In Chile, the volcano Puyehue-Cordón explosively erupted in June, sending thick layers of ash to the east over the country and into Argentina. While the activity has died down, an ash plume still flows from the stratovolcano, and was spotted by NASA’s Terra satellite on July 8:
Chile is on the left, Argentina on the right. The image shows a region over 400 km (240 miles) across, giving you an idea of just how long that plume is… and see all that beige covering Argentina? That’s ash. As the wind has shifted the plume has changed direction, covering vast swaths of land with volcanic ash.
Credit: NASA images courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center
I’ve collected quite a few images of volcanoes from space 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.]
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
I have seen some amazing volcano pictures in my time, but this one just released by NASA is way, way up on the list of pure, freaking, awesome:
[Click to hephaestenate.]
That spectacular image is from the Earth Observing-1 satellite, and shows the Nabro volcano in Eritrea, a country bordering the Red Sea on the horn of Africa. The volcano has been erupting for a couple of weeks, but its isolated location has made it difficult to get observations from the ground. The best views have been from satellites like EO-1.
This picture, taken on June 24, is false color; red is actually near-infrared, showing the intense heat generated by the lava in the caldera and flowing off to the northwest (upper left). The blue cloud is likely water vapor, and additional clouds are from gases escaping from the cooling lava. The caldera crater is obvious, and to give you a sense of the scale of this beast is about 6 km (3.6 miles) across.
Scientists studying samples of volcanic glass from the Moon have made a startling discovery: there’s more water in them than was once thought. A lot more water. Not enough to go swimming or anything like that, but certainly enough to have affected the Moon’s geologic history, and potentially profoundly impact (haha — see below) our ideas of how the Moon formed.
The scientists looked at glass created in volcanic fire fountains, eruptions billions of years ago that left tiny (roughly the diameter of a human hair) grains of colored glass on the surface. These lay there for quite some time until 1972, when they were spotted by geologist Harrison Schmitt, who happened to be standing on the Moon at the time as part of Apollo 17. He brought them back to Earth for study.
In the ensuing decades technology improved quite a bit, and figuring out the contents of the glass beads has become a lot more accurate. In this new research, the scientists found (in 2008, actually, but their results are now confirmed) that the beads have a water content of about 750 parts per million, roughly equivalent to what you’d find in magma in the Earth’s upper mantle. That’s very surprising; many of the rocks on the Moon’s surface are very dry*, which for years has led scientists to assume the Moon itself was very dry.
Even with subsurface water being found all over the Moon, it’s still surprising to see this water in the beads. Why?
Lightning is common in volcanic plumes, but this one produced quite a bit more than usual. The footage is striking. Ha ha.
Also, NASA released a beautiful image of the plume as seen by the Earth-observing Terra satellite:
[Click to hephaestenate.]
Note the scale; the ash column is over 20 km (12 miles) across. I said in the post earlier it reached 11 km in height; however the NASA news release states that it reached over 20 km high!
There is some indication the ash may be a threat to air travel in the UK, too. That’s a bummer; Eyjafjalajökull disrupted air travel for weeks. Let’s hope this one subsides sooner.
Video from Jon Gustafsson on Vimeo; Terra image from Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
[Note: at the bottom of this post is a gallery of volcano pictures taken from space.]
Just in case you forgot that the Earth is one of the most geologically active worlds in the solar system*, the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn has sent a very loud reminder: after seven years of relative inactivity, the volcano woke up on Saturday, rocketing a plume 11 kilometers (7 miles) into the air. The ash column blasted through the cloud layer, and was seen by weather satellites in space! Check out this amazing animation:
That was the view from the Meteosat-9, a European satellite in geostationary orbit. The animation is composed of visible light images and covers just under a three hour time span on May 21. You can clearly see the plume breaching the cloud layer and spreading out, then a second plume blowing through shortly thereafter. The shadow of the plume on the clouds gives an excellent but eerie sense of the scale of this event.
Here’s a similar view from the US GOES 13 satellite showing 3.5 hours of the eruption:
Just east of Russia and north of Japan lies a long series of island volcanoes called the Kuril chain. Over 50 volcanoes form this archipelago, which stretches for well over 1300 km (800 miles) in the western Pacific ocean. At the southern end is the bizarrely-shaped rectangle of Ostrov Shikotan, and in the winter icy waters swirl and flow around the snow-covered terrain:
Breathtaking, isn’t it? There are two extinct volcanoes on the island (it’s still seismically active though) and, amazingly, two settlements as well. Of course, this picture, taken in February from NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite, paints a very white and chilly picture. Satellite imagery in warmer times shows it to be much greener. There is some dispute over who owns the island; it’s part of Russia but the Japanese claim it as well.
I suspect in the very long run, it doesn’t matter. The Earth owns this parcel of land. The geology indicates it’s been battered by eons of tsunamis and earthquakes. Humans may thrust out their chests and thump them, but the vast and mighty forces of a entire planet have squatting rights here, I think.
I love these satellite views of volcanoes from space, and I’ve collected quite a few into a gallery slideshow (I almost have enough to create a whole new set now, too). Click the thumbnail picture to get a bigger picture and more information, and scroll through the gallery using the left and right arrows.]
I don’t post every volcano image that passes by, but there are a few that catch my eye for some reason or another. Like this one, the Ubinas volcano in Peru:
[Click to hephaestenate.]
Wow. Even though I know the power and fury of these mighty beasts, they are just so simply lovely when seen from space! This one — snapped by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite — looks like it’s been sculpted out of clay, but in fact is Peru’s most active volcano (in 2006 an eruption causes quite a stir for nearby towns), so the summit and surrounding areas are covered in fresh lava. There are no trees, no plants; just barren, alien rock. The whole region for kilometers around looks like another planet.
The last eruption was just last year, explaining the fresh look to it. You can see a small collapse funnel in it, though "small" is relative, it’s 200 meters deep. I also noticed that there is a summit collapse to the south, which is a feature of many stratovolcanoes. Part of the cone collapses and there can be sideways explosions, or pyroclastic flows (floods of searing hot ash) blasting horizontally. That southern break in the caldera leads to a canyon, which in turn (as can be seen in the high-res version of the image) leads to what looks like a huge rift on the right. As beautiful as it is from space, that’s basically the last place I’d like to be standing if this guy decides to throw a hissy fit.
This area is a subduction zone; the Nazca Pacific tectonic plate is sliding under the South American plate. Where this happens on Earth there are volcanoes (this one is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire) and earthquakes; the monster magnitude 8.8 Chilean earthquake last year was triggered by the subducting plate in fact.
Studying volcanoes means understanding tectonics better, and that means understanding earthquakes better, and that means saving thousands of lives and perhaps billions of dollars. And that’s a fine, fine idea.
Image credit: Robert Simmon, using ALI data from the NASA EO-1 team.
I love all these fantastic pictures of volcanoes we’re getting from space, but I think I have a new favorite: the Onekotan Island caldera, covered in snow, as seen by the astronauts on the International Space Station:
Click to Hephaestenate and get the stunning full-res shot.
What a magnificent photograph! The south (left) side of Onekotan is a collapsed caldera; magma filled a gigantic chamber underneath the cone, building up enormous pressure, until one day it exploded. Once the chamber emptied the mountain above and around it collapsed down, leaving that huge depression 7.5 km (4.6 miles) wide. Eventually water filled the bowl, forming the Kal’tsevoe Lake, and a new volcanic stratovolcano, Krenitzyn Peak, built up in the lake.
On the other side (north or right) is the smaller lake Chernoe, the remnants of a caldera that’s millennia old. Nemo peak is a new volcano forming there in the ashes of the old. The entire island is about 43 km (26 miles) long, with Krenitzyn topping out at 1350 meters, and Nemo at just over 1000. It’s part of the Kuril chain of volcanic islands that stretch north of Japan up to Kamchatka.
Those are the stats and the scientific facts. They’re interesting, certainly, but really it’s the simple beauty of the picture that’s so enthralling. Covered in a layer of snow, this island hardly looks like it could have had the incredibly violent history it must have experienced.
I have a gallery of amazing volcano pictures taken from space, and this one is clearly among the most beautiful of them. I think that science is at its best when it reveals both the incredible inner and outer beauty of nature.