Monday, July 2, 2018

Crystal Clocks: How minerals in magmas can be used to unravel what happens before an eruption (Guest Blog by Dawn Ruth)

- Guest blogger Dawn C.S. Ruth @rockdoc11

Keeping time with volcanoes

Hi everyone. I’m neither Alison nor Janine. My name is Dawn C.S. Ruth and, like our fearless leaders, I also study volcanoes. However, where Alison uses experiments to delve deeper into volcanic processes, and Janine uses satellites to spy on volcanoes, I look at the minerals to see how magma moves and behaves before an eruption. One of the reasons I think volcanoes are so cool is because there are so many different ways to study volcanoes (and geology in general).

You want to know a little more about me, the blogging interloper? Well, a long time ago….

No really, my geologic history spans 2.54 billion years. I actually started doing research on impact ejecta from the Archean; this work formed the foundation of my undergraduate research project. When a chance to go to Antarctica and study Erebus volcano came up, I took it immediately. So I went from studying 2.54 billion year old rocks to studying the gasses coming out of Erebus. Funny story – my sister still calls me a gas sniffer. Ahhh, siblings.

Anyway, after my masters I worked for the state of New Mexico as a petrographer and then moved to the University at Buffalo to study volcanoes again. It just so happened that Llaima volcano (Chile) started erupting in January 2008, right before I began my PhD. As a result, Llaima became the focus of my doctoral research. Ok enough about me.

How does one, anyone, study volcanoes using minerals? Oh, let me count the ways. There are many blog posts I could provide, but I’ll focus on one. I use the chemistry of minerals to get at time.

Volcanoes erupt periodically, and we as volcanologists want to know when the next eruption is going to occur. By looking at the mineral chemistry we can get at the timing of processes before the eruption, which in the future we might be able to link to unrest like earthquakes and deformation.

I use element diffusion in minerals to get at the time of magmatic processes. Before I go there, let’s chat a little about diffusion.

Diffusion is a process that occurs wherever there is an unequal distribution of chemicals in a given space/volume/area. Here’s a classic analogy. Imagine you are sitting on one side of a room and some sprays perfume on the other side of the room. The chemicals that make the perfume are unevenly distributed in the room. Over time the perfume will diffuse (spread out) throughout the room, and eventually you will smell it. A similar process occurs in minerals.

In a volcano, minerals are sitting around in magmas. These minerals will have one chemical composition. We think that eruptions are triggered by injections of new magma into the shallow parts of volcanoes. When this happens the minerals that were already present start to grow new material, with a different chemistry. Now the crystal has an unequal distribution of elements (i.e. chemical gradient), which will now diffuse.

Ok, that’s a lot of background. So what do I really do?

I collect samples at volcanoes, and make thin sections, which are very thin slices of rock that allow folks, like myself, to investigate the chemistry and textures of a rock. I use a special microscope called an electron probe microanalyser (EPMA) with a backscattered detector to find minerals with the uneven element distribution. Using the EPMA, I collect a chemical profile across the chemical gradient and then use numerical models to model how long it took that chemical gradient to form. We call this a timescale. I try to analyze as many samples as possible, because nature can be messy and there will never be single timescale.
 I collected rock samples from volcanoes, and brought them back to (often very cold) labs, where I collected the images.  The different grays in the image tell me something about the chemistry and that there is an uneven distribution of chemistry in the minerals. I collected actual chemical data (see the red and yellow lines on the greyscale images) and compared them with a numerical model.  The shape of the profile gives me time.

Once I have collected these, I then try to interpret (or develop a scientific story) that explains the timing and magma movement before an eruption. By looking at data from multiple eruptions, I can get a general sense of the timing of magma movement before an eruption. At Llaima volcano, the one I studied for my PhD, I found that magma movement and injections are occurring frequently and they seem to pick up before an eruption. This makes sense because Llaima is a persistently active volcano that needs lots of magma to stay active. This accelerating behavior seems similar to that observed at other volcanoes like Etna, Mayon (another volcano I studied), and even Mount St. Helens.

We are only beginning to understand how minerals can record these events. We even have a cool name for it; we call them crystal clocks. As we move forward, we hope to take these timescales and then compare them to the seismic records and see if there is a link between was the crystals records and the seismic activity. Hopefully, we can then move toward a forecasting model to help folks plan around a pending volcanic eruption.

For more information on:

Crystal Clocks:

2018    Ruth, D.C.S., Costa, F., Bouvet de Maisonneuve, C., Franco, L., Cortés, J.A., Calder, E.S. Crystal and melt inclusion timescales reveal the evolution of magma migration before eruption. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-05086-8 
Open Access link:

2016    Ruth, D.C.S., Cottrell, E., Cortés, J.A., Kelley, K., Calder, E.S. From passive degassing to violent Strombolian eruptions: Deciphering the triggering processes of the 2008 eruption of Llaima Volcano Chile. Journal of Petrology, 57(9), 1833-1864, doi: 10.1093/petrology/egw063. 

Cool things at Llaima: 
2014    Ruth, D.C.S. and Calder, E.S. Plate tephra: Preserved bubble walls from large slug bursts during violent Strombolian eruptions. Geology.  doi:10.1130/G34859.1. 

Gas sniffing at Erebus:
2008    Sweeney, D.C., Oppenheimer, C., and Kyle, P.R. Sulfur dioxide emissions and degassing behavior of Erebus volcano, Antarctica. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 177, 725-733.

2005    Oppenheimer, C, Kyle, P.R., Tsanev, V.I., McGonigle, A.J.S., Mather, T.A. and Sweeney, D. Mt. Erebus, the largest point source of NO2 in Antarctica. Atmospheric Environment, 39 (32), 6000-6006.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Communicating volcanoes: resources for media

- Janine Krippner

Watching the Agung eruption unfold showed me firsthand some of the points of confusion when it comes to talking about volcanoes and eruptions. You can see the types of information and resources I gave during that time here. Below are resources that can help understand terminology and processes, and find authoritative sources of information. There are definitely more trustworthy websites than others and I provide them below. This is not a complete list and I will keep adding to it.

Communication is not my field of research (explosive volcanism is), this is purely based on my experience doing outreach on social media and working with media. If you have anything else that you would like to see added here, please let me know.

Firstly, what is a volcano? A volcano is an opening in the Earth where either solid, liquid, or gaseous materials come out of the Earth's surface (lava, ash, rocks, gas). More general information about volcanoes here.

For current Kilauea eruption information

Hawai'i County Civil defense updates
USGS Volcanoes Facebook page and Twitter account
USGS eruption updates
USGS fissure maps and multimedia updates
Kilauea webcams
Washington VAAC
Volcanic history of Kilauea
Lava flow hazards and impacts
Hawai'i interagency vog information dashboard
Kilauea volcanic smog (Vog) health hazards
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
Public Map of fissures, road blocks, and subdivisions
Summary of the plumbing below Kilauea
Summary of the volcanic activity by USGS (4 May)
Big Island Video News is posting video from public meetings and official updates
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Service
Hawai'i SO2 forecast map

For Agung information click here.

Volcano observatories around the world

It is important to report the information as it is given by the volcano observatory officials, or other authoritative sources. The term "imminent" should not be used unless the authorities explicitly state this term. Please also link to where people can find official updates for themselves. You can find the world's volcano observatories here:
World Organization of Volcano Observatories: Observatory Directory

Disaster agencies and other government organizations also communicate official information, such as BNPB in Indonesia, and many of these have Twitter and other social media accounts for rapidly disseminating information.

How are volcanoes monitored? Comprehensive monitoring provides timely warnings of volcano reawakening.

Where to find global volcano and eruption information

The first place I go to for information on a specific volcano and its eruptive history is the Smithsonian Global Volcano Program. You can use the search function to look up a volcano, and you can check here for the Smithsonian/USGS Weekly Volcanic Activity Reports.

For volcano terminology

USGS Volcano Hazards Program volcano terms glossary

GeoNet Volcano Glossary

Oregon State University Volcano Term Definitions

Information on volcano hazards and eruption processes

What are the different volcanic hazards? Learn more about what they are here.

Pyroclastic flows and lahars are two of the most dangerous and far-reaching hazards. There are videos on the hazards and impacts here, as well as volcanic gasses. These videos are presented in multiple languages.

Volcanoes do not produce smoke. The grey to white plumes we see are a mix of volcanic ash and gasses. You can find a wide range of volcanic ash information on what it is and how it affects different aspects of life from health to electronics here: Volcanic Ash Impacts & Mitigation.
Information on the health impacts and how to prepare for volcanic ash, including information pamphlets, can be found here: The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network. GNS Science also has a range of Ash Impact Posters for different sectors (e.g. water management, road management, airports, etc). GNS also has a Be Prepared: Volcanic Ash Fall page. VOG (volcanic smog) is a mix of aerosols and sulfur dioxide.

Ballistic projectiles, or volcanic rocks that are ejected out of a volcano, are a big hazard near volcanic vents. More information on distributions, impacts, hazards, risk, and methods of communicating and managing the risk can be found here: The Communication and Risk Management of Volcanic Ballistic Hazards.

There is a lot of uncertainty involved with volcano forecasting. The magmatic/volcanic system is constantly changing and volcanologists use the monitoring tools, local knowledge of a specific volcano, and cumulative global volcanology scientific understanding to give forecasts of activity. You can read more about that here: 'VHP uses monitoring data and volcanic history to forecast eruptions'.

A great case study that demonstrates how much volcanic activity can fluctuate leading to an eruption (or no eruption) can be seen in this NOVA video of the 1991 Pinatubo eruption:

"Approximately 800 million people live within 100 km of active volcanoes worldwide". Here is a Global Volcanic Hazards and Risk report that discusses the hazards and risks posed to populations by volcanoes with case studies.

Yet is important to understand how volcanoes can physically harm people, and at what distances from volcanoes. You can get information on that here: Volcanic fatalities database: analysis of volcanic threat with distance and victim classification.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAAC) give information on volcanic ash plumes for the aviation industry and is a good place for latest reports.

Additional volcanology projects that have resources and information: 

DEVORA: Determining Volcanic Risk in Auckland

STREVA: Strengthening Resilience in Volcanic Areas

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Blog Posts and Frequently Asked Questions.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Agung is erupting - Now what?

- Janine

I am NOT giving my own interpretations of the data and what the data means. I am NOT, and CANNOT tell people what this volcano might or might not do. Please always refer to all official source links below. The utmost respect must be given to the local authorities monitoring Agung, they have a large amount of data from different sensors to monitor Agung.

I am not in Bali, nor am I an authority on Agung Volcano. I have not worked on Agung volcano, or any Indonesian volcano for that matter. Always look to the official sources for information, or to verify any information

I am writing this for those of you in Bali, and those of you helping to spread the right information.

This is meant to act as a guide and it does not include everything, but it is a place for you to start. Sitting here as I write this, I still have no idea what this volcano will do. No one can tell what it will do in the future, only those who are monitoring the situation can give scenarios.

So what do you do? This will depend on where you are. Do you have ashfall? Remember that this is dependent on the amount of ash and wind direction, this can change. ALWAYS stay out of the exclusion zones. Please review the official information and do what you feel is safe for you with that in mind.

The Agung Alert Level is now AWAS, level IV. This is the highest Alert Level. VONA is RED.
The evacuation zone has increased. Please refer to official information sources.

Please follow @Sutopo_BNPB @BNPB_Indonesia @id_magma on Twitter for updates.

There is a more extensive post with resources here.

****Volcanoes do not produce smoke. Agung is not emitting smoke. It is volcanic ash. Volcanic ash has specific hazards, please use the correct terminology.****


First and foremost, listen to the authorities. They are working to keep you all safe.

Keep an eye out for the official MAGMA Indonesia updates here. There is also a MAGMA Indonesia App for Android.

Updates are also been given by officials HERE and HERE.

Be wary of rumors and scaremongering. Always check your information. 

The emergency radio station given by BNPB is: 146.800 MHz.

There is also a WhatsApp network, I will add details when I have them.

If you are in the exclusion zone, get out. You can check your location here. (This does not work well in the Chrome browser).




 More information on volcanic ash is provided by USGS:
  • Buildings (roof loading, gutters & drains, air conditioning, computers/electronics, cleaning up, case studies)
  • Transportation (Aviation, roads & highways, vehicles, railways, marine transportation, case studies)
  • Power supply (Power generation, insulator flashover, substations & switchyards, transmission & distribution, Lightning, response plan for system operators, historical examples, removal from insulators, case studies)
  • What can I do? (Households, businesses, communities, citizen science)

Many people have plans to travel to Bali, so what do you do if you are one of them? This is not an exhaustive list - this is just a place to start. I cannot give travel advice. That is not my place.

- Firstly, follow the advice being given by officials, listed above.

- Check your travel insurance. Does it cover canceled flights or health issues if you end up in a bad situation?

- Check your country's official government travel advice, this should be on a Government or Embassy site. Many have a website dedicated to this and have addressed this situation. Some sites for: USA, New Zealand, Australia, UK, Singapore.

- Check with your airline.

- Take items to prepare for ashfall: recommended face masks, eye goggles to keep any ash out of your eyes if ash is falling or being kicked up by wind, long sleeves to reduce irritation on your skin.



Lava flows
The 1963 eruption produced a 7.5 km-long lava flow before the two explosive eruption phases. If this occurs again, here is a bit about lava flows.


Lahars/Debris flows

Lahars/debris flows (volcanic mudflows) move rapidly down channels around a volcano and on Indonesian volcanoes these are more likely after rainfall. The lahar hazard zones are the pink and yellow areas in the hazard map given further up the page. Stay out of the exclusion zone

USGS Lahar information

VOLFILM Lahars: the impact (English) from VolFilm on Vimeo.

VOLFILM Lahar Hazard (English) from VolFilm on Vimeo.

Pyroclastic Flows

Pyroclastic flows are very hot and very rapid avalanches of rock, ash, and gas. These can move very quickly down the volcano and you cannot outrun them. The areas at risk of pyroclastic flows are those in pink on the hazard map shown further up this page.

VOLFILM Pyroclastic Flow Hazard (English) from VolFilm on Vimeo.

VOLFILM Pyroclastic Flow Impacts (English) from VolFilm on Vimeo.

I ask again, please always refer to the official information sources. They are working around the clock to keep everyone safe.