Guest videos: Predicting Volcanic Eruptions

It has been over a month since my first post in the “Sayonara, Japan” series. I had intended the second one to be a look at various ways to predict volcanic eruptions, but then I got a writing gig that has kept me busy elsewhere. I am going to try to carry this through with the help of videos about predicting eruptions and supereruptions that were posted to YouTube by some universities, and a press briefing from Japan on that country’s volcanoes and predicting their eruptions.

In this video from the Open University, volcanologist Hazel Rymer discusses how her team is studying Costa Rica’s Poas Volcano. It was uploaded in 2009, and this volcano has been restless, with some phreatic activity as recently as last month, though it seems to have settled down at the moment.

The next video is useful, too. Two Washington State volcanologists, John Wolff and Michael Rowe, discuss using geochemistry to predict eruptions and supereruptions. I was surprised at their mention of Three Sisters as a possible supervolcano, as I thought that idea had been replaced by recognition that this area (only 60-some miles from here) contains volcanoes that aren’t remnants but instead have unique histories of their own.

Well, they do just refer to the Three Sisters area merely as a possibility. That’s the thing about volcanoes, and especially about supervolcanoes – they erupt at such long intervals most of the time, we just don’t know a lot about them. It’s nice that they talk about possible warning times in terms of years, not hours or days…only we have never had a supereruption during historic times. These volcanologists, like everyone else, are guessing, based on their experience with “normal” volcanoes, and that might be a very good guess indeed.

Only time will tell.

Now, the next, and last, video is not short or easy to watch, but it may prove the most useful of all today’s videos when we do examine the new Japanese paper, released last month (in English, fortunately), about the risk Japan faces from a supereruption.

The video below is a bilingual October 2014 press briefing from Japan’s Foreign Press Center on “Volcanic Activity in Japan and Eruption Prediction.” It was posted on YouTube about a month before Tatsumi and Suzuki-Kamata’s paper, “Cause and risk of catastrophic eruptions in the Japanese Archipelago,” was published. I don’t believe it is connected with them in any way, but rather was done in response to the tragedy on Mount Ontake.

They discuss caldera eruptions towards the end of the video, in English at around 1 hour 36 minutes or so, and do mention Aira and other calderas. It is impossible to predict such caldera eruptions, they say, because we do not know the mechanisms. They do briefly mention the effects of a massive eruption of Aira, and they would be very bad.

Watch the whole video, though, if you can, for it gives a pretty good idea of the state of volcano monitoring in Japan today. Surprisingly, it turns out that there is no central volcano prediction authority in Japan, according the speaker in the video.

Unfortunately, in this video they don’t show the graphics being discussed by the speaker. I think this paper (PDF) shows some of the illustrations that they are referring to at the beginning. Also refer to illustrations here (PDF).


The Center lists English-language news articles that were written from this briefing.

In the next post, which may or may not come out next Sunday, I will probably refer to both the video below and Dr. Clive Oppenheimer’s Eruptions That Shook The World.

More information:

Categories: Sunday morning volcano

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