The Calbuco volcanic eruption: Communicating a natural disaster through social media

- Dr. Janine Krippner

On the afternoon of the 22nd of April I was working on my PhD research and I distracted myself for a second to check twitter (which is all volcano and remote sensing tweets, so it counts as work for a volcanologist, right?). SERNAGEOMIN had just posted that Calbuco volcano was now on Red Alert (from green) and incredible photos and videos of the ash column exploded onto the internet. Social media gave me a window, not only into the volcanic eruption, but into the lives of those who were affected. (Translations are indicated in italics, please excuse any mistakes, I rely on the internet for help.)

To be honest I hadn’t even heard of Calbuco volcano before this moment:
(#VolcánCalbuco now on Red Alert. April 22, 2015: 18:10 hours.)

That short distraction turned into hours on the edge of my seat following the incredible flow of information out of Chile.

Twitter has become a wonderful tool for science, science education and outreach. Never before have I known so much about volcanic activity around the world, with volcanologists, scientists, hazards personnel, universities, observatories, and government organizations giving up to date information on events. I could watch information on the eruption in real time. There was no waiting for an official press release video (which would not have been in English) instead I could follow along - thank you Google Translate for helping me read all of the information! Here is a collection of some of the aspects of the eruption that were given through different groups on social media. Much, much more can be found by searching #VolcánCalbuco, #Calbuco, and #VolcánCabulco on twitter (or checking out my twitter feed).

Twitter was used to communicate hazards and hazardous areas. Tweets warned people to stay away from river valleys due to the risk of lahars (volcanic mud flows). On the 23rd of April SERNAGEOMIN confirmed that lahars traveled ~15 km down river channels and pyroclastic flows (ground-hugging density currents of hot gas, ash, and rock) deposited up to 7 km from the summit.

(The public is advised to stay away from riverbeds , since the eruption could trigger lahars.)

A 20 km restriction zone was put in place to keep people out of the most dangerous area surrounding the volcano. Updated hazard maps were tweeted over the following weeks:
(Hazard zonation of Calbuco volcano.)

As well as evacuation routes:

(We reiterate evacuation pathways by #Calbuco Volcano eruption.)

Videos were posted from officials and people in the area, showing the massive ash column and even the very moment that the eruption began (video taken by Walter Witt, he gives more information on his experience here).

Video taken by the Police during a flyby:

Sobrevuelo de Prefectura Aérea de Carabineros por el volcán Calbuco from CarabdeChile on Vimeo.

I was even watching the eruption on a live feed webcam! I was getting real-time scientific updates on an eruption in another time zone. 
Satellite images and models were posted showing ash and gas dispersal (Nicarnica kept a blog with updated information and models here).
The Servicio Nacional Geología y Minería  posted this video of the ash dispersion from the first two eruptive pulses, which on the 27th of April had produced 98% of the eruptive material so far.

The eruption was even tweeted from space!
The effects of the eruption were reported by official sources after helicopter flights over the affected area.
(Impacts of the Calbuco volcano eruption.)

As well as the effects of ashfall in neighboring Argentina.
(Ash impacts of Calbuco volcano in Argentina.)

Images of the altered crater summit, which increased it's crater count from 2 to 8, were posted by SERNAGEOMIN on Facebook.
Another side that social media showed us was how the lives of those living around the volcano were affected. On the 24th of April 6,514 people had been evacuated from the Lakes region (ONEMI). People lost their homes, their farmland, and their animals.

In three days 210 million cubic meters of ash was ejected – 1 cubic meter of ash can weigh over ton, and more if it is wet! Images quickly started coming in of residents removing ash from their roofs and of others that had collapsed under the weight. 
(The work of police continues in areas covered by ashes after eruption of volcano Calbuco)

Cleanup crews were working 10 hour days to clean ash from roads.

(#Calbuco : Machinery MOP works 10hrs a day clearing eruption affected routes and will do so for the duration of emergency)

The damage in the area was assessed and images of the impacts were posted online. I can only imagine how desperate I would be to see if my home was okay if I was one of those evacuated.

(Today Correntoso -Lago Chapo authorities evaluated eruption field #VolcanCalbuco impact on roads and houses)

Heartbreaking images of animals that were not evacuated (remember - only 15 minutes of precursory activity, no time to run home and round up your animals) came through, but the police were checking up on them.

(Police has also been aware of the pets situation in the affected area)

Food was moved in to the hazard zone for the animals that were left behind.
(Army trucks move food for animals affected by the Calbuco volcano eruption in the sector of Ralun.)

When it was safe enough animals were evacuated.
(675 animals have been removed from the exclusion zone by the eruption of Calbuco Volcano)

Including over 11 million fish.
(Emergency movement of 11 million 500 thousand fish is authorized from fish farms affected by the #Calbuco eruption)

Bees were also badly affected in the area with millions in losses.

(#VolcanCabulco Millions in losses to microentrepreneurs #ErupcionCalbuco Petrohue Ensenada area),

Social media has become a powerful tool in disseminating information from reliable sources when it comes to natural disasters (and many more fields). Know who your reliable sources are before a disaster happens, know where to get information on evacuations and health hazards. In the USA, FEMA and USGS are well represented on twitter and other social media platforms, as well as other National and local hazard management teams.

Most importantly - make a plan for you, your family, and your animals. If you only had 15 minutes would you know what to do?

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