UPDATE: more amazing Nabro volcano images

By Phil Plait | June 30, 2011 6:20 pm

A couple of days ago I posted an amazing satellite image of Nabro, an erupting volcano in Eritrea. Today, NASA released follow-up images from the Earth Observing-1 satellite, and they’re also very, very cool.

This first one is false color, and is a combination of far infrared, near infrared, and visible light. The warm, recently deposited lava is fairly obvious. You can also see the ash plume and some clouds. Note the scale bar in the lower left.

The second image is in visible light, and is a more natural color:

Nifty! Since we don’t see in infrared, the lava is not glowing, and appears brownish. Interestingly, the active vent is easier to spot in this shot because the lava is not as distracting.

You can read my earlier post for more info on the volcano. These images are just about the only data scientists are getting on it since it’s located in a difficult-to-reach region. But then, what’s difficult when you have satellites designed to look down at exactly these sorts of things?

[UPDATE: Vulcanologist Erik Klemetti has written an article for The Big Think about this eruption with lots of sciencey goodness.]

Credit: NASA/EO-1/Robert Simmon

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: EO-1, Eritrea, Nabro, volcano

Comments (11)

  1. Messier Tidy Upper

    Today, NASA released follow-up images from the Earth Observing-1 satellite, and they’re also very, very cool.

    Don’t you mean very, very *hot* instead? 😉

    Awesome images, spectacular as! 8)

    Guessing the people living there aren’t too happy about these latest eruptions though.

    Question for anyone who knows : Has or will this Eritrean volcano put out / enough dust and ash to affect (cool slightly) our climate temporarily? Same too for the recent Chilean eruptions that caused air travellers in the Southern hemisphere iceland-style but shorter delays?

    Oh & can we look forward to some nicer sunsets because of these too? 😉

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Pre-emptive strike :

    Of course, climate~wise one thing we *do* know is that volcanoes do NOT cause Global Warming. See :


    at the 1 minute 18 seconds mark & here :


    & here :


    among other places.

  3. VinceRN

    I think that while huge volcano’s can cause cooling on a global scale, as Tambora notable did – much to Napoleon’s sorrow, that this and the other recent events only have regional effects.

    But, I’m often wrong, as anyone can tell you. Someone here is sure to know the facts in great detail.

    Another important question: Why does my spell check want to replace Tambora with Rambo.

  4. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    These images are just about the only data scientists are getting on it since it’s located in a difficult-to-reach region. But then, what’s difficult when you have satellites designed to look down at exactly these sorts of things?

    So, do these satellites have spectrometers and suchlike so that the vulcanologists can get the composition of gases being emitted, and other such data?

    I would have thought there were some parameters that were better measured as close to the source as possible. Is it, or not really?

  5. Pete Jackson

    It’s interesting that the latest lava flow is going parallel to a much longer earlier flow. And there are several much earlier flows to the top of the picture. I guess that a lava flow raises the level of the terrain along the flow, so that the next flow will have to go somewhere else.

  6. Cindy

    I wonder where this volcano is relative to the Rift Valley and is it related to the slow breaking up of the plate there.

    If I hadn’t gone into Astronomy, I probably would have gone into geology.

  7. Regner Trampedach

    Cindy @ 6: According to Google-maps and Wikipedia, Nabro is right smack-dab in the middle of the Afar triangle (as in Home Afarensis…), which is the Red Sea side of the East African Rift Zone. And I learned a few new things in the process – thanks, Cindy.
    Cheers, Regner

  8. Aidan Karley

    Cindy@6 ; Regner has put you straight on this. For some more detail, the constructive plate margin continues up the middle of the Red Sea – which despite it’s lack of width is a true ocean – then turns into a conservative margin (neither material addition or removal) and the movement is taken up as lateral movement on the Dead Sea fault before ending up getting diffused in the mess (technical geological term!) of southern Turkey.
    Which to a geologist (just call me “Bad Geologist” ; all my clients do!), makes the Jordan valley a pretty good place to not invest in property in ; almost as good a place to not be as south California.

    I love access to satellite imagery.

    Pete@5 : exactly correct. We just took a holiday to do “fun” volcanology on Tenerife, and for my non-geological wife there were plenty of eye-openers like this to see. Great holiday. The BA himself has no doubt been up the self same volcano and enjoyed the scenery in between stargazing.

    Nigel@4 : some satellites do have spectrometry that can measure or estimate the amount of gases emitted, but the problem is a bit hairy, because the light reaching your satellite sensor has been through *two* atmospheric columns, which you can bet will have had different compositions. Then you need to work out from one datum (your spectrum) how the SOx is distributed in the atmosphere, which is going to considerably affect your environmental consequences (remember that ozone is toxic ; but we need it up in the stratosphere).
    So in general you need to get a degree of ground truth to work out your gas emissions with any precision. It’s do-able ; but non-trivial.

    Vince@3 & MTU@1 : Pinatubo in IIRC 1990 did have a noticeable global temperature effect for a year or so. I recall around that time there was a total lunar eclipse which was noticeably dark, and it was commented on at the time as being a sign of the amount of dust and SOx that Pinatubo had put up. (SOx = oxides of sulphur, several species interacting)
    Tambora, 1814 or 1815 was a big one too, leading to the “year without a summer” ; Laki (Iceland), 1784 probably killed around a million through northern Europe by famine but had a small global effect ; Krakatoa 1883 produced a lot of pretty atmospheric effects, but I don’t recall hearing that it had noticeable climatic effects.
    Eyatjafjallajokull (I spent time practising it’s pronunciation, and I want to make use of it! I had 6 days thumb-twiddling on an oil rig in which I could practise it!), Grimsvotn and the Chilean one whose name didn’t make it north of the equator don’t get a look in ; they were far too small. Mount St Helens too, IIRC (despite the distinct local effects).

  9. Aidan Karley

    Dammit ; according to Auntie Beeb, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13778171 , the Eritrean volcano is causing flight disruption. which since I’m due to be travelling to Tanzania in a couple of weeks, is a regular industrial-scale PITA.
    On the other hand, the Petermann Ice Island is still trundling down the Labrador coast towards the Grand Banks oil fields. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=51264 I was talking to local weather forecasters there a couple of weeks ago, and they don’t think it’s likely to go for a walk through the oilfields themselves, but it is by no means full predictable. Whatever ; it’s decidedly unlikely to make it all the way to Tanzania to hit my next job. But it’s still fun to watch. From a sufficiently large distance.

    Oh, the link on the “Ice Island” page to the transponder is still a valid link – but the transponder died on 3 June, so that page is now giving a very misleading indication of it’s position. I check the MODIS site every couple of days to check where the overgrown drink-cooler is. Which is much more like hard work, particularly given the notorious weather of the area.

    And before anyone asks – the iceberg is already far to the south of the infamous, Greenpeace-beleaguered drilling rig (Stena Carron, IIRC) and drill ship (a brand-new, shiny Ocean Rig tub, whose name I forget) operating off the Greenland coast. Not an issue. Not that that’ll stop Greenpeace from trumpeting about it if they ever put e and pi together.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    There was a good documentary on a recent scientific expedition that screened on SBS TV Australia (apparently via BBC) a year or two ago :




    Titled ‘The Hottest Place on Earth’ it featured a team investigating, exploring and imaging a volcano – Erta Ale , one of the oldest in the region – plus another volcanic depression that apparently formed “overnight” – and visiting a salt mine as well as living with the natives of the region. Well worth watching (IMHON) if anyone’s interested. :-)

    See :


    for more on the volcano in question there via Wikipedia.

  11. WJM

    @Aidan, here’s a pair of YouTube videos taken around June 19th and 20th by southern Labrador crab fishing crews, of one of the *SMALL* Petermann islands. The really big monster is further north; last I checked the big chunk was about twice the size of Manhattan. In the satellite image, you can clearly sea meltwater lakes on its surface. The fishermen who’ve been to the smaller islands report “harbours” and “coves” of ice, with waterfalls of meltwater pouring off the cliffs. There’s also a shot I’ve seen of one ice cove with a gently sloping “beach” that’s become quite popular with harp seals!



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