Volcano grounds jets in Indonesia

Flights between Singapore and several Indonesian cities, including the capital Jakarta, have been grounded due to the latest eruption of Mt. Merapi. The volcano has been erupting for two weeks and has killed more than 130 people and displaced two hundred thousand.

Several airports have closed and while the ash cloud has affected international flights, domestic flights are continuing as normal. So far the suspensions of flights are up to the individual airlines, but major carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Lufthansa and Cathay have chosen to play it safe.

Merapi is one of the most active volcanoes in the Ring of Fire, a giant arch of tectonic activity around the Pacific. Back in 2006, an eruption displaced tens of thousands and prompted local villagers to try animist rituals to placate the volcano’s spirits.

[Image courtesy user Tequendamia via Wikimedia Commons]

“Electrifying” video from the crater of Guatemala’s Volcan Santiaguito… as it erupts!

At 8,200 feet, Guatemala’s Volcan Santiaguito is not one of the tallest volcanoes in the world, but with eruptions taking place every hour, it is one of the world’s most active. A few days ago, I joined four other people for a challenging two-day hike from the town of Quetzaltenango to witness an eruption first-hand.

Our group of five set up camp a safe distance from where the eruptions would be taking place, and the volcano was spitting out large amounts of ash, smoke, and gas regularly from the time we arrived. (Here‘s a farther-away version of what we saw from the camp-site.) Not satisfied to observe from a “safe distance,” we asked our guide whether we could climb up next to the crater and wait for an eruption. He gave us his blessing– after some pleading on our part– and he led us on a climb up to the crater.

The video I shot, seen above, captures pretty well the chaos and absurdity (though not the noxious smell of sulfur) of standing thirty feet from a volcano as it erupts. Be sure to stick around until the 0:55 mark for some fun with static electricity– turn the sound up on your computer for the full effect.

For another view (with even more cursing!), check out this great Youtube vid.

Mount Redoubt approaching climax

Things in south-central Alaska just got a bit more interesting (and south-central Alaska was already a pretty tough neighborhood). Mount Redoubt has seen a dramatic uptick in seismic activity over the last several days and seismologists fear that an eruption may be imminent.

Located about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, Mount Redoubt hasn’t had a release in over 20 years, so you can bet that it’s frustrated. Peter Cervelli, a research geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory said, “we expect based on the past behavior of this volcano that this activity is going to culminate in an eruption.” And what a release it will be!

Cervelli went on to add that while an eruption would pose little threat to residents of Anchorage, it certainly has the potential to disrupt air traffic. During the last eruption, ash plumes hindered air traffic and caused one jet engine to fail. Ash plumes are the the new bird strikes!

The observatory has set up two webcams to monitor the situation and get footage of an eruption, which should be one hell of a money shot.

[Via CNN]

The World’s Top 10 Volcanoes

When I was 21, I spent one hot, sweaty day hiking over loosely-packed to shale to arrive at our destination: the peak of the Volcano on the island of Santorini in Greece. I had envisioned the volcanoes from the movies — steaming, black and full of red-hot molten lava, but this just looked like a large pile of rocks with a crater in the middle. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that hiking up an active volcano wouldn’t be safe, but this was still a bit of let-down, especially after a tedious hike after a late night of drinking Ouzo. I’ve seen better vistas on hikes before than this one. Still, it might be worth a visit if even just to say you’ve hiked up a volcano.

But there are definitely better volcanoes out there to see, like the ones mentioned on this list of the world’s top 10 volcanoes. Here’s what made the list:

  1. Kilauea – Hawaii
  2. Mount Liamuiga Volcano – St Kitts
  3. Mount Kilimanjaro – Tanzania
  4. Mount Vesuvius – Italy
  5. Augustine, Douglas, Illiamna and Redoubt volcanoes – Alaska
  6. Niyragongo Volcano – Zaire
  7. Yellowstone – United States
  8. Shiga volcanic complex – Japan
  9. Ambrym Volcano – Vanuatu
  10. Mount Taranaki — New Zealand

To find out why these made the list, check out the full article.

Dome of Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills Volcano Collapses

Yesterday, on our way back to Trinidad from Miami, my friend Joanna and I were astonished to hear the pilot of our airplane say the following over the intercom:

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to take a bit of a scenic route to Trinidad today — instead of our normal route, we’re going to head towards Haiti, and then towards Aruba and Bonaire and follow the north coast of Venezuela into Trinidad.  This is because of the eruption of the volcano in Montserrat this morning, which is spewing volcanic ash into the atmosphere, and it is against FAA regulations to fly through volcanic ash.”

Joanna and I looked at each other with astonishment.  We hadn’t heard anything about a volcano erupting.   This wasn’t good news:  About a decade ago, the Montserrat volcano erupted, resulting in a decline in the local population from  12,000 to 4,000 people.  More than half of the island became uninhabitable. Although only 20 people were killed by the mud volcano, most migrated overseas.

A few hours later, the pilot came back on, directing our attention to the left side of the airplane, where the cloud of volcanic ash had risen to over 60,000 feet.  Strangely, once I arrived home I couldn’t find any news report about the eruption.

Finally, this morning, I found this article in the Washington Post, published late last night.  It appears the inhabitants of the island are safe.

Good news.

(Photo courtesy of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.)