Tag: volcanoes

Natural Disaster Report: Hurricane Threatens Haiti, Indonesian Volcano Erupts

By Jennifer Welsh | November 5, 2010 12:00 pm

tomas-NASAThe planet’s tumult never ceases. Hurricane Tomas is bearing down on Haiti right now, and an erupting volcano continues to wreak destruction on Indonesia.

At 8 a.m. EDT on Nov. 5, Tomas’ center was about 80 miles south-southeast of Guantanamo, Cuba and 160 miles west of Port Au Prince Haiti…. Tomas is moving to the northeast near 10 mph, and is expected to speed up over the next couple of days. [NASA Press release]

The hurricane is currently a category one, with sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, and is expected to continue strengthen throughout Friday before weakening on Saturday. The hurricane’s strong winds and flooding may hit the country hard: Haiti’s earthquake in January left the country particularly susceptible to land slides.

“Haiti has a really serious history of big landslides, almost all of them caused by tropical storm or hurricane rainfall,” said geologist David Petley, the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk at Durham University in England. [LiveScience]

If the hurricane stays on its current course it will pass just to the west of the small island nation, but there may still be plenty of damage and human misery. Many Haitians whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake are still living in temporary homes that won’t be able to stand up to the winds.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

This Martian Volcano Would Be a Great Place to Check for Fossils

By Andrew Moseman | November 2, 2010 1:30 pm

MarsVolcanoSilicateThe Martian rovers and orbiters have sent so much data back to Earth in the last few years that discoveries about Mars’ wet and active past come left and right. Yesterday we covered the story that the stuck Spirit rover may have found evidence of recent water right under its tracks. And another study this week, out in Nature Geoscience, pinpoints a spot by a Mars volcano that could contain evidence of a watery system more than 3 billion years old—and perhaps even life, too.

The finding came after the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed a mineral called hydrated silica sitting on the flank of the extinct Syrtis Major volcano.

The mineral is transported and then concentrated by hot water or steam, suggesting the deposits were laid down in what was once a hydrothermal environment. Groundwater may have been heated by magma from the erupting volcano and vented to the surface as steam, says John Mustard of Brown University in Rhode Island, a member of the team that identified the mineral. [New Scientist]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space

Volcano Blast Creates a Natural Test of a Geoengineering Scheme–Which Fails

By Eliza Strickland | October 13, 2010 5:38 pm

Alaska-volcanoA recent volcanic eruption let scientists watch Mother Nature try out one of the geoengineering schemes that has been proposed to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, and therefore cool the planet. But the results of this natural experiment left a lot to be desired.

The geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilization calls for scientists to dump iron into the ocean to “fertilize” it and spur blooms of phytoplankton. These tiny photosynthetic organisms will suck up CO2 as they grow, the thinking goes, but will then die and tumble down to the sea floor, where the CO2 will be safely stored in the heaps organic matter.

The same thing can happen naturally, though, if a volcano happens to erupt and spews iron particles over the ocean. That’s exactly what happened in the summer of 2008.

In August 2008, scientists in the northeastern Pacific Ocean were shocked to witness a sudden, huge spike in the area’s plankton population. Their investigation traced the bloom to an ash cloud from a volcano that had erupted in the Aleutian Islands only a few days before. The ash, it turned out, had fertilized the ocean with thousands of tons of iron, on which the plankton gorged. [ScienceNOW]

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Super-Tough Silicon Carbide Sensors Could Survive Inside a Volcano

By Andrew Moseman | September 21, 2010 12:40 pm

MagmaThe silicon from which most electronics are built is a useful, durable material up to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (but don’t go sticking your iPhone in the oven). Three hundred fifty isn’t bad, says engineer Alton Horsfall of Newcastle University in the U.K., but not nearly good enough for his mission: monitoring volcanoes.  Horsfall and colleague Nick Wright say their research into a different material, silicon carbide (SiC), shows that it could work at temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees F, and might be just what they need to keep watch on inhospitable places like the blazing-hot mouth of a volcano.

The silicon and carbon in silicon carbide bond very strongly, permitting them to survive extreme temperatures. But the material’s pricey and hard to work with for the same reason. So while organizations like NASA have done silicon carbide research, the material hasn’t spread to a multitude of applications.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

Photos From the Mercury Flyby: Probe Sends Home Evidence of Volcanism

By Andrew Moseman | July 15, 2010 3:10 pm

Hello again, Mercury. This week in a trio of papers Science, the scientists behind the Messenger probe released their findings from the craft’s third and final flyby of the planet closest to the sun, which it executed last September. Mercury, they’ve shown once again, is full of surprises—and they’ll get the chance to explore them when Messenger returns and finally enters Mercury’s orbit in March 2011.

Scientists have now mapped 98 percent of the planet by combining the new observations with the first two flybys in January and October 2008, plus the Mariner 10 mission in the ’70s, [said Brett Denevi, coauthor of one of the papers]. The latest flyby filled in a 360-mile-wide gap that had never been imaged before.

“It wasn’t a huge amount of real estate, but there was a lot of really interesting stuff there,” Denevi said. The most exciting features include a 180-mile-wide basin filled with hardened lava, and a crooked bowl surrounded by glass and magma that may be the largest volcanic vent ever identified on Mercury. Together, these features suggest that Mercury had active volcanoes later in its history than scientists had suspected [Wired.com].

The first image above shows a smooth basin dubbed Rachmaninoff, which is one of the smoothest regions seen on Mercury—so smooth that it must have formed from volcanic material in the last billion years or so. The yellowish part in the upper right of this false color image is that volcanic vent.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Photo Gallery, Space

Off the California Coast, Giant Volcanoes Made of Asphalt

By Andrew Moseman | April 27, 2010 9:38 am

asphaltvolcanochart
If you thought the toxic bubbling lakes of asphalt DISCOVER covered on Friday were impressive, you ought to see what’s under the sea just off the California coast: giant volcanoes made from the same stuff we use to pave our roads.

Lead author David Valentine and his colleagues first found these asphalt volcanoes in 2007 when they sent submersible robots to explore peculiar formations 700 feet below the surface. Now, in a study in Nature Geoscience, the team has published its findings and its images of the extinct volcanoes. Valentine says the formations are six stories high, and spread out farther than a football field. “If I could convert all the asphalt in the largest volcano to gasoline, it would be enough to fuel my Honda Civic for about half a billion miles” [National Geographic], he says.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Airlines and Scientists Clash Over the Volcanic Ash Cloud

By Aline Reynolds | April 20, 2010 1:31 pm

800px-Arrivals_board,_Heath

Six days after ash from Iceland’s volcano paralyzed European airspace, aviation experts and academics are arguing over whether the entire mess could have been avoided.

Ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano started to spread across North European skies last week, grounding thousands of domestic and long-haul flights and causing an estimated $1 billion in losses. Today the European Union attempted to get the continent moving again and reopened certain routes, giving millions of stranded passengers a chance to head home and throwing a lifeline to airlines that were hemorrhaging an estimated $250 million a day.

However, this grounding of flights drew sharp rebuke from Giovanni Bisignani, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who argued that the entire mess could have been avoided had the airlines focused on facts and figures on actual damage caused to jet engines by volcanic ash, saying: “Europe was using a theoretical mathematical approach and this is not what you need. We needed some test flights to go into the atmosphere and assess the level of ashes and take decisions” [Reuters]. Unsurprisingly, the European Union’s transit officials have replied that they’re not willing to compromise on passenger safety.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

In a Warmer World, Iceland's Volcanoes May Get Even Livelier

By Aline Reynolds | April 19, 2010 12:49 pm

Eyjafjallajökull_glacier_inThe volcanic eruption in Iceland that has disrupted air traffic in Europe is also a reminder that other volcanoes in the region could wake up if global warming continues unabated, experts say.

Scientists say that if large icecaps on the island melt, they’ll ease the pressure on the rocks beneath the surface. Lifting the weight off the rocks would allow for more magma production, which could set off other eruptions. Says volcanologist Freysteinn Sigmundsson: “Our work suggests that eventually there will be either somewhat larger eruptions or more frequent eruptions in Iceland in coming decades” [Scientific American].

Scientists clarified that while the current Eyjafjallajokull eruption occurred beneath a small glacier in Iceland, the explosion was not caused by global warming. The Eyjafjallajokull glacier is too small and light to have an impact on local geology, they say.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Icelandic Volcanoes–Disrupting Weather & History Since 1783

By Aline Reynolds | April 16, 2010 12:58 pm

Prominent_plumeIf past is prelude, then the volcanic eruption in Iceland whose plume of ash has grounded almost 300 flights across Europe may not only affect air travel in the coming days, it may also have a lingering impact on Europe’s weather. Experts are looking back to the aftereffects of a previous eruption–when the Laki volcano in Southern Iceland exploded more than 200 years ago. That explosion had catastrophic consequences for weather, agriculture and transport across the northern hemisphere – and helped trigger the French revolution [The Guardian].

The Laki volcanic fissure erupted over a eight month period between June 1783 and February 1784. Within Iceland, the lava and poisonous clouds of gas ushered in a time known as the “Mist Hardships”: farmland was ruined, livestock died in vast numbers, and the resultant famine killed almost a quarter of the population.

The eruption’s impact wasn’t confined to Iceland alone. Dust and sulfur particles thrown up by the explosion were carried as a haze across Northern Europe, clouding the skies in Norway, the Netherlands, the British Isles, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. In conjunction with another volcanic eruption and an unusually strong El Nino weather pattern, the Laki eruption is thought to have contributed to extreme weather across Europe for the next several years.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment

Volcanic Eruption in Iceland Causes Floods, Shuts Down European Air Travel

By Andrew Moseman | April 15, 2010 9:56 am

EyjafjallajökullDon’t be fooled by the name—Iceland is one of the hottest hotspots in the world, geologically speaking. The island’s volcanic legacy reared its head again yesterday as a massive eruption by a volcano beneath a glacier caused the evacuation of hundreds of residents and created ash clouds that delayed flights all around Northern Europe.

The volcano, called Eyjafjallajokull, rumbled last month, but that was nothing like this. “This is a very much more violent eruption, because it’s interacting with ice and water,” said Andy Russell, an expert in glacial flooding at the University of Newcastle in northern England. “It becomes much more explosive, instead of a nice lava flow oozing out of the ground” [AP]. The flood caused by melted glacial ice caused the evacuation about 800 people. Waters threatened to spill over onto Highway 1, Iceland’s main highway that makes a circuit around the island. But some quick digging by construction crews altered the course of the water.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment
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