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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Italy’s crashing into Croatia

The Adriatic Sea

Italy, home of coffee, art and… tectonic plate collisions. What!?

A new fault has been discovered on the edge of the tectonic plate Italy sits on, making it slowly sliding over the plate that Croatia and other members of the Balkan Peninsula lie on. The result: Italy is gradually getting closer and closer to Croatia, effectively closing up the Adriatic sea.

So what exactly is a tectonic plate? Imagine if the Earth was just one big ocean, full of icebergs. These icebergs (tectonic plates) float around, sometimes colliding, sliding past each other, or moving apart. Italy, together with the rest of Europe, is on the Eurasian ‘iceberg’, and Croatia lies on the smaller South Adria ‘iceberg’. The Eurasian iceberg is creeping over the Adria iceberg, pushing it down.

The Adriatic Sea | Image: National GeographicThis is causing the area where the two meet – the Adriatic Sea – to get smaller and smaller (although only 0.16 inches/0.4 cm a year), ultimately meaning Italy will crash into Croatia – though not for a projected 50-70 million years.

More relevant to us today are the possible short-term consequences. Scientists used to think this area was geologically inactive; now that they have been proven wrong, it raises the issue that earthquakes and tsunamis are much more likely than previously thought.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes… there’s much more to Italy than coffee and art.

Volcano discovered in Antarctica

It’s only days since Mount St. Helen’s started showing signs of activity again, but now scientists have discovered another surprising volcano.

Emperor penguins with their chicks | Image: National GeographicAntarctica: land of ice, snow and penguins. Not steam, lava and boiling rocks, right? Well it may be icy now, but in one area of the continent 2000 years ago a volcano spewed ash and hot gases up through the ice, 12km into the air, creating a massive torrent of water in the process. In fact, it is thought to still be active now, causing some of the Antarctic ice sheet to melt (though only a minimal amount compared to climate change factors).

How did the scientists (from the British Antarctic Survey) discover this volcano? When the eruption took place ash was scattered over a large area, and now that it has been covered with centuries of snow, radar is reflected more by the layer of ash than the ice above and below it.

The volcano erupted under what is now the Hudson Mountain range | Image: BBCSo remember that Antarctica’s not just about snow and penguins, cool as they are. 

Mount St Helens starts rumbling again

Mt St Helens | Image: National Geographic/AP After a three year period of being dormant, Mount St. Helens is again showing signs of seismic activity, although scientists say there’s absolutely nothing to worry about – yet.

Several small tremors (just under 3.0 magnitude) were recorded, as well as steam coming from the top of the volcano, which is well remembered for its cataclysmic eruption in 1980 (video), which killed 57 people and flattened 230 square miles of forest.

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So what’s causing this new activity? Scientists believe it is because the lava under the volcano is shifting around, possibly squeezing water out and causing slight tremors. Will it erupt again? It will without doubt one day, but it is still highly unlikely at the moment.