Volcano in taupe

By Phil Plait | February 9, 2012 7:00 am

It’s been a while since I posted a cool image of a volcano from space! So here’s one that’s simply lovely: Puyehue Cordón Caulle in Chile, which has been continuously erupting for several months now:

This was taken by NASA Earth Observing-1 satellite on January 26, 2012. The ash has been falling for so long it’s covered the entire complex in a finely ground layer, coloring this area taupe (or ecru, or, as I like to call it, tan). You really should click to haphaestenate that picture; the full-sized shot is amazing. There’s so much to see, like the ash cloud streaming away from that vent, the detail in the big caldera… but my favorite part I think are the sharply-colored lakes in the region, which are such a contrast to the dull brown everywhere else (you can see one of those lakes in the bottom left corner of the picture above — look for the blue spot). For scale, the caldera’s bowl is about 2 km (1.2 miles) across.

Unfortunately, as pretty as this is, the implications are not so good: the forest in that area is suffering due to all that ash. Volcanic ash is not like some small-grained powder: under a microscope you can see it looks far more like ground glass, each grain festooned with dozens of sharp corners and edges. Breathing that stuff in is not good for your lungs. And, of course, it’s heavy — it’s rock, after all — so when it falls in large amounts it can do a lot of damage, especially if it rains.

Satellite imagery of active volcanoes is critically important: some small-minded politicians might mock it, but monitoring them saves lives. And, of course, there’s all the amazing science we learn as well.

Credit: NASA/EO-1


I love these satellite views of volcanoes from space, and I’ve collected quite a few into a gallery slideshow. Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures

Comments (18)

  1. Admit it, you wanted to be a vulcanologist when you were a kid. :D

    I agree though, these are some spectacular photos.

  2. Carey

    “click to haphaestenate”

    Excuse me, I believe you mean “enhaphaestenate”.

  3. To win the grand prize of one Internet, spot the crepuscular rays in the photo of Puyehue Cordón Caulle.

  4. Looks like more than a few of those lakes are covered in pumice rafts.

  5. And my telescope has spent the last 7 month in deep storage, waiting for the eruption to stop blowing ash onto us…

  6. llewelly

    “and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows”

    Fortunately I use noscript, so the pictures were arranged vertically, and I simply scrolled through them using two fingers on my trackpad. Much easier than two stupid arrows.

  7. Trebuchet

    The bottom of the large caldera looks extremely smooth. Is it a crater lake covered with the aformentioned pumice? Or perhaps pumice covered ice?

    I’d call the color more grey than tan, or, as a home decorating catalog I once saw described it, greige.

  8. One thing to note about the ash – although it is damaging now, in the long run, it will help the forest. As the ash weathers, it will bring nutrients back into the soil that foster plant growth – and volcanic landscapes recover quickly. Just look at the area around St. Helens, where the 1980 eruption caused much more damage.

  9. Lorena

    terrible, lots of animals died, tourism was ruined in cities like bariloche that live off tourism, lots of people are moving away, flights from buenos aires even are getting cancelled every other day, well, it’s a bother, I live 25km from buenos aires and some days, I get a fine film of volcanic ash in my house :S but, well, it’s mother nature right, not her fault.

  10. David

    Left of the volcano you can already see mud flows that have happened… massive ones….

  11. DennyMo

    Similar to Andrew’s comment, many of the smaller lakes in the NE corner of the map are just as brown as the ground around them, not much contrast. Although the large lake showing how the sediment is “delta-ing” out where the creeks dump into it is very interesting.

  12. Ray

    To save the poor suffering forest from this completely natural phenomenon we should form a committee from NASA, NOAA, and BINT to study ways to prevent the ash from falling on the trees. Shouldn’t cost more than a $1 billion or so to study the problem.

  13. chief

    That “fine” ash is why the flights are rerouted or canceled. An engine gulping that sandpaper mix will either seize up or choke from lack of combustion space.

  14. Dragonchild
  15. Stuartg

    I misread the title as “Volcano in Taupo.”

    I had a little disappointment when I realised my mistake, since Taupo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taupo_Volcano) is an incredible volcano and it would have been lovely to view it from orbit, but the spectacular photos of other volcanos more than countered the disappointment!

  16. MadScientist

    “Unlike Earth observing satellites, which point straight down”

    Although many pushbroom imagers point to the nadir, some have wide swaths and do look at the surface from an oblique angle. Many earth observing instruments are limb sounders. The imagers on geostationary satellites see more or less an entire hemisphere so they see quite a large area of the earth at oblique angles. Dem danged instruments aren’t all alike.

  17. @Trebuchet: There is no lake at the Puyehue crater. There is also no ice or snow in the picture. Both the clear and the dark covers are pumice of different composition.

    There were two materials since the beginning of the eruption. The dark one was magnetic (see here). It was much darker than the light brown seen in this image. I’m not sure if it is the same.

    The dark material flowing to the west of the erupting vent is a lava flow (probably covered in ash, also).

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