First eruption at Fernandina since 2005

Fernandina volcano in the Galapagos.

Fernandina in the Galapagos has entered a new eruptive phase according to the Geophysical Institute (GI) at the National University of Ecuador (in spanish). Satellite images show a new crater and ash column from the volcano and the GI will look for evidence of new lava flows beyond the "hot points" spotted on the satellite images.

UPDATE 4/11/09 9PM:
I thought I'd add a link to the story in English now that I found one. There are also some pictures of the lava flows from La Cumbre (There is some confusion about name - Fernandina and La Cumbre are the same thing).

The Galapagos Islands are created by a hot spot underneath the Nazca Plate - similar to how Hawai'i is forming over the Pacific. Fernandina is on the island of the same name and is the most active of the Galapagos volcanoes. Most of the eruptions from Fernandina are lava flows with minor explosive component, including the most recent eruption in 2005. However, in 1968, the volcano had a VEI 4 eruption that produced pyroclastic flows and debris avalanches. The eruption also included a caldera collapse (PDF link). One of the biggest concerns whenever volcanoes in the Galapagos erupt is the effect on the wildlife of the islands so the GI will monitor this new eruption to make sure that the appropriate response can be made to protect the rare flora and fauna - such as evacuating turtles!

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Hi. Nice blog; I'm enjoying it very much.

Until I started popping in here every day, I was only aware of such eruptions as brought themselves spectacularly into the common consciousness (usually involving high body counts and/or property damage), so please forgive my ignorance when I ask, is all this recent activity about what you normally would expect?

There are eruptions from approximately 50-60 volcanoes every year (if we do not count the many deep submarine eruptions that we are missing) - many of these are relatively minor events such as single phreatic blasts with extremely limited impact, others occur in very remote areas and do not produce any significant impact on the human environment even when they are relatively large. So in any given year you will probably hear about five to ten eruptions that receive major attention by the news media, all the rest until a few years ago would be reported only in very specific media (such as the Global Volcanism Network Bulletin of the Smithsonian Institution), but now we luckily have Eruptions and The Volcanism Blog, plus the Global Volcanism Network web site.
I wouldn't really see any significant effect of sun activity or other popular alleged causes of increased volcanism or seismicity, such as planetary constellations, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes happen all the time.

As Boris mentioned, there is likely no more or no fewer eruptions now than in other times of recent Earth history (and I'm talking millions of years). The only thing that might be different is that the media is paying attention to these eruptions and we have much better access to information on the multitude of eruptions that are occurring at any one time worldwide.

As for any sort of extraterrestrial forcing for volcanic eruptions, I haven't seen any evidence anywhere that processes like solar minima/maxima, planetary alignments or the like causing changes in the earth's magmatism. It would surprise me as well - remember, most of the magmatism on earth is driven by the planet's desire to lose internal heat. The heat budget on earth is dominated by the production of heat by radiogenic isotopes like K, U and Th, along with the loss of the primordial heat of formation. Any small changes in tidal heating from the sun (gravitional wrenching of the planet) is so minor that it shouldn't effect magmatism in any noticeable way ... or, at least, that is my take on it.

So we are supposed to visit Fernandina on May 5, 2009. Do you think the eruption will limit travel to the island? I look forward to following your blog re: the wildlife.
Thank you.

Peggy - The eruption could have an effect on travel to the island. You still have a month, but I'd keep an eye on the news about the eruption and when your trip is close, definitely check with the authorities in the Galapagos or the GI in Ecuador.

the tidal thing is marginally interesting though, isn't it? (looking at Io etc.)

What is the gravitational effect of the moon on the crust? Does it have any bearing at all?

No need to worry about evacuating TORTOISES; the last Fernandina tortoises were eliminated by the Cal Academy of Sciences about 80 years ago...not sure exactly. Land iguanas are another question. But, in general, the idea is to save the native and endemic animals from MAN'S depredations whenever possible, including from the pests he has introduced, but to let NATURE run its course.

Good point Christy; the Galapagos ecosystem has co-existed with volcanic activity for a very long time - in fact the volcanoes were there first!

The last of Fernandina Tortoises was kill and collected by Dr. Rollo Beck in 1901.

By Roberto Plaza (not verified) on 14 Apr 2009 #permalink

Dr. Beck was part of a scientific expedition from the California Academy of Science aboard a ship call the Academy, that gives the name to Academy Bay on Santa Cruz Island where the town of Puerto Ayora and the Charles Darwin Research Station is found and where once in 1901 the ship anchored.

By Roberto Plaza (not verified) on 14 Apr 2009 #permalink

The kind of eruptions we regularly have in the Galapagos not only don't represent a threat but become tourist attractions. It is very likely that if you come to visit the islands on a cruise boat when there is an eruption, your boat will try to approach at night to see the show.

By Roberto Plaza (not verified) on 14 Apr 2009 #permalink

I am very open-minded on the subject of whether volcanic activity increases during solar minimums and I am certainly not in a position to suggest an modus operandi. We must be thankful that in this case, research is ongoing and the "science is not settled".

Here is a 2005 paper about the Dalton Minimum. Specifically, it does NOT suggest solar minimums cause volcanic activity, but notes that both phenomena combined to reduce global temperatures.…

Another abstract.

The site below suggests tidal forces possibly trigger eruptions.…

Solar flares may cause changes in atmospheric circulation patterns that abruptly alter the earth's spin. The resulting jolt probably triggers small earthquakes which affect volcanism.

The next 700 days are going to be "very interesting".



We just left the Galapagos and got very close to the lava flowing into the sea - absolutely spectacular! From what our guide told us, I don't think it will be "explosive" in any way that will affect people travelling there in the next few weeks. But I'm not an if you're on your way - enjoy!