Quiet volcano week so far …

Santa Ana Volcano

I’ve been trying to find information to post this week, but not much out their in the press this week.

I did like this article on the close relationship between Salvadoran coffee growers and Santa Ana/Ilamatepec Volcano. After being pressed into an emergency lecture yesterday here about the interactions between humans and volcanoes, this is case in point that a mere 3 years after an eruption helped wipe out their crops, coffee growers are back to planting near Santa Ana’s crater. It is hard not to when the soils near the volcano are so fertile. You can see in the picture (above) how lush the vegetation is right up to the crater itself. This just shows how much risk people are willing to bear in the name of a livelihood.


  1. #1 Thomas Donlon
    June 4, 2008

    Dr. Erik W. Klemetti,

    I came to your website from a link from the Volcanism Blog a few weeks back.

    What I am most interested in are potential medium to large caldera eruptions. The world food supply right now has no reserve capacity to feed everyone if we have another huge natural disaster. A Caldera volcanic eruption (like in Tambora in 1815 – and now we are gradually learning about other climate changing eruptions in modern history) could knock back food production worldwide. These have led to famines in the past – and could do so again. (Our modern population has grown accustomed to shifting excess food production in one area of the world to account for shortfalls in another area.) This won’t be easy if there is a hemisphere-wide or worldwide shortfall in the event of a major volcanic eruption.

    Also it was recently determined that the four largest earthquakes of the 1900’s were clustered into a twelve year period and that was unlikely to have happened by chance. Now with the 9.1 Indonesian earthquake in 2004 we may be in a similar period of high risk for 9 Richter scale earthquakes (or major volcanic activity).

    So I think there may be more magma on the move worldwide over the next 9 years or so. I figure we are in a heightened period of unrest and we should pay greater attention to geology especially for the next ten years or so.

    Other reports abound that some major fault lines in California are all charged up and ready to unleash their fury at any time. This would be devastating for some areas of California. There is some concern about Mammoth Mountain being restless – and scientists in the region don’t know what may trigger another eruption.

    So, I am trying to look ahead at what the next disaster(s) may be.

    Please note my interest – and perhaps on some other slow news days you could indulge my curiosity some.

    I look forward to continuing reading your blog.


  2. #2 Erik Klemetti
    June 5, 2008

    You know, it can be easy to see that there are a lot of major geologic events going on and think they are all connected. In a sense, yes they are, but only in the broad “plate tectonics” sense of connection. I’ll try to address some of your concerns:

    1. Yes, with the current food production/shortages problems worldwide, a major eruption would cause major and catastrophic disruption. Of course, even at peak production, a major (I mean Yellowstone/Taupo/Toba scale) eruption would completely disrupt food supplies. We’ll see if the Chaiten eruption has any effect on food production, but it does have one thing going against it. The extreme southern latitude of the eruption would likely cause a lot of the temperature effect and aerosol dispersion to effect the food producing areas of the world in the equatorial and northern hemisphere very weakly.

    2. As for the perceived risk of >M9 earthquakes, I’d be highly skeptical that any data set that shows a clustering of large earthquakes in the 1900s could be predictive at all. Remember, you need to be wary of small data sets – they can deceive you. A data set from 1 century on 4 earthquakes of sufficient size is definitely not one to be trusted for its predictive value.

    3. I don’t think we have any more (or any less) magma on the move right now, or will in the near future. It is so hard to tell if there is more/less unrest worldwide because we have such a limited dataset to compare against. If anything, you can look at the Cascade Range in the U.S. and they have been remarkably quiet over the last 100 or so years compared to what the historical record in the 1800s suggests. That being said, we do need keep vigilant and continue to monitor and research volcanoes worldwide.

    4. Again, I am no expert of California earthquakes, but I don’t think there any many seismologists who would disagree that California should expect another big earthquake. When it will happen is a different story: 10 years? 100 years? 500 years? We’ll see.

    And that is what makes the natural world so interesting. So many things occurring, but we’re just not sure how random or how interconnected they are. The key is to continue to study these events and try to glean what we can from these Earth processes.

  3. #3 Thomas Donlon
    June 5, 2008

    Hi Erik,

    Skepticism is often healthy – and I admire those practice it. I also acknowledge that it is possible that all these Earthquakes in the 1900’s clustered by chance. However proponents of the clustering theory point to (or allude to other periods in history) where earthquakes have also clustered.

    The following link also makes an argument for earthquake clustering clusters at other times in history.


    This article suggests that a cluster of earthquakes took place from 360-365 ad around the Mediterranean (and they also mention a 12 year period) which later scholars have tended to attribute to a single earthquake. Later scientists expressed doubt that “Cities 1,500km apart” could have been devasted by the same earthquake.

    Also a recent discovery put forth that a 7 Richter scale earthquake (or larger) produces earthquakes on the other side of the globe.

    I am in wholehearted agreement that we should study geology more.

    The following link gives an extremely high likelihood of a 6.7 or larger earthquake occuring in California in the next 30 years. (You can’t get much higher a 99% probability.) It just happens that many fault lines are fully charged and ready to go. One earthquake can often spur another. I am afraid we may have a devastating cascade of earthquakes on our hands.


    I would like to stress that I very much respect the important work that you are doing. I am delighted that you are sharing your knowledge with us.

    Knowledge of geology can’t be amassed overnight. But I deeply feel that if we are studiously learning what we can that this may save lives in the following decades.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. #4 Erik Klemetti
    June 5, 2008

    Thanks for the information. I didn’t mean to sound like I didn’t think there was merit to these ideas, the big question is taking specific events and applying them to all events worldwide. That being said, there is some interesting research being done look at the interconnectedness of geological events!

  5. #5 Alton Gill
    December 7, 2010

    You are a very clever person!

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