Volcanic Eruptions: Chile and China

Ever since the Great Boxing Day Quake hit Indonesia, the earth has been quite active.  Sometimes there are long periods with no major earthquakes or tsunamis.  It is obvious that we are in a rather active cycle here.  One unfortunate example of bad geological timing was Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.  This coincided with a very active period which saw several major volcanic eruptions in various parts of the earth and which caused temperatures to plunge off and on for over a decade.

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The major resetting of the tectonic plates subducting under Indonesia and Japan have unleashed many forces since both island complexes host many of the earth’s volcanoes, all of which are quite restive now due to this significant shifting of the sea floors which dive under the landmasses these volcanoes created over the eons.  Everyone watches these subduction zone volcanoes very nervously but so far, none of them have truly exploded into action although a few in Alaska, Russia and Indonesia have given a nervous cough or two.

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But the really active ones seem to be far from the center of earthquake activity.  One place that has seen a few eruptions lately is the chain in Chile.  This month, a major eruption event has been spewing out a great deal of fine particulate matter dust into the higher stratosphere.  This has disrupted jet travel across all of southern South America and now, the entire southern Pacific Ocean:  NASA – NASA Provides a Two-Satellite View and Video of the Chilean Volcano Eruption

This Chile ash cloud causes flight chaos and like the Icelandic eruptions, is quite extensive and pretty long in duration.  As the prevailing winds shift, this dense cloud of volcanic dust moves over either the Atlantic Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.  Here is an illustration of the zone of dust spread in just one week in the Pacific:

Earth Module 4

This isn’t the actual amount but rather, the zone of spreading and it basically covers a quarter of the planet in the south sector.  If we include the Atlantic side, this has now injected significant dust into  half of the southern hemisphere.  This has significant effects that will eventually cause climate changes in the northern hemisphere.  Qantas Extends New Zealand Flight Cuts Over Chile Volcanic Ash – Bloomberg.com

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“They’re pretty fine particles that can cause damage to the windscreen of the aircraft and to the fuselage,” Bill Sommer, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, said in a telephone interview today. “It can also cause problems to engines and has been known to get into hydraulic systems. It’s almost like sand-blasting.”

 

These fine particles can remain in the stratosphere for a long while.  The various volcanic gasses remain even longer.  These cause spectacular sunsets if the eruption is great enough.  Generally speaking, when a volcano destroys its top half in a major eruption, this becomes very visible to the entire planet and often, the explosion from these events can be heard all over the world.

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According to the National Geographic issue in April, 2011, just one active caldera volcano in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, Nyiragongo, emits more sulfur dioxide, 7,000 tons, each day than the US and China put together, emit due to cars and factories.  The effects of these monster mountains is extremely huge and even more extremely variable since they don’t do anything steadily, they have a historic tendency to blow up.

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This mirrors human efforts at running economic systems.  That is, tensions build and then things blow up and then dumps tons of stuff all over everything (all economic sudden collapses leads to violent wars) and then the process begins all over again.  Not all things shift at the same time, geological forces are all about building up stresses and then violent resetting of the status quo.  Generally speaking, the longer the quiet period, the more violent the reset cycle.  Shifts in ice load amounts on various continents also affects the rate of resets, too.  Ice accumulations add stress and ice melts releases tensions as the land springs back upwards.

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We still are struggling to understand these dynamics.  Much of what goes on one kilometer or more beneath our feet is still mostly terra incognito.  We can surmise information and we have better and better clues as scientists develop the tools to probe ever deeper but it is still very much a virgin interior space.  Indeed, we know more about outer space than this intimate interior of our own planet.

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NASA – Three Satellites See Eruption of Puyehue-Cordón Volcano from Space

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The Terra satellite flew over the volcano on June 6 at 14:25 UTC (10:25 a.m. EDT). The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument captured a visible image of the eruption that showed the large ash plume blowing northeast, then to the southeast and over the Atlantic Ocean. The ash plume went at least as high as six miles on June 4 when it erupted, according to CNN International. Some 3,500 people were evacuated.

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The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites called GOES-13 and GOES-11 also captured images of the volcano from a different vantage point in space that revealed the plume was visible from even farther away.

 

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In the aftermath of the Iceland eruptions, we had a very, very snowy winter here in the NE USA.  From Washington state to Maine, amazing amounts of snow fell.  It is still melting out west.  This, in turn, created massive flooding especially in the Mississippi valley.  The new eruptions are in the opposite hemisphere so I don’t know yet if it will affect the climate up here.

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The fact that last winter was also still a La Nina event and the elements of the Atlantic oscillation was also in play with the ocean off of Long Island and Boston being unusually warm probably amplified this effect.  Weather systems are affected by many, many elements from volcanoes, gas outputs from the earth or humans, the tilt of the planet, the position of the moon, and above all, solar activity or inactivity: the number of trees also affects the weather very greatly and humans have been particularly hard on forests nearly everywhere.

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Most of the forests in the NE USA were cut down by 1900 and due to people leaving the NE for hotter climates (humans adore hot climates, for the most part, so long as there is air conditioning) and also due to economic forces (all businesses are also moving to hot places thanks to air conditioning and free trade) and thanks also to using fossil fuels for heating, our forests have regrown greatly and now my own town of Berlin, NY, is now virtually all forest again.

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This, in turn, has a huge effect in the climate here leading to it being wetter and cooler since forests shelter the grown and basically ‘eat’ sunshine instead of having it beat down on bare ground, for example.  Much of ‘global warming’ can be repaired by increasing instead of cutting down all the forests.  But this means using some other fuels besides wood and the biofuel movement has been a total disaster for many forests as they are cut down…again, in hot places…and replaced with sugar cane.

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Back to volcanoes: the produce a lot of CO2 and especially Sulfur dioxide, SO2 – which happens to both be things created by burning ancient dead plants in the form of fossil fuels.  It is of great coincidence that living matter, when dead and compressed, has the same chemical footprint as volcanoes.  The life cycle of all living things on this planet are very intertwined with the chemistry of the oceans and the volcanic forces deep inside the earth.  It is one of the wonders of nature, one of the most amazing facets of creation.  It never ceases to cause me to feel great awe.

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We see this around all volcanoes: humans need to live near these dangerous dragon-like entities despite the chances of being killed during upheavals due to the fact that life flourishes in the ruins after eruptions.  The land is rich in the very same minerals and chemicals we need to thrive and reproduce.  The engines of evolutionary changes also are very entwined with mighty volcanic eruptions as well as space debris slamming into the planet and then causing great eruptions.

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One thing CO2 encourages is the growth of plants and in particular, trees.  This is their ‘oxygen’ since they breathe this in whereas we other creatures who are not plants, desperately need the exhalation of this CO2, that is, the plants take the carbon and cough back out the oxygen molecules, and this is where the present balance of life resides.  Cutting down all our forests is dangerous since this removes some of the great oxygen producing organisms from the planets.  The Amazon and Congo jungle systems have been called ‘the Earth’s lungs’ for good reason and both are being decimated by humans pretty rapidly.

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While looking for more information about the Chilean eruption, I stumbled on a series of recent stories about another very dangerous volcano in Asia, this one being in near-isolation well outside of the Ring of Fire and on the border of China and North Korea.  Here is one story about this dangerous volcano from last year:    Baekdu-san Eruption Possibility
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2010  June 18th,   from The Korea Times

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The government is paying attention to the possibility of a major eruption of Mt. Baekdu, the 2,744-meter dormant volcano on the border between North Korea and China, which experts here and in China claim has shown signs of becoming active.

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“Comprehensive countermeasures will be drawn up this year,” a high-ranking official at the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) told The Korea Times, Friday. “To that end, we will soon convene a meeting of volcano experts and officials at related ministries. Plus, we will study volcanoes in China and Japan to enhance our knowledge of the issue.”  The official, who declined to be named, added, “The plan will soon be reported to the President.”

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This is the first time that the KMA has commented on dealing with a possible volcanic eruption of the tallest mountain on the Korean peninsula that could devastate the ailing North Korean economy and have a great impact on South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.  According to historical records, major activity on Baekdu in the 940s created a caldera on its peak, whose circumference is nearly 14 kilometers with an average depth of 213 meters and a maximum of 384 meters. Volcanic ash from this eruption has been found as far away as the southern part of Hokkaido, Japan, according.

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Small-scale eruptions were recorded in 1413, 1597, 1668 and 1702 _ the last activity was recorded in 1903.  The mountain has stayed inactive since then, leaving it categorized by scientists as dormant… “unusual signs,” including minor trembling among others, began to emerge around June 2002 and their frequency quakes has notably increased since a 7.3-magnitude earthquake rattled the area around the mountain, according to geologists..

 

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It is rather odd to list a volcano as ‘dormant’ when it is very much active.  About every 100 years it gives a burb of activity.  A major eruption, on the other hand, seems to be on the 1,000 year scale which means it is probably due for another event sometime in the nearer rather than further geological scale.  Of course, when predicting either earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, we always are on a geological scale which means, being very precise is nearly impossible.  One can only state probabilities.  This goes for cosmic events, too.  We have a good idea of probabilities but can’t translate this into very precise predictions on the HUMAN scale which is very short in time.

Looking up information about this volcano is difficult simply because it has so many names, for example, it is called ‘Changbai’ volcano in Chinese.  This is literally one of the most explosive borders on the planet since the boundary between China and North Korea is the center of this volcano.  We can see in the north side of the caldera, the zig-zag road in China leading up to the northern shore where tourists come for some spectacular views and to literally boil eggs in the hot waters there for this is one very hot lake indeed.

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Here is a story about this dangerous volcano a year later, from May, 2011:  Scientists grapple with looming volcanic question

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The 2,744-meter-high volcano is China’s least stable. Geologists are closely monitoring it following the earthquake that hit Japan on March 11 and increasing volcanic eruptions around the world.

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Iceland’s most active volcano, Grimsvotn, erupted on Saturday, hurling a plume of ash and smoke that is approaching northern Scotland.  Mount Shinmoedake in Japan erupted three times, on March 13 and April 8 and 18. Southern Italy’s Mount Etna erupted on May 12, and the Philippines has raised its alert level as the Taal volcano rumbles… (ELAINE: And since then, so has volcanoes in Central America and Chile erupted, too!)

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…Now experts are proposing a major update of the monitoring system and collaborative research with DPRK so China can prepare for any volcanic disasters that might come….Last June, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in the Republic of Korea (ROK) reported that South Korean geologist Yoon Sung-hyo, who has been researching Changbai with Liu and other Chinese experts, said there were “clear signs” that Changbai was heading toward an eruption. He expected it to happen in 2014 or 2015.

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Chinese experts discounted the threat, saying the eruption does not seem imminent. Since being in an active phase from 2002 to 2005, the volcano seems to have quieted down, although scientists expect more activity in the next few years.

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“The only sure thing is that the eruption will not happen anytime soon,” Liu said. “But as to when it will erupt, and what forms the eruption will be like, accurate conclusions can only be made through more monitoring as well as research.”

 

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Several things: the graph on the sidebar of this Chinese story shows relative size of eruption materials from the bigger eruptions of the last 1,000 years (not including the huge eruptions in the Russian/Alaskan chains in the last 1,000 years!).  Pinatubo was pretty big but one reason I think it affected the weather as greatly as the much bigger eruption of 1815 is due to the gas mix, perhaps and the fact that it occurred at the same time as a big drought in Asia which raised a great deal of red dust.

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As usual, one can’t tell exactly what affect a volcano will have on the weather since there is usually more than one force at work here.  For example, if there is an eruption at the same time as the sun is very active, you get a different temperature/snow index result compared to when the sun is quiet.  Pre-existing conditions can be amplified after an eruption or could cease due to changes from an eruption.  What we do know for certain is, eruptions have a great effect one way or another on all earth weather systems.

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For example, I believe but cannot prove that the relatively small dust production from Eyjafjallajokull greatly amplified existing forces in the ocean temperature cycles with a cool cycle in the Pacific and a warm one in the northern Atlantic to cause huge snowfalls in certain regions.  Looking at the graph for major eruptions in the last 1,000 years, though, is very alarming since this particular Chinese/Korean volcano is extremely dangerous indeed.  And it is amazing that is slumbered most fitfully while being nearly totally ignored by volcano scientists not due to ignorance or lack of zeal but due entirely and only to raw politics.

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Humans running societies made it dangerous to visit this volcano.  And a refusal to understand the dangers led these same humans to ignore this sleeping dragon and only now has alarm grown in the top circles of power, do they allow scientists to finally look closer.  One of the most dangerous sciences is the study of volcanoes.  Quite an astonishing number of scientists die when volcanoes erupt.  The famous film of the explosion of Mt. St. Helens was recorded by a volcano scientist observing from many miles away but he was still killed by the sudden surge of hot gases.

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This Chinese/Korean volcano is dangerous because scientists can be shot and killed there just for crossing the invisible line in the middle of this lake.  This volcano may be one of several dangerous hot spots on earth.  Iceland is one such as is Hawaii, for example.   Here is a view of the plates in Asia where this volcano sits:  Amurian Plate – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

To one side is one of the deepest lakes on earth, a lake being squeezed between the Amour plate and the complex plates that form Siberia.  Japan is the intersection of several plates and was created by the collision of the Pacific Plate into all of these smaller plates squeezed by Eurasia and Siberia.  Eventually, Japan will be mashed into the Amour plate by the swift moving Australian plate that is traveling rapidly northwards, the fastest moving plate on earth.  On the map above, Mount Fuji-san is where the other red dot is in Japan.  These two giant volcanoes are very close, geographically, with each other but the Chinese/Korean one is more dangerous since it is probably a ‘hot spot’ and these generate some of the worst explosions on earth.

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By far and away, the most dangerous of them all (now that the Siberian Trap and Decca Trap events in Siberia and India have already annihilated many life forms in previous extinction events in the deep past!) is our own lovely national park:  The Snake River Plain and the Yellowstone Hot Spots:

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As we see from the graph here, the biggest Yellowstone eruption was FIFTEEN times bigger than the biggest eruption in the last 1,000 years!  Wow!  That is just a totally different scale indeed.  More worrisome is the fact that the most recent event, during human times, just half a million years ago when our African ancestors were frantically trying to figure out how to use fire, chip rocks and hunt for animals to survive in a rapidly shifting environment thanks to the Ice Ages, Yellowstone erupted and spat out 1,000 cubic km of earth materials!

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That is still over six times the biggest eruption in the last 1,000 years!  Sitting right in the bosom of the US is the world’s most dangerous caldera!  This is why it has to be watched extremely closely for it is not ‘dormant’ at all any more than the Chinese/Korean volcano: it is hot!  Water boils!  Steam rises, and it shows all the attributes of a snoozing dragon who heaves and shakes periodically.

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Here is the government website for tracking all of this:  Recent Earthquakes for Yellowstone.  The only question about Yellowstone is when will the next eruption happen, not if.  This is a dark cloud on a distant horizon for the US.  Much of the richness of many of our best farmlands are due to this hot spot just as the greatest danger resides here.  The dust from this hot spot nearly always travels to the east, covering the Mississippi valley regions while nearly all of the lava, and there is immense amounts of that with each eruption, moves relentlessly to the West.  So this is a major builder of the land in the middle of the US.

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The Rockies and Sierra mountains, for example, are built by continental drift uplifting.  But the flatlands are built up by Yellowstone and Long Valley eruptions in California.  In Arizona and New Mexico, there is still ongoing rift eruptions that spread lava, too.  I have visited some of these sites and to this day, the ground is remarkably hot underfoot meaning, eruptions can and will happen in the future, too.

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All of great interest to me.  We need volcanoes.  If Yellowstone didn’t happen, the central Mississippi valley system many have been so shallow, it would be part of the ocean system instead of a fertile valley!  The thickness of the topsoil is often due to volcanic actions.  This, in turn, feeds plants and again: life on earth may not have been possible at all if it were not for volcanoes in the first place.  Even if one volcano annihilates all living things within its circumference, life moves back in from other areas fed by volcanoes and recolonizes it again.  We see this with Mt. St. Helens which is turning rapidly green again.

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Eventually, huge forests will adorn that volcanoes slopes.  YouTube – Disney’s Fantasia 2000 – Firebird Suite

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4 Comments

Filed under Geology

4 responses to “Volcanic Eruptions: Chile and China

  1. RobG

    I’m sure you’ve seen this already, but just what do people expect from these scientists?

    Italian Scientists On Trial For Manslaughter After Failing To Predict Earthquake

  2. emsnews

    I wrote about that last week. Talk about insane! And look at the clown running Italy! Sex with teens, no less!

  3. PFO

    Hello Elaine,

    Shoveled 6 inches of St. Helen ash off the front walks in Spokane in 1980, so I am familiar with Mother Natures gritty side. Looks to me Disney’s Fantasia 2000 copied most of the landscape from the Mt. Saint Helen eruption in May, 1980.

    Today, I fear a tectonic reaction to the weight of thousands of square miles of water rolling through the New Madrid Fault basin at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers,

    Could this continental sized 100 year wave cause the cataclysmic New Madrid Fault earthquake long anticipated? If so, when? Within the fortnight?

    Regards,
    PFO

  4. Seungju

    Actually, earthquakes took place in South Korea 3 days ago.

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