Volcanoes don’t just suddenly start erupting without warning. There is always some kind of warning. Things like earthquake swarms, a bulging mountain side, and little smoke and ash showings from the crater, always come first. These may not always all happen, but they do happen. The biggest problem in 1883 is that scientists didn’t really know that then. When Krakatoa, in the Sunda Strait of Indonesia, began to wake up on May 20, 1883, it had been dormant for around 200 years. The first sign was an ash cloud that was reported by the captain of a German warship. It rose nearly 7 miles above the island. Strangely, no one in Anjer, 25 miles from the island, or Merak, 35 miles away, reported anything unusual that day, but the inhabitants of Batvia, 80 miles away, “were startled by a dull booming noise, followed by a violent rattling of doors and windows. Whether this proceeded from the air or from below was a matter of doubt, for unlike most earthquake shocks the quivering was only vertical.” The event started rumblings and blasts from the volcano’s vents that continued for the next three months. But this was just the beginning.
Krakatoa began to erupt in earnest on the afternoon of August 26, 1883, sending ash clouds at 22 miles above the island. Along with the eruption came a tsunami that rolled up both sides of the strait. The eruption continued into the night with increasing violence, and at midnight by volcanic lightning strikes to distances of ten to twelve miles. The event was similar to a horror movie, complete with electrical phenomena to a terrifying scale. The glow that surrounded the gigantic column of smoke and ashes was seen in Batava, eighty miles away. Some of the debris fell as fine ashes in Cheribon, five hundred miles east of the volcano.
While the August 26th event was terrifying, the most terrifying part of the disaster happened the next day. When Krakatoa erupted on August 27, the sound it made was accompanied by pressure waves that ruptured the eardrums of people 40 miles away, traveled around the world four times, and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away. That distance is comparable to the distance between New York and und from San Francisco. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events in recorded history. Explosions were so violent that they were heard 1,930 miles away in Perth, Western Australia, and 3,000 miles away in Rodrigues near Mauritius. At least 36,417 deaths were attributed to the eruption and the tsunamis it created. The sound was claimed to be heard in 50 different locations around the world and the sound wave is recorded to have travelled the globe seven times over. Following the eruption, there were increased seismic activity that continued until February 1884, although there is speculation as to whether on not that was because of Krakatoa. Whether it was or not, really makes no difference, because the effects that can be confirmes as part of the aftermath of Krakatoa are big enough on their own. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa was a major event, and possibly the biggest on in recorded history.
I realize that many people, me included, would have no desire to explore the inside of a volcano, but for scientists of volcanos…volcanologists, it is somehow important. A dormant volcano would be fairly easy to explore. There is less chance of getting caught in an eruption, but for one that isn’t dormant, it isn’t so easy. I don’t think I would want to try to explore Kilauea, because…well, it goes up all the time. Another very active volcano, Kavachi is not only active, but it is underwater. Kavachi is located in the south-west Pacific Ocean, south of Vangunu Island in the Solomon Islands. and is referred to locally as Rejo te Kavachi, meaning “Kavachi’s oven.” Kavachi has become active and then eroded back into the sea at least eight times since its first recorded eruption in 1939.
It is very strange to me to see pictures and videos of volcano erupting in the middle of the ocean. It seems so unnatural that fire and water could mix and the water not put out the fire. It’s a strange concept, but one that has baffled me for years. I think that the thought of fire and water has maybe been the curiosity behind the exploration of these underwater volcanoes. In May 2000, an international research team aboard the CSIRO research vessel Franklin fixed the Kavachi volcano at 8° 59.65’S, 157° 58.23’E. The vent of the volcano was below sea level, but frequent eruptions ejected molten lava up to 230 feet above sea level, and sulfurous steam plumes up to 1,600 feet. The team mapped a roughly conical feature rising from 3,600 feet water depth, with the volcano having a basal diameter of about 5.0 miles. Of course, underwater volcanoes were the foundation of the Hawaiian Islands, so it is not a odd idea that when the Kavachi volcano erupted in 2003, a 49-foot island formed above the surface. The small island disappeared a short time later, so I suppose the volcano would have to erupt almost constantly in order to form an island that would last.
Of course, that strangest thing about Kavachi is that while the volcano is quite active, it has another strange anomaly to it. In 2015, marine life has been found living inside the Kavachi crater, including two species of sharks and a sixgill stingray. It seems so strange that they could live in an environment that must be quite acidic. The scientists haven’t been able to go in and explore yet, because of the possibility of an eruption. Finally they took a chance and dropped a camera into the volcano. Concerned about activity from the volcano, the expedition members only left the camera in the hot, acidic water around the volcano for about an hour. Still, it was all they needed to find the wildlife inside. Of course, during an eruption, there is no way this marine life could live inside the volcano. That makes me wonder if they somehow know the eruption is coming so they can get out, or do they simply die when an eruption occurs. That somehow doesn’t seem like the case, because eventually there would be no more marine life in the volcano. I guess that is just a question we will probably never have an answer to.
Every child, at some point in their academic career, is required to do a science fair project. Some are good, because let’s face it, some students are very good at science…or some kids have parents who can do the project for them. I watched a show recently in which a couple of students were making volcanos for the science fair. I started thinking about some of the science fair projects I did during my own academic career. I really don’t recall ever making a volcano, and I knew that you used baking soda, but that was about all I knew. I suppose it’s possible that one of my teachers made one in our science class, but maybe not too.
I remember several of my own science projects. I think most of us build our solar system…again, some much better than others. If science wasn’t your forte, it just wasn’t. I didn’t mind science, but it wasn’t really the thing I wanted to do with my life either. I just wasn’t inclined to apply myself to the different aspects of science. Nevertheless, I did like the solar system, even now. I find the constellations very interesting. At one time, I could pick them out.
One time, I decided, or rather it was suggested to me, by the neighbor across the alley to build a radio. He was trained in electronics, and we had a great time building that radio. I think Mom and Dad had just as much fun as we did, because they watched with great interest as we soldered transistors and other components together to make a radio that worked, even if it wasn’t small and cool like a transistor radio, but rather like a jewelry sized army green box. Nevertheless, it worked, and while I didn’t win the science fair, I learned a lot about how a radio worked, and after all, isn’t that the whole purpose.
One of my projects, however, will always be remembered as the the grossest/funniest (now, not then) project I ever did. My poor mom!! I decided to do a project on honey. It seems benign enough, and I did know that honey came from bees. I guess I thought I was going to cut out pictures of bees, but Mom had other ideas. Somehow she managed to talked to a beekeeper, who willingly supplied us with honeycomb, which I thought was very cool. We put it in a baggy so it wouldn’t leak everywhere, and put it on the board we were putting my project on. That was great, however…the beekeeper also supplied him with 50 or so dead bees to put on the board. They were in a box, and we had to put them in a baggy…or rather my mom had to put them in a baggy. I don’t like bugs…of any kind, and I refused to touch them. In retrospect, I suppose we could have used a spoon or something, but Mom bravely began to pick them up and put them into a baggy…until they started clinging to her. Then, she was just as grossed out as I was. Somehow, I don’t recall how we finally got those wretched, dead bees into their baggy, but somehow we did, and the project was completed. I learned a lot about the making of honey too, and that I never wanted to touch a bee…dead or alive…EVER!!!
Imagine, if you can these days, a world without photography. Cameras are almost always at our fingertips now. We don’t need to carry a camera with us, we have our phones, and we are able to take all the pictures we want. We can document everything from the birth of our children, to a pretty sunset in the back yard. We document our smiles, frowns, and totally shocked looks. In so many ways, personal photography has changed our lives, but one way in particular is in documenting history. Most people don’t think our what they are doing as documenting history exactly, but it certainly can be. People have captured plane crashes, rocket launches, car accidents, forest fires, volcano eruptions, and earthquakes…just to name a few. Those things might not be history today, but in a couple of years, they are, and in many cases, one person had the only picture of the historic event.
Would history be documented without photography? Of course, but it would happen by word of mouth, and later the written word…newspapers, books and such. The problem with that is that those accounts can only tell the part of history that someone saw or was a part of. But, what if they missed something? Humans so often miss the small details, but a camera or video camera, doesn’t miss as much. Once a picture is taken, an event is documented…and every small detail can be re-examined at will. Pictures have made the difference between knowing the cause and never knowing the cause. Pictures have proven fault without a doubt. They have been the difference between an innocent person being falsely accused, and getting to the truth.
These days, with a camera built into our phone, we can, and do, document many events of our lives. And we document history…some of it amazing, and some of it devastating. It’s all part of the ability to capture things in real time. You have to take the bad with the good, because unfortunately, not all of history is beautiful. Some of it is completely ugly, but it still needs to be documented. Pictures have become necessary, because without photography, much of the full documentation of history would be lost.
Natural disasters happen all the time…every day for that matter. Many of these disasters cannot be predicted, or can only be predicted a few minutes to hours before the disaster arrives. That was not the case with the Limnic eruption that happened at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, on August 21, 1986…or was it. A Limnic eruption is a eruption of gas rather than lava or ash, and the gasses can be deadly.
The eruption of lethal gas came from Lake Nyos at 9:30pm on that August day in 1986, took the lives of 2,000 people in the nearby villages, including Lower Nyos. The eruption wiped out four villages too. Carbon Dioxide, while natural to the earth, and even a part of the life process, becomes deadly if there is too much of it. Because Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun are crater lakes, the possibility exists for gasses to escape from the volcanos below them. The lakes are both about a mile square, and are located in the remote mountains of northwestern Cameroon. The area is beautiful with great rock cliffs and lush green vegetation.
Prior to the eruption, there were signs of impending disaster. In August 1984, 37 people near Lake Monoun died suddenly, but the incident was largely covered up by the government. The remoteness and lack of services made the incidents easier to cover up. Since there is no electricity or telephone service in the area, it was not difficult to keep the incident under wraps, and the 5,000 people who lived in villages near Lake Nyos simply had no idea that there was a very real danger of their own lake producing the same dangerous gas. I’m not certain why they would want to keep the matter a secret, other that to avoid causing a panic, but the plan was fraught with disaster. Had the people known, maybe they could have left the area and survived.
When scientists first began to be able to predict natural disasters, they were afraid the tell people that there was a problem. Then, after many people lost their lives from what could have been an avoidable disaster, most governments began to see the value of early warnings. The 37 people who lost their lives had no chance of a warning. There were no signs of that eruption, but if the government hadn’t hidden the facts, the 2,000 people who died when lake Nyos had its eruption, might have had a chance. At the very least, they could have made an educated decision about whether to stay or to go. Of course, with two years between the eruptions, they might have ignored the warnings too.
When the rumbling noise from the lake began at 9:30pm, and continued for 15 to 20 seconds, followed by a cloud of carbon-dioxide, and a blast of smelly air, it was too late for those people. The cloud quickly moved north toward the village of Lower Nyos. Some people tried to run away from the cloud, but they were later found dead on the paths leading away from town. The only two survivors of Lower Nyos were a woman and a child. The deadly cloud of gas continued on to Cha Subum and Fang, where another 500 people lost their lives. The carbon dioxide killed every type of animal, including small insects, in its path, but left buildings and plants unaffected, because plants use carbon dioxide as part of the growth cycle.
Reportedly, even survivors experienced coughing fits and vomited blood. Outsiders only learned of the disaster as they approached the villages and found animal and human bodies on the ground. The best estimate is that 1,700 people and thousands of cattle died. A subsequent investigation of the lake showed the water level to be four feet lower than what it had previously been. Apparently, carbon dioxide had been accumulating from underground springs and was being held down by the water in the lake. When the billion cubic yards of gas finally burst out, it traveled low to the ground–it is heavier than air–until it dispersed. Lake Nyos must now be constantly monitored for carbon-dioxide accumulation. Hopefully that will prevent further disasters like these from happening again.
On this day, August 21, 1959, the United States as we know it was completed with the addition of the 50th State… Hawaii. It is the only state that is completely comprised of islands…volcanic islands. Hawaii has another unique feature besides being an island state. That unique feature is that it is the only state that is naturally increasing in size. Most of us immediately think of the current eruptions of Kilauea, and that is a big part of the grown of Hawaii, but it is not the only cause of the growth.
Not every addition to the Big Island involves an eruption that puts people at risk and engulfs their communities. For decades, Kilauea has experienced continuous lava flows through a vent called Pu?u ???? in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, incrementally adding land to the southeast portion of the island. This continuous flow has added 570 acres of land to Hawaii’s Big Island since 1983, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s most recent update. Unfortunately, the lava has also buried over 40 square miles of rain forest, communities, and historical sites. Hawaii is an ever-changing place, and the lava doesn’t care about such things as rain forests, communities, and historical sites.
The current stories of the eruption of Kilauea has continued to shock the world, but in reality, Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983. Still, on May 3, 2018, the volcano erupted dramatically. The eruption occurred several hours after a magnitude-5.0 quake struck the Big Island. With the eruption came lava flows into residential subdivisions in the Puna district of the Big Island. This prompted mandatory evacuations of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions. Scientists have two theories about the formation of the Hawaiian Islands. Unlike most volcanoes, the Hawaiian chain sits squarely in the middle of the Pacific plate rather than on a tectonic boundary.
In 1963, J Tuzo Wilson proposed the “hotspot theory” to explain this unusual placement. Wilson proposed that the linear geography of the Hawaiian Islands is due to the movement of the Pacific plate over a stationary point of great heat from deep within the Earth. I have to wonder if that movement is exactly what is causing the current continuing flow of lava from Kilauea. I seems to me that it would be difficult for the lava flow to seal itself when the fault keeps breaking the seal. I could be totally wrong, or I could just be looking at this in a far too simplistic manner. Nevertheless, it seems logical to me. Or maybe that is exactly what Wilson was saying.
These days, at least in Wyoming, the news is often full of new eruption stories pertaining to Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Steamboat Geyser was dormant from 1911 to 1961. Eleven eruptions were noted between June 4, 1990 and September 23, 2014. Then beginning on March 15, 2018, we have seen a sudden increase in eruptions. Beginning on March 15th, there have been ten eruptions to date…just over three months. That is unheard of for this geyser in recorded history. In reality, it can do what Kilauea has done on Hawaii’s Big Island, only much bigger, because the geyser field in Yellowstone National Park lies on top of an active volcano, with multiple chambers of magma from deep beneath the earth. The same energy that causes geysers to blow could spew an ash cloud as far as Chicago and Los Angeles.
It’s strange to think about the fact that Yellowstone National Park lies on such a huge volcano, and yet three extremely large explosive eruptions have occurred at Yellowstone in the past 2.1 million years with a recurrence interval of about 600,000 to 800,000 years. More frequent eruptions of basalt and rhyolite lava flows have occurred before and after the large caldera-forming events. It is said that if the Yellowstone volcano erupted again, it it would be catastrophic, but with the chances of a supervolcanic paroxysm being currently around one-in-730,000, it is less likely than a catastrophic asteroid impact. I guess Wyomingites can breathe a little easier. Nevertheless, scientists do want to know what’s behind the most recent activity at Steamboat Geyser. “We see gas emissions. We see all kinds of thermal activity. That’s what Yellowstone does. That’s what it’s supposed to do. It’s one of the most dynamic places on earth,” said Mike Poland, the scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.
Steamboat Geyser is the least predictable geyser in all of Yellowstone National Park. It could erupt in five minutes, five years, or even 50 years from now. Yet no one visiting Yellowstone wants to turn away from the sight. “That would be the chance of a lifetime,” one visitor said. “I would be amazed.” Steamboat Geyser,is the world’s tallest and far more powerful than Old Faithful, and right now, it’s roaring back to life. Still, timing is everything, and only a few people get to see it. Poland’s team of volcanologists are using thermal-imaging equipment to track the temperature of the 50-mile-wide magma field. They also monitor 28 seismographs since a super volcano would include major earthquake activity. So far,there is no indication that this is anything other than an unusual series of eruptions, and not indication of increased volcanic activity, which puts many people’s minds at ease. The geyser is welcome to continue erupting, but I say, “Just leave that volcano alone.”
With the eruption and possible explosion of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, my thoughts are drawn back 38 years to another mountain…Mount Saint Helens. The scientists said that an explosive eruption was imminent. The mountain had been swelling up with internal pressure from the gasses deep in the earth. Still, some people didn’t believe the mountain would ever hurt them, and many just couldn’t wrap their head around the possibility that it might explode. So, some people stayed in their homes in the area. It would prove to be a fatal mistake.
It’s strange that we are able to associate things in life with major events in recent history. Many of us can say where we were when we learned of President Kennedy’s assassination, or when 9-11 took place. It is a moment that is embedded in our memories for all time. That morning as the ash rolled into our area, I was getting into my car to go to town. It looked like dust on my car, a very thick layer of dust. Of course, it wasn’t dust, it was volcanic ash. It had never occurred to me that volcanic ash might affect me, but here I was, needing to wash the ash off of my car, so it was not damaged.
My cousin, Shirley, who lives in Washington, said she and her family were in Spokane. She saw a black cloud coming their way, and so she turned on the radio, to see what was going on. She immediately started yelling to the teachers and students from Saint Matthews school, who were at an end of the year baseball game. Every one scrambled to get their belongings, and headed back to the Church, before heading for home. Navigation became difficult. They had to watch the curb on the side of the streets to know where they were. It was a long drive home. They held their breath from the truck to the house, to protect their lungs, and watched the street lights come on. Shirley went out on the front porch and took pictures, before retreating back to the safety of her house. They were forced to stay in the house for about a week, before it was safe to out again. Many safety precautions were in place, and people were told not to breathe the ash because of the glass in it.
Mount Saint Helens is located in the Cascade Range. On May 18, 1980, at 8:32am Pacific Standard Time, it erupted and blasted 1,300 feet off of its top, sending hot mud, gas, and ash running down its slopes. Approximately 57 people were killed directly from the blast, while 200 houses, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. Two people were killed indirectly in accidents that resulted from poor visibility, and two more suffered fatal heart attacks from shoveling ash. The explosion sent plumes of dark gray ash some 60,000 feet in the air which blocked out the rays from the sun making it seem like night over eastern Washington. So…where were you when Mount Saint Helens blew?
El Chichón was a volcano, in southern Mexico, that had not erupted for 130 years, meaning that no one who was alive on March 29, 1982 had ever seen it erupt. For most of the residents, who lived in the shadow of El Chichón, also known as Chinhonal, the 4,500 foot mountain seemed to pose no danger. Even when it did erupt, 130 years earlier, the eruption was minor. The people assumed that it was a dead volcano, and so ignored its potential for destruction and enjoyed the fertile soil its volcanic past provided.
Then, in late 1981, two geologists, who were intrigued by hot springs and steaming gaps in the earth near the volcano, began an investigation that revealed increased seismic activity and the possibility of a major eruption of the volcano. Unfortunately, their report was ignored, because of the volcano’s quiet past. Thier complacence would prove to be their downfall. Even when the ground began shaking on the night of March 28, the people did not heed the warning signs.
Then, at 5:15am the following morning, March 29, 1982, no one could miss the combination earthquake and eruption that exploded the mountain. The combination of the earthquake and the volcanic eruption turned the mountain into a crater. Ash was sent flying 60,000 feet in the air. About 150 people were killed when their roofs collapsed under raining volcanic debris. Two days later, ash from the eruption fell in Austin, Texas, many hundreds of miles to the north. The eruptions continued for over a week.
Most of the approximately 2,000 people killed by the eruption died from exposure to the pyroclastic flow, a volatile mix of hot particles and gas. El Chichón lost its entire top, leaving only a large crater 1,000 feet deep, and less than 700 feet high, which was now shorter than the surrounding hills. Two more major eruptions occurred on April 3rd and 4th. In these eruptions, the debris was sent so high that it came down as virtual landslide on the surrounding villages. Trees and buildings were no match for the dirt and rocks. The debris also blocked streams, causing flooding in the area. Nine entire villages were destroyed and more than 100 square miles of farmland were unusable for years. Overall, the energy released by the eruptions, which were similar in scope to the Mount Saint Helens eruptions in Washington in 1980, was the equivalent of 8,000 one kiloton atomic bombs.
We have all heard about volcanic eruptions, seen photos or video of one, or maybe even seen one in person. They are an event that makes it hard to take your eyes off of the scene. There are volcanos that erupt often, and there are those that haven’t erupted in hundreds of years. And, there are volcanos that erupt under the ocean. But…there is a rare type of eruption, that is, in fact so rare that it has only been observed twice, although it may have happened elsewhere. It is called a Limnic Eruption.
A limnic eruption, also called a lake overturn, is a rare type of natural disaster in which dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) gas suddenly erupts from deep lake waters. The eruption forms a gas cloud that can suffocate wildlife, livestock, and humans. It can also cause tsunamis in the lake as the rising CO2 displaces the water. Scientists believe earthquakes, volcanic activity, or explosions can be a trigger for such an explosion. Lakes in which limnic activity occurs are known as limnically active lakes or exploding lakes. Some clues as to limnically active lakes include: CO2 saturated incoming water, a cool lake bottom indicating an absence of direct volcanic interaction with lake waters, an upper and lower thermal layer with differing CO2 saturations, and proximity to areas with volcanic activity, all of which are possible indicators of a limnic lake.
After a Limnic explosion the water left in the lake is filled with debris and massive amounts of dissolved CO2. To date, this phenomenon has been observed only twice. The first was in Cameroon at Lake Monoun in 1984, causing the asphyxiation and death of 38 people living nearby. A second, deadlier eruption happened at neighboring Lake Nyos in 1986, this time releasing over 80 million cubic meters of CO2 and killing around 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock, again by asphyxiation. When the explosion occurred in Lake Nyos, a geyser of water shot out of the lake reaching a height of 300 feet. A small tsunami rushed over the land, followed by a carbon dioxide blast that asphyxiated people up to 15 miles away. Scientists believe limnic explosions are caused by pockets of magma under lakes, which leak and cause carbonic acid to form. In an effort to prevent future explosions, degassing tubes were installed in Lake Nyos to allow the gas to leak at a safe rates.
A third lake, Lake Kivu, on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, also contains massive amounts of dissolved CO2, and it is believed that Limnic eruptions have occurred there too. Sample sediments from the lake were taken by professor Robert Hecky from the University of Michigan, which showed that an event caused living creatures in the lake to go extinct approximately every thousand years, and caused nearby vegetation to be swept back into the lake. Limnic eruptions can be measured on a scale using the concentration of CO2 in the surrounding area. Due to the nature of the event, it is hard to determine if limnic eruptions have happened elsewhere. The Messel pit fossil deposits of Messel, Germany, also show evidence of a limnic eruption there. Among the victims of that eruption are perfectly preserved insects, frogs, turtles, crocodiles, birds, anteaters, insectivores, early primates and paleotheres.