Monday Musings: Evacuations near Galeras and we continue to not cause Campi Flegrei to erupt

Back from Iowa, time for some volcano news. Look for the answers to your questions for Dr. Boris Behncke to get posted later this week.

(And thanks for all the comments and kind words in the Open Thread. I'll start thinking about how to implement a lot of these in the next few weeks).

Undated photo of Volcan Galeras in Colombia.

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Yeah, there seems to be a disturbing proportion of the public (possibly due to the wide variety of disaster movies available) that believes scientists are out to destroy the world. Only by halting science will we survive! blech.

totally OT, I sometimes hate being a scientist because it means I can not just sit through Hollywood blockbusters like 2012 (like I did last weekend) and revel in the cinematography. Instead, I spend the entire movie picking apart the science and wishing I could smack the screenwriters upside the head. *sigh*

Dr. Kilburn's quote is lovely. I think most scientists would love to respond like that when they get asked stupid questions, but unfortunately there are a lot of people who would fail to see the snark and turn the whole thing into a new disaster movie.

Thanks Anne! You know, as I was typing it, I wondered if I had the right one, but my total lack of attention span this week prevented me from checking. Fixed now.

There was no science in 2012.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

Campi Flegrei is overdue, admit it.
You just arent telling us because it'd cause a panic, or some evil corporation is forcing you to not tell us.
Thats OK, because you probably have a beautiful daughter and SHE will tell us.

And if you thought the Y2K was bad, wait til the Y2dozen hits.

It is a possiblity but one so small that they act like there is none. While nothng will likely happen you can never know for sure.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

Kirsten, did you actually pay to watch that drivel?

I hate the word 'overdue' when we're talking about geology...

I know of a number of volcanoes that are "overdue" or "due" whatever. The Idaho Craters of the Moon are overdue if you want to say that. As for Yellowstone. How do geologists really know it erupts every 600,000 years based on only two or three eruptions? Volcanoes erupt when they erupt. Sometimes we get signals, as with Mt. St. Helens, but then there are those that give no warning.

I am not a geologist or volcanologist, but I do follow what is going on and I did take geology when I was in college. Anyway, I wish I could see and eruption at a safe distance. What botheres me most is the loss of life.

It is just fun to see when the next one will do something, like Redoubt.

Diane is right, there is little sense in saying a volcano is "overdue" - it's like saying your next flu is overdue if you haven't had the flu for, say, one year or two. Maybe you won't have it for the next ten years. And likewise, volcanoes do not erupt regularly or on schedule. Every now and then they change their behavior and their rhythm. Vesuvius erupted nearly continuously between 1631 and 1944, and it's dormant since then (65 years). But we know repose periods during the historical period that lasted 500 to 800 years at this volcano. So it's not accurate to say Vesuvius is overdue, it may well sleep for many centuries. The same is true for Campi Flegrei and all other volcanoes. Well, Redoubt just erupted and fell asleep again, and I don't think it will do much for the next at least 10 years. Finally, we should remember that often the worst has come from volcanoes nobody (or very few people) had ever heard of - like Mount Lamington or El Chichón or Pinatubo or Chaitén ...

That's exactly what I meant ^_^ . 'Overdue' has to do with statistics, which we use to gain more insight in the behavior of processes like eruptions, earthquakes, etc. And statistics and geology don't really go well together, so using 'overdue' is only misleading.

Correction of something stated above (forgot to type something that was in my head):

"... which we use to gain more insight in the behavior of processes like eruptions, earthquakes, etc"... or so we like to believe. In almost every case it's impossible to tell exactly what's going on based on what happened in the past, like Diane and Dr. Behncke already said.

Ii tihnk we use these terms becuase most people are not scientists and we like to keep track of things. We see patterns where there aren't any.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 24 Nov 2009 #permalink

I remember the month, but not the year. LOL I think it was four years ago this month when Etna was putting on a real show. Etna Treking had great cams on it and my DH and I watched for six hours! It was facinating. We just couldn't get away from the computer!

Anyway I hope to learn more by keeping in touch with this blog. It is a great place to learn what is going on.

We as a race like patterns, so give Yellowstone for instance which has erupted 3 times in the last 2.1Million years at VEI8 (its erupted more than that..but lets focus on the REALLY big stuff) You can say on average that its eruptions are every 600,000 to 700,000 years, so as we are around 640,000 years since the last big one then we are "Overdue" or at least anytime soon.

Of course Volcanoes do not follow any averages and erupt when they are ready to and not before (Unless your some supervillan with ideas about triggering one for a ransom of billions) and as such any talk of "Averages" should be taken with a pinch of salt.

I guess I will become the champion of the word "overdue".
A train or the city bus can be overdue, if they dont arrive at their "ACCURATELY PREDICTED" arrival time. Thats the key.
If you predict an event, once it passes that prediction, it is "overdue" by your method. In the case of volcanoes, that pretty much means your method was flawed. Saying Yellowstone will have a VE8 every 600,000 yrs is a statistical prediction. If it is understood that there is a tolerance band of +/- 200,000 yrs it can be a fairly good prediction and once you're past the 600,000 mark, you can start to use the term "overdue".
I'm an engineer. We take a piece of aluminum and pull on it until it breaks, and if we know enough about the material, we can predict when that will happen. Within a certain tolerance, since we can never totally understand the behavior of every single atom in our sample.
Likewise volcanoes. Someday when we understand the pressures underneath, and the physical properties of all the different rocks and trapped gases, we'll be able to predict ACCURATELY when an eruption will occur.
The problem is scale. I can know everything I need to know about a 1 inch piece of aluminum to predict when it will break. I cant take reliable samples from 20 miles under Etna yet. Until we can, the predictions will have large tolerance bands like +/- 100,000 yrs, or in the case of Vesuvius, maybe +/- 100 yrs, which is still meaningless to most people.
Its been pointed out that eruption predictions have to be accurate to less than a week, or people go back to their normal lives and ignore the warnings. A scientist cant say the volcano will erupt when the CO2 levels reach a certain point and get the attention of the average citizen, you have to use terms like "overdue" or there will be no preparation at all.
PS - I WAS kidding when I said C Flegrei was overdue. But we ARE overdue to be hit by a comet. I saw it in a movie.

Hrmm that was bizarre, my comment obtained eaten. Anyway I wished to say that itâs good to know that another person also talked about this as I had hassle discovering the identical information elsewhere. This was the first place that informed me the answer. Thanks.