The volcano hurling ash 12 miles high

National Geographic

It may not have done anything for 9000 years, but now Chile’s Chaitén volcano has decided to start erupting it’s doing it big-time. Blowing ash 12 miles up into the sky, it has caused stunning ‘dirty storms’ where the huge dust clouds have turned into ferocious lightning storms. The photos are pretty breathtaking – although I must say I’m glad I don’t live anywhere what seems like a volcano taken out of the apocalypse.

National Geographic It looks stunning, but just how do you get so much lightning at once? Basically, as the billions of ash and dust particles rub together in the sky, static electricity causes some of them to become charged – just like rubbing a balloon on your jumper can make it become statically charged.

These charged ash and dust particles can then trigger huge bolts of lightning, some reaching down to the ground and some staying between the clouds. The result: a dazzling show of light – and of course sound as well.

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Chaitén’s not just making dirty storms – its ash clouds are spreading right over as far as the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s spewing lava out too (although not at a very high rate yet). It’s definitely something to keep an eye on over the next few days.

National Geographic’s done a great interactive detailing everything you could ever want to know about volcanoes – click here.

Hawaii’s volcano Kilauea starts exploding and erupting new lava

National Geographic It’s been erupting for 25 years now, but that doesn’t stop Hawaii’s volcano Kilauea throwing up new surprises. One of its major craters has now started exploding and oozing lava – the explosions are the first in 84 years, and the lava the first in a quarter of a century from this particular crater.

The explosion in the Halemaumau crater spread debris over an amazing 75 acres – I expect local residents got quite a shock. But what caused the explosion? Basically, it was because gas under increasing pressure below the surface finally had to get out somehow, and it did that by exploding through the rock. The lava came out for a similar reason – the pressure under the surface was just getting too great.

Since Kilauea’s been erupting non-stop for 25 years, should we really be making such a fuss over these latest events? Normally I’d say no, but it is interesting that these events follow other reported increasing activity by Kilauea (I wrote about it a few weeks ago). CNN / APIs Hawaii’s most famous volcano about to turn nasty?

As with all geological events (volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) the simple and true answer is that we just don’t know. But I’ll definitely be keeping more of an eye on Kilauea now – it could definitely get interesting any day now.

Click here for more information on Kilauea, one of the world’s most fascinating volcanoes.

Kilauea: The world’s most active volcano opens up a new lava path

Wikipedia As it’s been erupting continuously for the last 25 years and is the world’s most active volcano, it’s no real surprise that the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea has now started spewing out even more lava. Destroying three abandoned homes in the process, the lava has recently started following a new path along Hawaii’s Big Island, although scientists say there’s nothing to worry about. (Click here for a video)

In fact, although Kilauea has erupted 34 times since 1954, as well as the current 25-year-old eruption, it is not really a dangerous volcano at all.

Instead of building up huge reserves of magma and then letting it all go suddenly, like Italy’s Mount Vesuvius for example, Kilauea just lets a gentle stream of lava flow pretty much continuously. It is so slow in most places that you could outpace it simply by walking, meaning it poses very little danger.

Wikipedia However, it does sometimes have impressive jets of lava (up to 1000 feet tall) that earned it the nickname the ‘drive-by volcano’, because you could ride by and be amazed by the fountains.

The latest twist in Kilauea’s lava path doesn’t really pose any danger – residents had plenty of warning that their homes would soon be destroyed, giving them enough time to set up a home in a safer location.

I’ve not been lucky enough to go to Kilauea – yet. Leave a comment if you’ve been!

 UPDATE: Kilauea has now started exploding for the first time in 84 years, and more new lava is erupting. Click here for the exciting details.

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Unexpected quake strikes Nevada

The earthquake damage in Wells, Nevada | Image: CNN It may not be far from California, the state that is undoubtedly America’s earthquake hotspot. But the town of Wells in Nevada doesn’t usually experience earthquakes – not until now.

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake and over 30 aftershocks shook the town Friday, toppling buildings and destroying homes. Fortunately not a single life was lost, although some lives will take years to rebuild.

The USGS earthquake map | Image: USGS So why did the earthquake happen? It’s not like there is a major fault nearby, like the San Andreas fault in California. In fact, it has been pretty quiet in terms of seismic activity for Wells since the last earthquake in 1850. The last time the landscape was changed much by seismic activity was tens of thousands of years ago, according to USGS.

The answer is that it does indeed lie on a fault, but not a major one – the Independence Valley fault system that runs across the region. But it was so inactive that even USGS admits they weren’t really looking or expecting anything to happen around that area.

That’s the big problem with earthquakes, volcanoes, and nearly all other natural disasters – you just don’t know when they’re going to pop up next.

Earthquakes shaking the world

Chile and central Africa have both seen large earthquakes over the last few days, only weeks after scientists said Mount St Helens was starting to rumble again. However, there is no reason to believe that any of these events are connected, say scientists.

Location of the African quake | Image: BBC News A magnitude 4.5 quake hit Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday, killing at least 39 people and injuring countless others. This region of Africa is actually quite prone to seismic activity, but it has been quiet for the past few years. A magnitude 6.8 quake struck in December 2005.

Location of the Chile quake

Chile also saw a large quake, a magnitude 6.3 one that struck on Monday. Fortunately no casualties or damage have been reported, although there were several landslides.

Click here for a simple guide to how earthquakes happen. Click here for a cool video.

African earthquake | Image: CNN