Thursday, May 18, 2017

Back in time to Mount St. Helens: News coverage of the 1980 eruption

- Janine

Today marks another anniversary of the deadly eruption of Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington, USA. This eruption was one of those events where most remember where they were around the world when they heard the news. It changed the lives of those around the volcano - those who lost friends or family, their homes, their view of the local landscape, and their belief that 'it won't happen to me'.

Thirty-seven years ago the world watched as the eruption took place, so what did they see? Two years ago I posted a list of resources on the eruption. This year I look back again asking what it was like for those who experienced the eruption firsthand? What did the rest of the country see through they experiences of reporters and those who were there?

When the next continental-US volcano erupts some of us will be there. Some of us will have to clean up ash or mud (depending on the eruption type). The rest of us will watch the news and social media. This is how most of us are fortunate enough to experience natural disasters, and how many remember them.

This collection of videos includes footage leading up to, during, and after the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Footage of Mount St. Helens on 11 May 1980. Reporters from Channel 2 News visit the summit of the volcano, heavily coated with ash. Includes footage of the crater and the fractures on the summit.

The 6 pm and 11 pm KATU 2 news including USGS Bob Christenson, and U.S. Forest Service Jim Unterwanger. Includes interviews with people coming out of the eruption area, and footage of the lahars down the Toutle River.

KOMO News 4 evening report on the eruption. "Mount St. Helens will never be the same again, perhaps all of us will quite be the same, never so smug about our ability to control mother nature..." - Bob Throndsen.

KEZI 9 News looks back to when they were called 'Eyewitness News'. They interviewed people giving accounts of running from the erupting volcano.

CBS News reports on the eruption three days later, including the now-famous photos taken by Gary Rosenquist. They talk to Keith and Dorothy Stoffel, geologists who got footage of the eruption.

Komo 4 News interviews Dave Crockett who was caught under the ash plume on May 18. He recorded his experience that day as the ash plume moved over him.

KGW-TV reports on the eruption, looking back to earlier explosions as the eruption progressed.

ABC news looks back at news reports from April, 1980 showing footage of the earlier ash plumes, interviews with Harry Truman, and the aftermath of the eruption. Footage of the cleanup efforts around the volcano, showing how hard it can be to clean up a few inches of ash.

CBS News (WBBM Channel 2) news including President Carter visiting the disaster zone, and the the effects of the eruption. Aired on 21 May 1980.

KCTS9 report including interviews with people living in the nearby Ritzville and Cougar telling how this eruption affected them. Footage shows lahars flooding the Toutle river and the reactions of those who saw it.

An ABC News Bulletin interrupts Charlie's Angels to report the largest eruption since May 25th.

Good Morning America thinks back to the eruption four years later. Shows the dome that grew and lahar deposits.

Former Lewis County Sheriff Bill Wiester talks about his experiences searching through the devastated area, 30 years later. Includes photographs of the recovery efforts.

It will happen again. It happens around the world more frequently than you might realize. It is important that we remember what happened, how lives were taken and how those who remained were changed. We need to shake our 'it won't happen to me' beliefs and realize that these people were just like us now. Safe and unaffected, until Mount St. Helens woke up.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Where did all the geologists go? To the field!

Wow, it is the two year anniversary of this blog! We wanted to take a moment to thank all of our readers who have visited the blog over 100,000 times! While we write because we love talking about volcanoes and our work studying them, it is nice to see that there is interest in what we’ve taken the time to write about.  So a heartfelt thank you!
Alison and Janine in Puerto Varas Chile, attending Cities on Volcanoes 9 in 2016. Orsorno and Calbuco volcanoes can be seen in the beautiful background.

Geologists exeunt

The end of the spring semester approaches here in the northern hemisphere, which means  that academic hallways are extra chaotic as everyone tries to finish out the semester. This is also the time that the geologists prepare for a mass exodus to the field. While geologists will do field work whenever the field area allows, summers are particularly known for emptying departments of faculty and graduate students. For some it is a time to get that much needed data for their current research project, for others it is a time for training, like field camp. Those students not running off to field work are likely in a lab or tied to their desk finishing their dissertations like our very own Janine.
Time to get out waterproof notebooks, cameras, pencils, hand lenses and all the other tools that make field work happen.
My summer adventures will keep me quite busy from May through to the very last week before classes start in August. I don’t always schedule this way, but this year it was hard to resist all the great opportunities. I’ll be heading to Idaho with a new graduate student for two weeks this month to check out rocks new to me and them. Then I’ll be tagging along on our field camp based in South Dakota to learn the ropes so I can help out in future years.
For geologists the field is one of our best classrooms. Students get a chance to test out their powers of observation and tackle messy three-dimensional problems. Field camp is just one of those chances to get noses on rock. Here students look at a peperite (a magmatic intrusion that mingled with wet sediment) in a volcanic conglomerate in a quarry in Mexico.

After that we have the second half of an NSF funded Research Experience for Undergrads run here in KC. Back in January we went to Baja Sur in Mexico to do the field portion of the experience (and hide from winter) and July will be the lab portion. Then finally in August it will be the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s interior (IAVCEI) conference in Portland Oregon. I’ve signed up for a field trip to see Crater Lake and Newberry Caldera. Janine will be helping run a trip looking at many deposits from Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood, and then we'll hang out with a bunch of other volcanophiles for a week talking about new research and working on collaborative projects. The summer ends with the solar eclipse! Kansas City is lucky enough to be very close to totality, I only need to drive 20 minutes to get the full 2 minutes of totality. It will happen during my very first volcanology class of the year, so I need to decide how to get my class in position to enjoy it.
Field work can involve many things, and going through photos afterward is always a good way to remember some of the fun bits, like the painted lizards in AZ that just kept begging for us to take their photos.
Field work is this broad expanse of activities that take place anywhere we can find a good reason to go. Field work for me involves anything from collecting rocks, images, and notes about rocks for my research projects. We could be looking for features we spotted in satellite images, following the notes of previous field seasons, or exploring new territory. More and more my field work involves training students how to make good observations and prepare for future projects of their own, but I also take the opportunities to head out to the field with an expert on the area and play the role of student again myself. Below is a list of things to prepare for any field adventure.
A small maar in Baja Sur Mexico stands out in the aerial photography (image from Google Earth), but would be hard to spot until you are right on top of it in the field.
Some of my work involves some remote sensing, using aerial photographs and satellite imagery to look at large areas all at once from my computer. To calibrate and validate what we learn from these images it is important to go into the field and compare what we see on the ground to what we saw in the imagery. Even for projects that are all about field observations, it is good to do research before heading out also really important for knowing where you want to go, and what you might expect on the way (dirt roads or paved, no roads at all?). One recent example is the crater in the image above that caught my eye in a Google Earth image near our REU research area. It was noted on only one map, but otherwise had been ignored by previous researchers because they had some other goal in the area. I dragged our group of students and a colleague along some fun dirt roads to locate the crater. Having the images with us and GPS coordinates meant we knew right where we were going, even if we couldn't see the crater until we were right on top of it.
Edge of small maar crater near La Reforma caldera (in the back on the right) and Tres Virgenes volcanoes (left), Baja Sur, Mexico. The crater cuts into the ground surface and has minimal ejecta deposits, so it is not obvious until you've reached its rim.
We can also collect imagery data in the field. That can include good old field pictures, gigapixel images, and various multispectral images (near infrared or thermal infrared). Some field work can also involve much heavier and more involved equipment, particularly for geophysics studies. Most field crews these days will at least have a GPS of some sort and notebooks to keep track of the all important whats and wheres of the work they are doing. If you have any electronic gear make sure to bring extra batteries, chargers, and all the protective carrying cases you need to make sure your gear gets in, works, and gets out of the field.
On the edge of Meteor Crater in fall 2016. A gigapan on the left will take gigapixel mosaics of rocky outcrops. The instrument on the right is a thermal infrared camera we were using to help try out new techniques to image hard to reach or vertical outcrops. Thermal infrared is useful for investigating the texture and mineralogy of rocks.

Another important field tool is the field vehicle! I've had a wide range of field vehicles from big meaty trucks, Land Rovers, small sedans, and luxury SUVs. You get what is available locally and hope for a vehicle with good clearance, and when lucky, four wheel drive capability. I have a tendency to name my vehicles things like Fattypuff, Utsala, Stiletto, and Silver Bullet. So many field stories revolve around vehicles, so most field crews take a healthy does of experience to help get you into and out of any mishaps.
We called this beast El Gordo. You could fit three of the trucks we drove in Chile inside this beast.

Probably the most important tool for any field geologist is their boots. These are a very personal choice, but one thing they all have in common is being rugged. Rocks in general, and volcanic rocks especially, are very tough on boots. The footing is frequently unstable, hikes long, temperatures wide ranging, and sometimes the air or water can be acidic. I've been through a number of boots in my time and keep finding new ways to destroy them. Taking care of your feet is an important priority for any field trip.

Duct tape has been used to repair many a boot. This pair of fancy flipflops managed to barely get me through our recent trip to Baja. I have a new pair I'm breaking in of the same all leather style for my next trip.
Field work also can mean making new friends. The experience of spending most of your day hiking, eating and sharing vehicles with the same people for a few days is a good way to get to know your group. I have also learned to look out for other friends like wildlife, landowners, and interested passers by. So remember to take your patience and good will.
A tarantula hanging out on the trail to my bathing hole in Baja. She kindly sat still so I could photograph her.
Field food is another element that makes these trips memorable, in both good and bad ways. When traveling I love to try local food, but we frequently have to cook for ourselves. Some meals become instant classics, and some become fodder for future anecdotes. So remember to take some bravery and maybe some antacids on any field adventure.
If you get to work in Baja find your favorite taco stand. Basically any of the seafood tacos are worth it (fish pictured above). 

My field gear also involves whatever clothing I'll need for the climate I'm working in. For me this always means sun protection from hats to long sleeves. Layers and water proof shells are also a field workers friend. After a few years you end up with a good collection for most any condition, though eventually that favorite jacket or hat needs to be replaced. For my field work this month I've got all my camping gear, and permits lined up, now I just need to pack the rest of my gear and make sure I've submitted grades before I go. 

For anyone looking to double check their packing list, here's a introductory list from Janine and myself, happy travels! Some items may or may not be needed depending on your trip, or there may even be extras (like crampons and bear spray) that aren't listed here, it doesn't  hurt to ask for suggestions from trip leaders or more experienced group members.  

Every trip and everyone has special packing needs, its good to think about it in advance. I, for one, never can leave without my trusty field duck. A sense of humor is a good thing to take into the field.
Day pack
Socks (don't skimp on these, your feet are important)
Clothes for hiking and back at camp (including a comfy pair of shoes)
Gaiters (covering the top of your boot or snake protection)
Long pants and shirts are good even in hot climates, lets you keep your skin less scraped, burnt or bit
Measuring stick / scale bar / ruler
Pencils (may need colored pencils too)
Hand Lens
Field guide / air photos / maps
Hat (some locations that means warm and cold weather)
Sun glasses and back up glasses or extra stuff for contacts
Sun screen and bug spray
Rain gear
Water bottles (several)
Bandanas (I use them for everything from dish rag to hair tie to hanky, note bring more than one so they don't have to do double duty!)
Duct tape
Sample bags (cloth, paper bags then plastic is also useful)
Plastic bags (for electronics or in case of rain)
First aid / regular medications / stomach settler/ anti diarrhea / antihistamine / chap stick / emergency blanket
Extra shoe laces 
Sleeping bag
Bowl / plate / silverware
Hard Hat
Swim suit
Chargers for camera, phone
List of important phone numbers on the trip and for folks at home

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why do we act after a disaster, and not before?

- Janine

Photo shared by @Mikel_Jollett.
Right now is a time of deep reflection for many of us. People are taking to the streets marching and advocating for human rights, for science, and for protecting our planet. Tens of thousands of people, around the planet, together.

I love this sign 'At the start of every disaster movie there's a scientist being ignored'. Usually in a disaster movie there is some person trying to silence the scientist (who is trying to warn of impending disaster) is portrayed as the bad guy, and often succumbs to the disaster itself. Now, it is important in reality to have people asking the hard questions and looking at all sides of an issue (this does not make them a bad guy), and so many threats do not lead to disaster. In movie-world we know in hindsight that the scientist was right and everyone should have listened to them. So why isn't it so obvious in reality? Why do we ignore so many scientists saying things like 'it's when, not if, the disaster will occur'.

A big question at the moment is 'is science political?'. In the case of natural hazards sciences the answer appears to be yes. If science points out an issue (let's say, like an impending disaster) then it is up to local and national governments to actually do something about it. If there is a huge amount of air pollution that results in the deaths of those unfortunate enough to live in it (see the Donora tragedy in 1948, where 20 people died and 6,000-14,000 became ill), then policies are made to say that industry has to adapt. Quoting Marcia Spink from the EPA 'Before Donora, people thought of smog as a nuisance. It made your shirts dirty, The Donora tragedy was a wake-up call. People realized that smog could kill." Events like this lead efforts around the world to put regulations in place to keep us all safe. When science works with politics lives can be improved and saved.

Why do we wait until a disaster to act, then only a few decades down the track forget why it matters so much?

Let me point out that a disaster is not a disaster unless an event is interacting with us - people. No people, no disaster.

On 16 March 1980, Mount St. Helens began to show signs of activity, and only a few short months later on 18 May 1980, disaster struck killing 57 people, destroying 595 square kilometers (230 square miles) of forest, damaged 27 bridges and nearly 200 homes (USGS Fact Sheet). This cost the USA an estimated $1.1 Billion (list of the cost of volcanic eruptions in the USA). This was only 37 years ago, many people around the world remember this eruption. Many countries face these losses and costs from natural disasters much more frequently than most of us realize. Monitoring costs money, but the benefits far outweigh the costs

News coverage on May 18, 1980, on the Mount St Helens eruption. KOMO News 4.

It didn't take long for people (who weren't personally affected) to forget about Mount St. Helens. In 2009 'something called volcano monitoring' was under attack in the US. This came only 18 years after the U.S.-based Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP) worked with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to successfully forecast the second largest eruption of the 20th century and evacuate 200,000 people, including the nearby U.S. Clark Air Base (more here).

While on a FEMA Volcanic Crises Awareness course the course leader, volcanologist Bruce Houghton said something that I have repeated many times. In a room of 15-20 people he
said if he were to tell us that there was to be a devastating earthquake in a few minutes and only 20% (paraphrasing from memory here) of us were to survive... *pause* ... I bet each one of you believes you are in that 20%. He was right. In that short pause each one of us had come up with a good reason as to why we would be one of the few survivors, even faced with such a small chance of survival. Closest to a door, run faster than others, jump under the desk... We all quickly 'calculated' [completely guessed] our own personal risk. We have a sort of positivity bias that allows us to believe that although disaster does strike, even a room full of people who study disasters find it hard to believe that it could actually be 'me' who is among the unlucky.

This is echoed across natural disasters. Is this why people don't take a few minutes to come up with a plan for their family in case of an emergency? Is this why people don't really put together that emergency kit that we all know we should have? Is this why we don't have more funding put into disaster preparedness? After my years of paying attention to disasters I know that the answer is 'it's complicated'.

United States 2016 public risk perceptions. Yale Climate Opinion Maps - U.S. 2016.
Right now Americans have overwhelmingly (70%) accepted that climate change is, in fact, a thing that is really happening. Yet only 40% believe that it will 'harm me personally' (Yale Climate Opinion Maps). This is just one example of perceived risk (here is some information on global views).

Recently in the USA the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act was introduced - and example of people working to set up a preemptive system to help save lives. I am told that this is not the first time that something like this has been put forward. This would provide a system that would improve volcano monitoring in the USA - something that seriously needs to happen if we are to be prepared for any one of the ~169 geologically active volcanic centers in the United States awakening. The 2005 National Volcano Early Warning System report identified 57 priority volcanoes that are unmonitored. Let's walk through this. Each volcano has its own personality, and each volcano has its own level of background activity - the shaking and burping that a volcano does just because it is a volcano. In order to know if a volcano is waking up (generally important for saving everyone around the volcano), we need to know when the activity (gas emissions, earthquakes, deformation, thermal output, water chemistry...) is changing. How do we know if different or concerning without knowing what it normally does? This gives us much less warning time, or none at all.

The eruption that had very little warning. Having monitoring networks around volcanoes gives us the best chance of a timely warning.This is Calbuco volcano in Chile erupting in April 2015. This very impressive eruption gave very little warning before producing this ash plume that traveled across international borders.

What does warning time give us? Primarily, it saves lives. Real lives. It prevents people from dying in sometimes damn awful ways including burning, asphyxiation, or physical trauma. This list includes volcanic eruptions that have produced fatalities, with numbers up to 29,000, 36,000, 92,000 for single eruptions. Statistics, however, do not get us to act. These numbers are so huge that most of us cannot comprehend them. My local Pittsburgh Steelers stadium (Heinz Field) can hold 68,400 people. All of those people - gone. Imagine if this statistic included those you grew up with, bought bread and milk from, went to school with... Yet this still doesn't get us to act.

So what can we do?

You can save lives by paying attention. On December 26 2004, a ten year old girl - Tilly Smith from England, saved an entire beach of people in Thailand because of a geography lesson about tsunamis. She recognized the signs (frothing water coming in and in, not out) and, understandably, became hysterical (read her story here). She was about to witness the Boxing Day Tsunami first hand. Because of her courage and insistence lives were saved.

Everyone should watch this video. This still gives me waves of chills. We all have the power to save lives.

Teachers and parents - you can produce these heroes. Children are powerful messengers, raise them to believe in themselves. Teach them to be observant of the world around them, encourage curiosity and let them know that they can contribute.

You all have this power. You don't have to wait until you are on the beach with an impending tsunami, you can tell your elected leaders to support the scientists and disaster managers who do that part for you. Unfortunately, this requires funding, and this is where politics comes in.

We become numb when we thing there isn't something we can actually do to help ourselves or others. We do not act if we do not believe our actions will mean or amount to anything. If we scientists rave about how devastating something will be, the 'well we are screwed anyway' attitude can quickly set in. We do not act if we do not feel an emotional connection to something. We feel something when we hear or see stories that we relate to. We forget about other people's disasters as soon as the media does. Why? Partly because every day life has its risks and challenges (feed the kids, don't crash the car, meet this deadline...). These every day challenges are much greater for more vulnerable populations (see factors of vulnerability) and those are the populations are hit harder by disasters - just look back at Hurricane Katrina.

The thing is, we can all be doing more to prevent disaster for ourselves and others. Right now. Depending on where we live we are ALL faced with a mix of hazards from climate change, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, avalanches, landslides, flooding, tsunami, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, tropical storms, fires, thunderstorms, sinkholes, heatwaves... that's not even mentioning the hazards from space!

Remembering the 1985 Nevado Del Ruiz disaster. A small volcanic eruption unleashed lahars (volcanic mudflows) that killed around 23,000 people. Film by Streva.

You can begin to help people by participating in local and national levels, this can be as simple as phone calls. Tell your elected leaders that you care about these issues. Believe that you can make a difference, because you can. Disasters can be made less severe with evacuation plans, land use planning, building codes, education, a personal action plan, policies, emergency management networks, and funding to name a few. Your voice can influence all of these things for your family, town, state, country, or the entire planet. Really! We don't need to wait for another disaster for attention to be paid, and for funding to support crucial preparedness efforts.

History classes teach us about past disasters. We sit there wondering 'why didn't anyone do anything?!' swearing to ourselves that we would have.Your chance is every day. Your chance is now.

Nevado del Ruiz, living with the volcano. Film by Streva.