Notes from a Volcano Junkie!


This week Planet Earth caught a break, literally.  The largest solar prominence in nearly 20 years exploded off the face of the Sun.  Capable of massive electrical disruptions with something akin to a EMP, it hit the planet a couple of days ago.  Then again, the fireworks in Iceland may be just enough to push the planet into a little ice age.  You aren’t hearing much of this from science because they are still holding onto global warming and man-made climate change.

Have you ever heard of Toba?  It is great reading for a Sunday morning.

“…Toba is a supervolcano on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It has blown its top many times but this eruption, 74,000 years ago, was exceptional. Releasing 2500 cubic kilometres of magma – nearly twice the volume of mount Everest – the eruption was more than 5000 times as large as the 1980 eruption of mount St Helens in the US, making it the largest eruption on Earth in the last 2 million years…”

By now, regular Pink Flamingo readers may have realized that I am a volcano wonk.  One of my earliest memories was when I was just a little kid, maybe 3 or 4.  My uncle had been out here in NM for a visit and had returned.  He was at my grandparents having lunch.  I can remember sitting on my grandfather’s knee asking Uncle Edwin if he had seen a volcano while he was in New Mexico!

One day I am going to see one erupt and photograph it.  One of the reasons I live in New Mexico is because it is the Volcano State!   In fact, every time I step outside and look  toward town I see a volcano!

“…Volcanism in New Mexico is not “extinct,” but is dormant. The record of volcanism in New Mexico is continuous over tens of millions of years, and there is no reason to think it stopped magically 3000 years ago with the eruption of several cubic kilometers of basalt (McCartys lava flow, El Malpais). New Mexico has one of only three large mid-crustal active magma bodies (Socorro) in the continent. (The others are Long Valley, California and Yellowstone, Wyoming.) The Socorro area is one of the few areas where there is a dearth of young volcanoes, so perhaps the Rift is working on filling out its volcano landscaping….The collection of volcanoes in New Mexico is so exceptional that there is no place else on the continent where you can live in one of several major metropolitan areas (Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Albuquerque) and yet have so many different types of volcanoes within a few hours drive. In most parts of the world people are so far removed from any volcano that they must travel many days or fly in and out at great cost. In New Mexico, you can get up in the morning, eat breakfast at the kitchen table, put on your field clothes, and be standing on a world-class example of some volcanic feature by early morning; or you need only look out the window to see at least one of those world-class examples on the horizon; or in only a few minutes you can go stand on one of the best young examples of a fissure eruption (Albuquerque Volcanoes), a cluster of maar craters (Potrillo), or the largest young caldera in the world (Valles Caldera)….”

Enough with the local stuff.

They are saying that the Eyjafjallajokull is not strong enough to set off global cooling, BUT – we are in a very strange solar era.  Currently Europe is quite cool, with the British Isles being hammered by winter.  These patters are directly related to the solar minimum.

The travel problems are now becoming historic.

“...So why can’t the Met Office, Britain’s meteorological headquarters, tell us with more confidence when that cloud is going to move, and where?

They have powerful computers and some of finest weather-system modeling in the world, but no country has a harder time predicting its day-to-day weather than the United Kingdom. The island is a complex arrangement of hundreds of micro-climates famous for their whimsy. As Sinatra said about London, “If you don’t like the climate, wait five minutes.”

Which is why the enormous trans-Atlantic cloud’s path over London creates the perfect storm, so to speak. The 21st century has just met the 19th century, and the 19th century is winning—so far. The last time the Icelandic volcano erupted was in 1821, and it continued spouting until 1823. This historical detail seemed too distant to consider as we built the modern airways over the Atlantic and Europe. Now we realize how vulnerable we are to what was, literally, a sleeper. Today, anyone trying to guess when normal jet service will return to Europe’s skies has about as much chance of being right as the forecasters.

The cloud has not only affected flights to and from Europe, but the world over. U.S. travel agents, trying to help clients stranded in, say, South America, are unable to provide back-up itineraries because airline schedules have suddenly been rendered meaningless. From Singapore to Johannesburg, Los Angeles to Buenos Aires, hundreds of airplanes are stuck in the wrong place….”

On the whole global warming foolishness:

“...WUWT take on the problem is interesting, saying that the lower pressure will cause the melting point of the rocks to change only a little bit, so you shouldn’t expect more volcanism. However, the key to this problem (in my mind) isn’t melting point but rather the volatiles dissolved in the magma. Most magmas can dissolve more volatiles (from the source of the magma, not a surface source of water) under high pressure than low pressure. If you release that pressure, then the volatiles escape in the form of bubbles and you can get an explosive eruption (like popping the top of shaken soda can). If you happen to have shallow magma chambers with volatiles near the surface and deglaciate (remove the ice), you might be prompt a reaction of the volatiles (gases) coming out of solution with the magma. Now, if you combine that with even a small amount of additional melting from lower pressures brought by deglaciation, then, maybe you could produce a temporary, larger supply of eruptible magma. Magma does not need external water to produce explosive eruptions (such as an ice cap/glacier) – and it seems that the current eruption is silicic enough to produce its own explosivity due to its viscosity and water content – so the lack of an ice cap should not preclude more explosive eruptions in Iceland.

Now, this is all just speculation on my part and I’m not trying to connect it to global warming, global cooling or the Red Sox subpar start to the season. However, what I can say is that we need to stop trying to look at every study with the lens of climate change – and especially stop treating each side of the issue as adversaries if you don’t agree with them. Science is about discussion not confrontation, but a lot of this debate becomes “Jeez, the other guys are idiots because they don’t agree with me!” A little civility and open-mindedness goes a long way….”

The latest reports are a little crazy.  There are new reports that another large ash plume is full of lightening.  If true, that is so not good.