Montserrat volcanic dome collapse seen from space!

By Phil Plait | February 16, 2010 6:19 pm

On the Carribean island of Montserrat is the Soufrière Hills volcano. This is the very same one that erupted in 1997 and did so much damage to the small island (and killed 19 people).

On February 11, just a few days ago, the growing lave dome on the volcano partially collapsed, sending a plume 15,000 meters (more than 8 miles!) into the air. A few hours later, the plume was caught by NASA’s Aqua satellite:

soufriere_collapse

Holy, well, Haleakala! Click to Envesuvianate (and to see the full frame picture).

The plume is obvious, as is its shadow to the northeast. Two smaller, lower plumes can be seen rocketing out over the sea to the north and south, and the wind is carrying ash in beautiful eddies to the east, too.

From this view, high above the Earth, it’s eerily beautiful. I imagine seeing the pyroclastic flows from this event would have been underpants-soilingly terrifying from the ground, however. I’m not seeing much news about this, even though it happened days ago, and I haven’t heard of any deaths resulting from it.

When I see images like this, I have to lean back and revel at the forbidding power and terrible beauty of volcanic eruptions like this one. I’m fascinated by them, and hope one day to see an active volcano (though from a safe distance). It’s a good reminder that as much as we rail and froth, we are hardly the lords and masters of this planet. We live on its thin skin by the graces of geology and the whims of random events, and that can be taken away just as easily.

The good news is, by studying events like these, and learning all we can about the natural world around us, we can understand what makes these dangerous giants tick. I mentioned that when Soufrière Hills blew in 1997, nineteen people died. That’s on an island with a population of over 4000… so why were so few killed? Because volcanologists — scientists — knew the warning signs and were able to get most of the people out of harm’s way.

Science. It’s cool, and it makes our lives better. It sometimes even saves them outright.

Image credit: NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.

Comments (23)

Links to this Post

  1. Collapse Results From Space at Asymptotia | February 18, 2010
  1. Pfft… volcano science.

  2. Hey Phil, you twitted it wrong… You wrote Monsterrat… You better fix it… It’s my name… Haha (I’m not kidding, I’m called Montserrat)

  3. kelly ann

    I am usnationalpark on twitter and I’m following you because I like the way you wrote this.

    “When I see images like this, I have to lean back and revel at the forbidding power and terrible beauty of volcanic eruptions like this one. I’m fascinated by them, and hope one day to see an active volcano (though from a safe distance). It’s a good reminder that as much as we rail and froth, we are hardly the lords and masters of this planet. We live on its thin skin by the graces of geology and the whims of random events, and that can be taken away just as easily.”

    nice…

    kelly

    except… I don’t know why all the talk about excrement. haha

  4. Shhh! Don’t tell Bobby Jindal!

  5. “We are here by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”

  6. kristy

    Now, Dr Phil…..figure out how to harness this massive energy, put it in a rocket and take-off into space exploration. Tweet me when you’re done. Ha ha ha Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Levi in NY

    That’s actually France at the southeast corner of the image. Specifically, it’s the island of Guadeloupe, which is an integral part of France just like Hawaii is part of the U.S, not just an overseas possession. To the northeast is Antigua, to the northwest Nevis (I know someone from that island) and to the far northwest is Saint Kitts.

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    ^ Levi are you *really* based in New York or the Caribbean Sea? ;-)

    Spectacular photo. :-)

    It is one of my own life ambitions to get to see an active volcano and a glacier close up – I’d love to visit Iceland or New Zealand sometime. If only I could afford it.

  9. Lynda

    So if the evening sun shines near Lake Michigan in the next few days, I may get to see a beautiful sunset and know where it came from, thanks to your post :-)

  10. Levi in NY

    No, I’m just a bit of a geography geek.

  11. Illanoy Gal

    You don’t want to come to Hawaii and visit the Big Island? It’s much closer than New Zealand and the natives are just as friendly.

    Kilauea has been erupting since 1983, not violently but relentlessly. Madame Pele has added approximately 600 acres to the Big Island of Hawaii. We are the only state in the US that is still growing. :-) Of course, it will be a few years before that land can be used for anything but sight-seeing, but hey!! Don’t get picky!!

  12. The Playboy Scientist
  13. The old metric-to-imperial thingie: 15 km ~ 9.32 miles

  14. Envesuvianate! AHAHAHAHAHAH

  15. DennyMo

    Levi, everything I need to know about Carribean geography I learned playing “Sid Meier’s Pirates”…

    Illanoy Gal (is that spelling just a clever way to get folks to stop pronouncing the “s”?), the Big Island has snow with its volcanoes, but no glaciers, I think Iceland has both.

    A few more like this – only much bigger – and all our quibbling about AGW will look so silly.

  16. For active volcano viewing, I cannot recommend enough Mt Yasur, on the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu (aka New Hebrides; north east of New Caledonia in the South Pacific).

    Its an amazing place, and the original cargo cult lives right below the volcano. Going to one of their ceremonies, in the pitch dark (no power on Tanna), withthe only light the eerie glow of the volcano above…. awesome.

  17. Mikey G

    Jeane Claude Van Damme would kick this things a$$!

  18. Greg23

    Arenal in Costa Rica is cool. Not the best or the biggest but for the first time I understood why you can’t just outrun the lava flow (like in the movies). That stuff moves about as fast as water. Ate at the local restaurant and kept waiting for the thunderstorm to arrive. Constant low rumbles of thunder – took a while to realize it was the volcano rumbling.

    If you’re going to go to a glacier do it one of two ways. Either way out in the middle of nowhere so there’s nothing else around or the edge of a pretty good sized one. It can be 60F a couple hundred feet from the glacier, then as soon as you get to it the temperature drops about 20F. Like opening the freezer door. Look for the beautiful blue color where the snow has compressed.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 10. Levi in NY Says:

    No, I’m just a bit of a geography geek.

    No to what there? New York or the Caribbean? ;-)

    Geography geek? Yeah, I can relate to that. Love looking at maps and thinking “well what’s it like there or *there* or there?” myself. :-)

  20. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ 15. DennyMo Says:

    … A few more like this – only much bigger – and all our quibbling about AGW will look so silly.

    That’s true indeed.

    *VERY* much bigger mind you but yes.

    I’ve wondered for a while if our supposedly, arguably rising global average temps* may possibly have more to do with a lack of major volcanic eruptions than human Co2 “pollution”. :roll:

    Also, off topic but funny – if you’ve got a sense of humour and aren’t among the rapidly dwindling AGW Alarmist faithful flock – check out :

    http://ifglobalwarmingisrealthenwhyisitcold.blogspot.com/

    —–

    * Human produced Co2 levels have been going up constantly, but the hottest year ever world wide is 1998 and the hottest year ever in the USA was wa-aay back in 1934** so ..er .. are we *really* so sure the AGW & “Co2 = the Big Bad” theory holds up?

    Because, y’know, *evidence* seems to suggest otherwise doesn’t it? Even without taking the “Climategate” emails & dodgy now backpedalled IPCC extreme claims into account. Not meaning to “threadjack” or anything here but sheesh .. it needs to be said & skepticism needs to be applied to everything – even the sacred cows of the eco-Left.

    ** Yeah, yeah, I know what the AGW believers will say. “1998 was an exceptional El Nino year & an outlier on the chart.” Excuses, excuses! ;-)

    Maybe they’re right. Maybe. :roll:

    But then maybe they’re not too.

    Especially given a lot of what we’ve heard lately that the Alarmists haven’t wanted us to hear.

    The “precautionary principle” they argue for AGW cuts both ways. Before we take drastic action like raising taxes and hurting average people’s quality of life and potentially wrecking our economy (even more), I think we definitely need to be *very* sure there’s a genuine reason for doing so. Until the 1998 & 1934 “hottest ever” records are unambiguously broken – more than once too – until it is absolutely clear that the problem is real; I think we need to hold off & keep gathering (real) data & not just assume the sky is falling in.

    Sorry BA & fellow AGW believers but that’s it as far as I’m concerned.

  21. John Foudy

    “Until the 1998 & 1934 “hottest ever” records are unambiguously broken – more than once too – until it is absolutely clear that the problem is real; I think we need to hold off & keep gathering (real) data & not just assume the sky is falling in. ”

    I keep hearing this, and then I look at NASA’a site:

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

    and I see that yes it looks like 1998, was a spike (but it looks like it’
    s been matched by at least 1 subsequent year), and slightly above our current 5 year mean, but the 5 year mean centered on 1998 is NOT AS HIGH as the current 45 year mean

    1934?aside from denier posts/blogs I’ve never seen ANYTHING suggesting that was an unusually warm year.

    Of course as I type this there has been more snow on the ground where I live than anytime else in the past 10 years :-)

    Plus the Arctic Ice Cap (Ice pack) has been shrinking, so much so that companies are now investing money on Arctic Circle ports in anticipation of being able to simply sail across it in the not too distant future

  22. John Evanoff

    I’ve been to Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii (big island, Kauai & Maui) and can tell you from experience, there is nothing similar between them especially with regards to volcanos. Iceland has huge sheets of ice a mile thick interrupted by volcanic activity and glorious waterfalls. New Zealand’s south island is full of mountain glaciers from Mt. Aspiring to Mt Cook interspersed with amazing Fiords and lakes and the north island is full of volcanic activity and craters north of Auckland. Hawaii’s islands are one volcano after another mingling with rain forests and lava fields. Don’t wait to visit any of them. They will remind you of Earth’s destinctive diversities from ice to fire and from desert to jungle.

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