Monday Musings: Iceland, Chilean volcanoes and the SI/USGS Update

Cleaning up some news ... busy week leading up to a field trip I am helping co-lead to Death Valley next week.

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley, California

More like this

In the unlikely case Eyjafjallajökull should undergo explosive volcanism with loss of human life, I have already identifed the explanation Pat Robertson will present for the cataclysm:

"Iceland is the most gender egalitarian country on earth, with women having closed 80 percent of the gap with men. (the 2009 Global Gender Gap report)"

Apart from allowing women to walk around outdoors unescorted by male family members, thus promoting promiscuity, consider the word "egalitarian", which means "Godless communism".
Plus, Icelanders are proud of their pre-christian history, so they are actually crypto-pagans no better than those voodoo practitioners who got hammered by God's rightous wrath.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 08 Mar 2010 #permalink

Nice to see some Geo depts. haven't foresaken field trips! Enjoy your trip and hopefully the weather will cooperate and you won't encounter mud where you expect a dry lake. On the other hand you might catch Racetrack Playa in action.

If you have lesson material prepared for your field trip to Death Valley, would you possibly consider sharing some of it here on the blog, as well?

It's not a topic you hear much about, Erik.


I am envious. I would love to be on that field trip. With all the rain they have been having in S CA, you just might run into a lot of mud. I guess you will find out.

@Birger, I don't know just what point you are trying to make, but Iceland has had volcanic action since before anybody was there! And, I might add, Judge not!

@Barry Abel, I am familiar with that article and Pat Robertsons remarks. If Birger is just reporting on what he is saying, then I read the post wrong. All I meant is I don't agree with the idea that "God" caused the Haiti quake because of what the people believe. If that were true, then what can be said about the Chilian quake or any other disaster. To me, stuff happens that we have no control over. What we can do is study the events to learn what we can do to save lives.

Besides all that, it is interesting to watch and see what will happen.

Diane, Barry pointed out that Birger's post was facetious.

The earthquake image is of a earthquake in Mýrdalsjökull, Goðabunga region. That area makes a lot of this low period tremors as magma is pushing up there too.

So far, Eyjafjallajökull has only made high frequency earthquakes.

@Passerby, I guess I just read into it what wasn't there.

@Birger, my appologies. I misunderstood what your post was about. Maybe I should read a bit more carefully!


@ Diane, it is OK. Irony requires a shared frame of reference. Since I usually read the "Pharyngula" blog, I uncorrectly assumed most people were aware of Pat Robertson and similar nutters. Anyway, Iceland is a great country, with lots of amateur theatre groups and not a few good musicians. BTW keep an eye on their geothermal technology development, it looks very promising :)

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 08 Mar 2010 #permalink

Thanks Birger. I am very aware of Pat Robertson and he is way off base.

I do think Iceland is doing a good job with their geothermal program. I saw a program on Discovery, I think, about that and it was very interesting. I think they have a good thing going there and CA can learn from them. There is a geothermal plant south of Clear Lake north of SF and they pump the water back into the system which creates about a third of the quakes in CA. There is also a geothermal plant just off of I80 in Nevada and I never see any quakes there so they must not be reinjecting the water. They have all kinds of warning signs about the dangers of the hot water and steam coming out of the ground. Years ago, you would never had thought there was a geothermal field right by the highway. The plant is on the right as you are traveling east and to the left is a playa, but when you look at the terrain, it looks like a caldera. I don't think it is, but it sure looks like one.

I wish I could visit Iceland. Especially right now. :-)

Iceland will also be the site for the first large-scale basalt carbon-sequestration experiment this month. Look up CarbFix for more detailed information.

The basic idea is to capture volcanic CO2 being released from one of the geothermal power plants, dissolve it under high pressure in water, and then pump it down into basalt rock strata where it will hopefully precipitate into carbonates within the pores.

The science is solid, but the question is whether the solution will precipitate far enough into the strata before it precipitates out the minerals. If it doesn't, then it'll just clog up the pores immediately surrounding the injection site, and it will be useless. On the other hand, if it works, it will be an enormous step forward, and could lead the way for huge carbon-sequestration projects around the world.

I was briefly lectured in environmental geochemistry by one of the guys involved in the project, Jon Olafsson, and it was really quite interesting.

Passerby, I read your post under the Eyjaf leads and I was wondering if you used EM techniques such as microprobe in any of your studies. I started out as a bio tech for EM, but I didn't get along with the microtome so I went to physical EM which was looking at metals and setting the scope to diffraction then indexing the patterns. I did much better at that, though I did finally get the microtome to work for me, but the camera in the Seimens decided not to work. That was the second time around for me so I decided bio wasn't the way to go. One of the projects I did was a quantitative analysis of Hexel hip joint material. We also did failure analysis of metals and did some etching to get the grain structure. I analyized two types of chain to find out why one broke on the link and the other on the weld.

Anyway, so much for that. I have always been interested in volcanoes since I knew they existed and rocks and minerals. Then there is gold panning. ^_^

Thanks for your input. It keeps my brain working.

Just a bit of other volcano news: the lava lake in Erta Ale is unusually high right now, about 20m below the rim. The north crater has a hornito that is ejecting scoria and a flow. There are some pictures of this on Stromboli online. Thought you all might like to take a look.

@Diane. Am reasonably familiar with electron microscopy (transmission and scanning) techniques because it was an important cell biology tool in labs that I worked in, but had very little use of it in my projects. The less said about glass knife making, embedded section chatter and uranyl acetate, the better.

Now, I asked earlier if there were ongoing projects that may be a catalytic source of unrest for this exceptional swarm.


So I go looking for a point of reference, I find:
Hengill volcano and mention of the geothermal reservation, situated near Hveragerði

Look it up on Wikipedia, take a look at the map.
Copy it and paste it into a simple drawing program.

Then go to the Iceland Met Office EQ map (which we all have bookmarked by now), and copy that map.

Superimpose the second map on the first.

There is a DIRECT line of activity between the seismic activity center near Hveragerði and the activity center at our swarm location.

Coincidence? I think not.

I told you there was an interesting trend line to the NW (a more local trend has been mentioned in previous publications that evaluated swarms at Eyjafjallajökull.

Did the Carbfix project drilling cause the swarm. By itself, no but as a contributing factor, possibly. The timing of construction is eyebrow raising. Could it possibly have contributed to the seismic signal density detcted? Again, possibly. Could the timing be critical for initiating or augmenting activity? Yes.

1. In each of the previous eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull, Katla was also active. It may be that very similar or conjoint or perhaps coupled magmetic movement / intrusion cycles and seismic swarm mechanisms are present at this volcanic center.

Prominent volcanologists who study Katla have warned of potential eruption and growing probability based on monitoring and modeling observations.

2. Each of these eruptions occurred proximal to marked (protracted) solar minimums. Solar cycle behaviors that occurred before active monitoring late 1600s) is approximated by Group Sunspot Number. Solanki and friends have constructed GS plots back to..tadaa...1610, showing that this early period, while not a Grand Solar Minimum, preceded one that would form about 3o years later (Maunder Minimum), with the intervening time being very low solar activity.

The second of our Object of Interest eruptions occurred just after the end of the Dalton Minimum, within 10 years of very, very large eruptions elsewhere. Remember our discussion of temporal proximity of clustered events.

I put out a feeler early on about weather conditions in Iceland, asking about precitation. The response was warmer than normal, always not a good thing for glacier recession over paired volcanoes, one of which is quite active.

In fact, this year's winter has had very odd. The Jetstream has been very much to the South. Cooler waters in the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, gave us one of the five lowest tornado activity months (Feb 2010, one event). Similar Jetstream oddities have brought heavy snows to Spain and the Mediterranean coast (palm tree country), with high velocity east-west humid streams to the south meeting nearly perpendicular Arctic coldfront intrusions, echoing continental patterns of the massive successive winter storms of the US Eastern Seaboard last month.

I mentioned a little pattern of arrayed cells of earthquake activity across the Alpide Belt. Yes indeed, if one does their searches, they will find UNUSUALLY SEVERE and heavy precipitation event in these areas in the weeks preceding the quakes in Greece and Turkey (and elsewhere along the two parallel tracks).

So we have a sort of grand conjunction of *possible* mechanistic contributions to elevated seismic activity with deformation at Eyjafjallajökull.

We do hope that Iceland Met Office is paying attention here.

Prudence and caution might be warranted with respect to test injections at Carbfix.

@Passerby, I get the embedding part and making the glass knives, to say nothing about ozmic tetroxide, para formaldihide, nitric acid+methol alchohol (for metal etching), and acetone flowing like water. But the most dangerous thing in the lab was the hammer. It was heavy, had a break to stop it, and we used it to test metals that we split with that hammer. We would do them room temp and then after being put into liquid nitrogen and check what the difference was.

Now, as for above, are you saying that there is a connection between weather, solar minimums, and volcanic eruptions and earthquakes?

Another thing that I have a question about is what a planetary line-up would do. I am not talking about just Jupiter or Mars, but a situation where all of the planets lined up and the combined gravetational pull on the earth helping along eruptions or quakes. I remember just such a line-up (not the year, though) when the gravetational pull caused the ocean off the coast of Spain and France to recede enough to expose some of the ships that went down in WWII. People were heading out to see these wrecks and they were warned to not go because the sea would rush back at any time and they would not make it back to shore. Some people died that day. I wish I could rememeber what year that was because I would do a study on the volcanic and quake history for that year and the time it happened. Whether or not it affected eruptions or not, it would be an interesting study to see if there is a correlation. If anybody can remember the year (I think it was in the '60s, but I could be wrong), I would like to do some research on it and see what comes up, unless someone else has already done that. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody has checked it out.

Also, I think it will be interesting to see what happens in 2012. No, I don't believe the world will end. I just want to see if this line-up with the galactic center does anything to create quakes and/or eruptions. I am not an astronomer, so I don't know what kind of gravitational pull that would have. I just remember the incident when all the planets were in a line with the sun and earth. A rare event indeed. Nothing drastic happened as far as I know except for the people going out to the downed ships.

Interesting stuff. Iceland, watch yourself. You could be in for a not so nice surprise. I hope not.

Please not bring up planetary alignments and 2012 BS. We already have an uphill battle with climate-change denialists. The linkages I mention are not coincidental, nor are they fantastical contrivances to explain events.

All I am saying is that (1) glacier recession and volcanic activity coupling is known and examples documented. (2) there is a strengthening line of seismic signals between the new geothermal injection field installation and our Object of Interest (see most current IMO map) and (3) the solar minimum isn't done quite yet.

Do glacier recession patterns at our Object of Interest match, roughly, patterns of seismic activity in the past two decades??

Interested parties would very much like to know.

Only planetary alignment worth considering would be earth-moon-sun, spring-tidal forces and resultant earth crustal deformation forces.

On the Galactic plane and x-rays, use search phrase:
Galactic ridge x-ray emission

Many good articles recently explaining diffuse x-ray sources and galactic plane focusing of these galactic cosmic rays, measured using the Chandra telescope.

Cool reading, but far from apocalyptic.

Hey, I was not talking about apocalyptic stuff. I do not believe in the 2012 doom and gloom. There is just going to be an alignment that is a normal happening every 26,000 years and all I was wondering about would be if it would have any affect. And the alignment I spoke of in the '60s was not BS. It happened. The particular way they lined up had enough gravitational pull to draw the Atlantic back far enough to see sunken ships off the coast of Europe. I remember it in the news. It does happen and it is not doom and gloom. It is just the natural orbits of the planets and once in a great while, they do align. No big deal!! I just see it as an interesting event from a purely astonomical view as in astronomy; something else I have an interest in. It has nothing to do with anything other than astronomy and what effect it may have on geophysical forces here. That is all I was asking about. I figured if there was enough gravitational pull to draw the ocean that far out, maybe there could be other effects as well. Maybe it wasn't strong enough to do anything other than affect the ocean. Ok. I was just asking a question.

I know about tidal forces and that if the moon is at apogee, the tides will ebb more than at perogee. (Unless i have that backwards.) Anyway, I didn't mean to cause a storm here or raise anyones' ire. There is a lot about astronomy we don't know, too.

As for the quake lines, I found that to be interesting as well as watching Eyjaf. And now Erta Ale is up to something and it may not mean anything, but it could. And I hope Erik will do a write-up on Death Valley. I had no idea there was a crater there, so that was news to me. I wish I could be on that field trip. I will just have to be happy with the volcanoes and craters I have been able to get to. I would like to spend some time in Long Valley again, too. It is an interesting place and beautiful. Lookout Mt. is an obsidian dome and there is another obsidian dome there, too.

BTW, Mammoth is calming down a bit.

On climate change, I want to let all of you know what I have observed in the last 55 years. Back in the '50s, the Sierras had snow on them all year around. When my parents came to CA in 1937, they had a cabin off of HWY 50 that they could only get into three months out of the year. Now they would be able to get into that same cabin about 9 months out of the year. The Sierras now loose most of their snow fall by the first of August. Sacramento used to get an average of 28" of rain/year. Now it is about 18". So there is climate change.

My mom had a friend named Mariam and her father was a physisist and he said the weather patterns change about every 50 years. It seems to be bearing out.

@Passerby, on the glaciers, there could be anything happening under there and I bet there is some interesting things going on given what type of lakes there are. I saw Jon's last graph and it was definitely different than the ohter ones. Hmmm.

Diane There are several oceanic and atmospheric oscillations such as the Arctic Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation and several others that have a big influence on the weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Except for 2 years in 97-98 the Pacific Decadal Oscillation had been in a positive phase (warm) since 1977 but has gone strongly negative (cold) since last year. Your temps haven't dropped as much as they will after the current El Nino fades in the next couple of months, next winter you should see a big difference in your winter temps mostly due to the -PDO.

Here is something you might find interesting:

The "Pacific Decadal Oscillation" (PDO) is a long-lived El Niño-like pattern of Pacific climate variability. While the two climate oscillations have similar spatial climate fingerprints, they have very different behavior in time. Fisheries scientist Steven Hare coined the term "Pacific Decadal Oscillation" (PDO) in 1996 while researching connections between Alaska salmon production cycles and Pacific climate (his dissertation topic with advisor Robert Francis). Two main characteristics distinguish PDO from El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO): first, 20th century PDO "events" persisted for 20-to-30 years, while typical ENSO events persisted for 6 to 18 months; second, the climatic fingerprints of the PDO are most visible in the North Pacific/North American sector, while secondary signatures exist in the tropics - the opposite is true for ENSO. Several independent studies find evidence for just two full PDO cycles in the past century: "cool" PDO regimes prevailed from 1890-1924 and again from 1947-1976, while "warm" PDO regimes dominated from 1925-1946 and from 1977 through (at least) the mid-1990's. Shoshiro Minobe has shown that 20th century PDO fluctuations were most energetic in two general periodicities, one from 15-to-25 years, and the other from 50-to-70 years. Major changes in northeast Pacific marine ecosystems have been correlated with phase changes in the PDO; warm eras have seen enhanced coastal ocean biological productivity in Alaska and inhibited productivity off the west coast of the contiguous United States, while cold PDO eras have seen the opposite north-south pattern of marine ecosystem productivity.

Causes for the PDO are not currently known. Likewise, the potential predictability for this climate oscillation are not known. Some climate simulation models produce PDO-like oscillations, although often for different reasons. The mechanisms giving rise to PDO will determine whether skillful decades-long PDO climate predictions are possible. For example, if PDO arises from air-sea interactions that require 10 year ocean adjustment times, then aspects of the phenomenon will (in theory) be predictable at lead times of up to 10 years. Even in the absence of a theoretical understanding, PDO climate information improves season-to-season and year-to-year climate forecasts for North America because of its strong tendency for multi-season and multi-year persistence. From a societal impacts perspective, recognition of PDO is important because it shows that "normal" climate conditions can vary over time periods comparable to the length of a human's lifetime .

Here is the link just add the www.

Diane also did you see the newspaper story in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday about Mammoth
just add the www.
Study sheds new light on Mammoth Mountain's age

Thanks Randall. There have been some changes here over the time I have been living here, which is 20 yrs sans 4 months. We had a drought during that time and the last three years have been a drought. This year we are getting more rain and also snow at ~2500' where we live. It got down to 20 degrees in December when we had 14" of snow. Last night it got down to 27. It is cold tonight and we are expecting some snow. Yesterday, it was nice in Sacramento and Auburn(1500' for Auburn) but it was sleeting in the canyon of the river just out of Auburn. Weird weather. We have had more rain, too, which will bring down some more of that yellow stuff.

Anyway, there is also the 11y drought and 22yr drought that has to do with sun cycles. I would suppose the PDO also affects the cycles with it's own cycle. There is a lot that affects the weather. It was just a few years ago that Death Valley was alive with flowers. They have had so much rain down there that it could be that way again.

There was one year in the early 90's that was so dry here that they didn't know how things were going to turn out. Then in March of that year (I don't remember the exact year) we had what they called the Miracle of March. It rained 4" in one day. After that rain, I went out to see how deep the water went: 1/2"! It was DRY. But that rain basically saved the state from very severe drought. Even with the rain we have had this year, which is supposedly above normal, it isn't quite enough to end the drought. I don't know what the snow pack shows as they haven't measured the water content yet, but they will soon. At least is it more than the last three years.

Another thing that is different. When I first moved up here, we had a true fall and by November all the leaves were off the trees. Then things changes and now it is clear into December before the leaves are even half off the trees. I think this year by mid January, most of the leaves had fallen off with a few that hang on. We have not had a true fall since that first year I was up here. The leaves don't turn color. They just turn brown and take forever to fall.

So there are some definite differences in the weather and also how the flora and fauna react to it. The rutting season for the deer is later. They are dropping in June instead of May. Changes have been happening.

Diane, regarding precipitation and American SW water resources, I recall a piece in "Science" magazine about the limestone aquifers absorbing much of the rainfall and providing water for the rivers downstream after some delay...
This means that even if spring melting occurs earlier every year, the water making the detour through limestone will still be feeding the rivers later in the year, somewhat reducing the risk the rivers will run dry. Otherwise, the earlier spring flood would literally leave the southwest "high and dry" during late summer.

Near the Pacific coast, Californian firestorms are a worse consequence of drought. The most logical preventive measure would be to plant wide bands of succulents or cacti perpendicular to the hot "Santa Ana". The remaining moisture in the plants , and the absence of high trees would prevent the fire from leaping across the forest canopy, while an ordinary firebreak would block the ground-level fire. The bands would have to be very wide, since the firestorm "microweather" blows glowing embers far and wide.

Regarding the concerns for tsunamis, the only major troublespot I know in the far north Atlantic is the potentially unstable slope near the "Storegga" at the edge of the North Sea -a possible cause of concern if methane hydrate is sudenly released in amounts sufficient for detabilizing the sea floor.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 10 Mar 2010 #permalink

@Birger, thank you for the information on the SW. I was not aware of the limestone aquifers. Where I live, we have a lot of limestone and also a serpentine fault system called the New Melonies Fault.

I don't think anyone was worried about the rivers running dry, but in the Bay area, they had to go to water rationing. No watering lawns and such. They have had to do that in Sacramento where your address number was used to determine what day you could water your lawn.

Another issue is the California Aquaduct. I was in the legislature when they were arguing about building it. The legisaltor from Contra Costa county told them that if they built the canal, his county would have a water crisis. They built the canal and sure enough, in the '70s, they has a water crisis in Contra Costa county. A very severe one.

Right now, here, I am watching the sun trying to come out and melt the 2" of snow we got last night. :-)

I was just reading this morning about "Storegga" tsunamis and other things that can cause a tsunami. Interesting reading.

The fire storms of S CA are due partly to all the chapparel that grows after a fire and we have some of that in our area. It would be nice if they could plant succulents and cacti. The problem is all the native brush that burns like pine pitch. Manzanita is one of the hardest woods and boy does it burn hot. You get that stuff started and it is hard to stop it. OF course, the dryer the area is, the more likely to have a fire. We have fires up here just about yearly, mostly because some people just don't pay attention to what they are doing. A big one was started by a family who got lost so they started a fire to be found. Boy was that on a hard one to get out. We were fortunate it didn't come into town. Fire is our major threat. I suppose the next one would be a quake. But there are volcanoes around, though the last eruption in CA that I know of was in 1915 when Mt. Lassen blew. We know it will go again some day and maybe even Shasta.

One thing they are doing is trying to get people to develope a defensible space around their homes. There was a bad fire at Tahoe a few years back and the people that lived there were not allowed to clear the pine needles from around their homes! The head of the water district lost his house and said he was going to rethink some of the regulations.

As soon as I could after I moved into the house I live in now was clear away the dead brush from my property. I do have to cut the native grasses every year, but at least it is clear and looks so much better. Some people here just don't do that. Now, you have to clear 100' instead of the 30' you used to have to do. That helps. Fortunately we don't get Santa Ana type winds here. The wind can blow sometimes and we had an arson fire in Auburn one day when the wind was blowing about 25mph. It burned so fast the fire department couldn't get there in time and a number of homes burned. So arson is another problem. And then there is dry lightning. That starts a lot of fires, too.

@Passerby #19 "Please not bring up planetary alignments and 2012 BS. We already have an uphill battle with climate-change denialists."

You mean there actually are people who choose not believe the absolute truth of "The Day After Tomorrow"!?! How very shocking!


You are right about Turrialba, it is getting more vigorous.


I have been away for 3 days and this Blog has exploded with posts. I will never catch
@Passerby.Just wondering what portion of global warming is
anthropogenic ?And would you sell a house 13ft above sea level 400 yds from the ocean that has been in your family for 4 generations because of sea level rise ?

By Dasnowskier (not verified) on 11 Mar 2010 #permalink

Well .. it turns out that my friend reports ( last week) that things are a bit raw & cold
and muddy in DV., esp , in the north.... Not what I expected based on wondrous 2005 bloom.
Things are changing fast.
I still have a gut feeling about Iceland..
Been watching it for a long time ... Never seen this "clustering' before......
Is there higher than normal melt water at Skogar ?