, it is now slightly overdue. Continue reading

Global temperatures unaffected by volcanic ash

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 21 April 2010

The volcanic ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano is not expected to have an impact on global temperatures.

Photo by Sverrir Thor under Ceative Commons licence 2.0

The volcano, located under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier has produced a 10-kilometre high plume of ash and rock that extends across most of northern Europe. While the particles may have an effect on local temperatures in the short-term, experts don’t believe it will have the same impact as the Pinatubo eruption two decades earlier that resulted in a 10% reduction in sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, and a 0.4°C drop in global average temperatures.

Dr Blair Trewin of the National Climate Centre in Melbourne says, in its current form the ash cloud is unlikely to have the same impact on global temperatures. “For a volcano to have a significant global cooling effect it has to get its ash up into the stratosphere,” he says. “If it doesn’t, the ash will get rained out fairly quickly.”

Despite spewing an estimated 150,000 tons of carbon pollution a day into the atmosphere, the volcano may actually result in a net reduction of carbon pollution because of all the flights the volcano is grounding in Europe. Those flights would have a bigger carbon footprint than the volcano.

Dr Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at Weather Underground says the eruption isn’t expected to have a significant impact on weather patterns in the northern hemisphere. “However, the ash could bring spectacular sunsets to Europe over the next week, and to North America by sometime next week, as the jet stream wraps the ash cloud eastwards across the northern hemisphere.”