Categorized | Sci-Tech, Volcano

Volcano Watch: How to watch world volcanoes on the web

(Volcano Watch is a weekly article written by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.)

During the past several weeks, many volcanoes have been active around the world. While we focus on our home volcano, it can be very interesting to check in with these other eruptions via the internet. The volcanoes getting the most attention now are El Hierro in the Canary Islands northwest of mainland Africa, Mount Etna on the Italian Island of Sicily, and Nyamuragira volcano in the Congo. You can keep up with world volcanism here – http://www.volcano.si.edu/reports/usgs

The Canary Islands, like Hawai`i, are the tips of a chain of volcanoes on the Atlantic ocean floor west of the African country of Morocco. Like the Hawaiian Islands, they are thought to be produced by a mantle hotspot.

El Hierro, the volcano associated with the southwestern-most island, has recently erupted through a series of submarine vents offshore of the southernmost town of La Restinga. Toward the end of September, Spanish authorities evacuated that end of the island. So far, the eruption has produced discolored sea water that can be seen from space via satellite, some floating and steaming rocks, gases, and thousands of earthquakes – the largest being a magnitude-4.3 in early November. Activity has waxed and waned and it is currently quiet.

The El Hierro eruption is being monitoring by the Instituto Geografico Nacional (http://www.01.ign.es/ign/layout/volcaVolcanologia.do) and their results are reported in Spanish. If you don’t read Spanish, you can use the Google Chrome internet browser which will do a very credible job of translation. Current earthquake and other geophysical activity can be tracked on their website. You can watch the activity (or lack thereof) at http://earthquake-report.com/2011/11/12/32535

Mount Etna, on the Italian Island of Sicily, has erupted 18 times this year. The most recent episode was in mid-November and was very similar to many of the past events – lava fountains, ash emissions that closed the nearby Catania airport, and a 4 km-long (2.5 mi) lava flow in a couple of hours of activity. Etna, and several other nearby volcanoes, is being very closely monitored by the Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Sezione di Catania and their website has lots of data, photos, webcams, and background information – http://www.ct.ingv.it

The summit and flanks of Mount Etna are protected with the Parco dell’Etna (http://www.parks.it/parco.etna/index.php) which offers information and education about the surrounding area. Tourists can engage guides or join one of many tours to the summit for a safe trip between eruptions.

Possibly the most spectacular of the currently erupting volcanoes (outside of Hawai`i) is Nyamuragira in the Central African country of The Congo. On November 6, a fissure eruption started on the northern flank of the 3,058 m (10,032 ft) high volcano with 300 m (1,000 ft) lava fountains and a lava flow moving through unpopulated areas to the north within Virunga National Park. The most recent information (November 18) suggests that the lava flow had advanced nearly 12 km (7.5 mi) before stalling but lava fountains were still active at the flow’s source.

The Virunga National Park system is probably better known for its population of endangered mountain gorillas, as well as chimpanzees, elephants, and buffalos. Park rangers are normally busy protecting the wildlife from poachers and the park from numerous illegal activities and have set up a webpage reporting on the effect of the eruption on the gorillas and chimps – http://gorillacd.org/2011/11/18/gorillas-and-volcanoes/

The park is concerned about humans, too. When the Nyamuragira eruption started, rangers quickly set up a camp at a location safe for visitors and started offering a trip for volcano tourists. For $300, park rangers will pick you up in the town of Goma and, after an hour’s drive, hike with you 3 to 4 hours to the camp. You can spend the night one mile south of the erupting vent before beginning the journey back to Goma the next day.

Back at home, Kilauea’s continuous activity has wooed international eyes through the internet this year resulting in thousands of webpage hits to our website and webcams at http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park protects visitors as well as endangered birds and plants and has hosted most of the volcanic activity.

And that’s it for armchair volcano watching on this Thanksgiving weekend!

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