Saudi Arabian earthquake update for 5/19/2009

Al-Qider volcano in western Saudi Arabia. Image courtesy of Ahmed Al-Hussaini

The intense seismicity occurring underneath the Al-Eis region in Saudi Arabia has reached a point where Saudi Arabian officials are requiring 60,000 people who live in the region to evacuate. This is after M4.6 and M5.4 earthquakes that occurred Tuesday night (Saudi time). Saudi officials have also begun to build shelters for people affected by the earthquakes.

Now, the direct connection to a potential eruption is still very much in the air, but the earthquakes are still centered underneath known Holocene volcanic vents. The article from the Saudi Gazette mentions "reports of toxic gas emissions and change of the color of well waters have not been confirmed." We've been getting comments like that here as well, but no corroboration from Saudi officials or the SGS.

However, reports in the Arab News suggest something volcanic might be brewing:

An SGS team that is conducting an aerial survey of the quake-hit area found a large crack in the earth and opened a quake detection station at Harrah Al-Shaqah.


The Civil Defense warned people in Al-Ais and its surrounding villages to avoid areas where smoke is coming out of the ground as such areas are more likely to see volcanic eruptions. It also said that rumblings and pungent smells are indications of possible eruptions.

So, we don't really know much else about what is going on that we didn't know a few days ago. Earthquake appear to be continuing. Rumors of smoke, pungent odors, changes in well water. Evacuations. These items, taken at face value, would suggest an eruption is imminent, however, right now, all I can do is say that things are definitely getting interesting in Saudi Arabia right now.

More like this

yes mr. Erik Klemetti

how can we help you to analyze the situation in Saudi Arabia

i am from saudi and i can provide you with any information you need hopefully


Well, this shows my geological ignorance: I didn't know there was a volcano there. When was the last eruption?

the last eruption was like 800 years ago

if that what u r asking for

right now ppl overthere say that there are some gases and smoke all arround the area .. but we don't know the details till now .. we are waiting

"the last eruption was like 800 years ago" this is old one
the last one it was in 1810 ad

Well, this shows my geological ignorance: I didn't know there was a volcano there. When was the last eruption?

Posted by: dean | May 19, 2009 9:34 PM

actually no body know exactly. some scientists say " the last eruption occurred before 700 years

Thanks Erik for your deep concern. May Allah (God) safe all the people in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

USGS reports that there were six earthquakes today, ranging from 4.6-5.7 in magnitude.

Saudi Civil Defense has ordered the evacuation of villages in the area. There are still no confirmations on gas outflows or changes in water temp/color as of now.

My latest on this, taken from various media, is here:


I expect that everyone will stay safe as long as they are willing to evacuate. If this volcano does erupt lava might be a problem and it might cover some large areas.

For everyone who isn't familiar with the geological history of the region here is a quote from the following link, it has good background information and also some great pictures.

âWestern Saudi Arabia is in fact covered not only with sand, but also with vast fields of lava. In Arabic, these lava fields are known as harraat. (The singular is harrah; before a name, it is harrat.) Some dozen named harraat in Saudi Arabia together form one of Earthâs largest alkali basalt regions, covering some 180,000 square kilometers (nearly 70,000 sq mi), an area greater than the state of Missouri.â

The author of the article interviews âMohammed-Rashad Moufti [who] holds Saudi Arabiaâs firstâand so far onlyâdoctoral degree in volcanology.â

By Thomas Donlon (not verified) on 19 May 2009 #permalink

USGS puts the second quake at M5.7 and a depth of 6 km (poorly constrained).. Certainly seems like something is on the way, particularly if those surface signs are true.

And still a near-total silence in the world media beyond Saudi..absolutely nothing on the BBC website, for example. Like you, Erik, I find this baffling. After all, Paricutin (probably the nearest volcanic equivalent in recent times) caused quite a stir, despite having to compete with a World War

I am wondering if there is any way to get a satellite photo of the site ?
Let us all pray for ALL of us that should this volcano blow that it is NOT a big one. Given the acute hibernation of Sun Spot activity, we are in the midst of serious global cooling and the last thing we want would be another Pinatubo deep freeze !

By Jim Papsdorf (not verified) on 20 May 2009 #permalink

Not aware of any real time or near real time images. Google Earth is not real time but gives a great view of the lava fields and the numerous vents and craters. This volcanic area is enormous. It also plots recent seismic activity. I don't believe these volcanoes have a history of explosive eruptions, mostly large lava flows.

It's impossible to say for certain what form an eruption there would take, but from the history and style of volcanism in that region, I'd guess the likeliest activity would be a moderate-sized basaltic fissure eruption, lava fountaining, then basalt (or alkali-basalt) lava flows and Stombolian explosions forming a cinder cone. A Pinatubo-sized paroxysm is probably not on the menu...although some pretty impressive maar-forming steamblasts have happened in the past, they've not been in Pinatubo's league

Sorry, I meant Strombolian, my typing finger slipped

Dear Erik, the Iris Earthquake Browser do not report any quake in the zone before these ones, but I answer myself (and you...): "is it possible that a magma uplift can trigger so strong quakes?".
I was thinking about another besaltic volcano in a tectonic active setting, the Etna volcano. It's clear that Etna magma origin. so deep, and the current surface tectonic setting are poorly related but it's true that many violent eruptions are coeval with earthquake crises. For example, the massive eruption of 1693 is in the same year of the strongest italian historical quake,the Great SE Sicily Quake.
Also in the little seismic crises of 2002/2003 (strong eruptions on Etna and Stromboli with a tsunami, subvolcanic activity in Panarea, quakes in various places of Sicily and southern Italy) the Etna eruption was accompanied by a seismic swarm of the Catania - Acireale system (the so called "timpe").
So I think that if the magma origin is clearly an independent factor, the emplacement timing is strictly connected with the tectonic setting (this year a study have demostrated that magma deep uplift and eructions are poorly related!).
Is it possible putting this picture in this Saudi situation and so can we say that also here magma uplifting is simply a consequence of the tectonic activity?

Could somebody post a URL or Google Earth KMZ file so that we can find the right location in Saudi Arabia using Google Earth? Thanks!

Aldo, in 1693 there wasn't a massive eruption on Mt.Etna. In this century massive eruptions were in 1614-24, 1646-47 and 1669. See Tanguy et al., 2007, Mount Etna eruptions of the last 2,750 years, Bull. Volcanol. DOI: 10.1007/s00445-007-0121-x

ESSAM, Mahmood, and anyone else in Saudi Arabia:

Please let us know of more on the ground information as it becomes available. The USGS only reports earthquakes that are stronger than magnitude 4.5
The link (in the line above this one) gives a lot of information about the preparedness taking place and says there were a total of 46 earthquakes in a 24 hour period.
This link says âAn SGS team that is conducting an aerial survey of the quake-hit area found a large crack in the earth and opened a quake detection station at Harrah Al-Shaqah.â

It is possible that because of oil income and the importance of geology and underground petroleum in Saudi Arabia that the Saudi's may have some very good seismic equipment. I don't know - I am just guessing.

Best to everyone - and peace to all those reading from Saudi Arabia.

By Thomas Donlon (not verified) on 20 May 2009 #permalink

Nothing serious since the M5.6 tremor

minor tremors occured but none is more than M4

air temperature rised significantly and vast amounts of Radon is detected in the air

earth surface cracked in some places

steam and gases seen coming out but I can't confirm the place

Thomas Donlon,Hello, I am in the United Kingdom not in Saudi Arabia. :)


Anyone have video clips on the volcano in Al-Ais, Saudi Arabia that caused the earthquake. Thanks.

By Mohd Amin (not verified) on 23 May 2009 #permalink


something captured my attention Today :

Saudi geological survey committee ( SGS ) recorded 2 earthquakes with mag. of 3.04 & 3.09 but the international
earthquakes websites didn't count for it including ( the European standard )
and ( the U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program ) which is both record all earthquakes with mag of 2.0 worldwide.

any explanation ???

By Scientist (not verified) on 25 May 2009 #permalink

Can anyone appraise the air sample for possible radioactive isotope present? please include wind pattern direction.

By larry rubian (not verified) on 25 May 2009 #permalink

There are two main reasons you are not seeing more earthquakes located in the western part of Saudi Arabia on the USGS websites. The first is that most of the earthquakes that continue to occur are small and the USGS is not able to detect earthquakes with a magnitude smaller than about 4.2-4.4 in Saudi Arabia. This is also most likely why they are not seen on the CSEM-EMSC website.

The second reason is that, beginning in January 2009, the USGS no longer locates earthquakes which are located outside the US smaller than a magnitude of 4.5 unless we receive specific information that a particular earthquake was felt by the local residents.

Also, the USGS cannot possibly locate all 2.0 or larger earthquakes worldwide as the entire planet would have to be instrumentd as well as Californoa or Japan for that to be possible. The USGS used to report on earthquakes smaller than 4.5 occurring outside the US that it was able to locate - most with the help of data sent in by participating organizations in other countries.

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