Pacaya in 2020

In January 2020 I spent 3 days at the volcano Pacaya in Guatemala. Since months the fire mountain was strombolian active and produced lava flows from time to time. So the volcano attracted me for the 2nd time within 2 years. Compared to March 2018 the hornito was much larger and now had 2 distinct chimneys, both of which were active.

Jaime, the host of Salamandras House picked me up Friday evening with his pickup truck from the airport in Guatemala City. The man from El Salvador greeted me warmly and took me to the supermarket on the way to Pacaya. There is no serious shopping possibility directly at the volcano. Only a small kiosk offers sweets and beer, which is the most important thing to get along at the volcano for a while. Arriving at the inn I thought about climbing up directly in the first night, but somehow the tiredness won. Strong wind and clouds didn’t motivate me very much and so I climbed the Pacaya only the next morning.

The first part of the ascent did not pose any particular hurdles, except for the fact that the first hundred meters of altitude difference are quite steep. As the park entrance (yes, the Pacaya is protected in a national park and one has to pay 50 Quetzales entrance fee) is located at a height of barely 1700 m, I immediately started to breathe and sweat. But with increasing height at least the sweating stopped. At the end of the vegetation zone, all those volcano hikers who had joined a guided group gathered and looked longingly to the summit. The last 300 meters of altitude difference can still be climbed – contrary to the rules – but one must not be deterred or stopped by the prohibition signs and the rather steep path through loose lapilli. So I stomped on determinedly and stood at the edge of the My Kenney crater at noon and looked at the two hissing chimneys of the hornito.

At first, only a few isolated lava lumps were ejected from the mouths of the chimneys, but pretty soon the activity increased to continuous lava spattering. Isolated lava bombs reached respectable heights of about 50 meters. Also the size of the cinders was impressive.

In the late afternoon a new vent opened on the flank of the hornito. Lava flows out of it, which poured over the flank in a multi-armed stream. The spectacle was quite entertaining and ended after 10 minutes.

Within 2 hours I flew the 3 batteries of my drone empty and let it float dangerously low over the vents. I was quite surprised that at the end of the battery capacity it had actually not yet been shot down, with the lava bombs taking on the role of missiles: more than once they came dangerously close to the unmanned aircraft.

In the evening it became quite windy again at the crater rim, but I persevered and waited for the moonrise. Around 21.30 o’clock our Trabant then pushed itself slowly over the horizon and showed again the contours of the hornito. A little later I started the descent. Arrived down in the forest I paused for a while and let the various voices of the night take effect on me.

2 days later I set off for the Fuego, which my drone should not survive, but more of that elsewhere.

Iceland: Is a volcanic eruption imminent?

The Icelandic volcanologists of the Institute IMO express concern about the current situation on the Reykjanes Peninsula. In the vicinity of Grindavik, there have been repeated swarm quakes in recent months, which were quite strong. Since 21 January, GPS measurements now show a rise in the ground that has not been seen there for decades. Under the volcano Þorbjörn the ground is rising by 3-4 mm per day. This rise is caused by magmatic fluids rising under the volcano. In all probability it is magma that causes Þorbjörn to rise. As a result, the civil defence has declared the VONA warning level “yellow”. Residents of the area will be invited to an information meeting tomorrow. There they will be informed about how to prepare for a possible volcanic eruption.

Campi Flegrei: Tremor amplitude increases

While all eyes look at the Philippine Taal volcano, there is also something interesting going on under the European pedant Campi Flegrei. The INGV Napoli yesterday published a new report on the situation of the large caldera volcano, which can erupt at a similar rate as the Taal. The focus of the report is the thermal area around the fumarole of Pisciarelli , which is located on the north-western crater rim of the Solfatara. There one can observe an increase in the tremor amplitude. Although it is primarily a fumarolic tremor, which occurs at a depth of less than 1 km and is therefore in the area of the hydrothermal system, it also represents the overall state of the magmatic system of the caldera. The volcanologists see a correlation between changes in the geochemistry of the fluids, the soil deformation with peaks of 60 cm uplift and the fumarolic tremor. Therefore, it is quite possible that the Caldera volcano is slowly preparing for an eruption.

Turkey: Earthquake M 6.8

In the Middle East of Turkey the earth shook with a magnitude of 6.8. The hypocenter was at a depth of 15 km. The epicenter manifested itself 18 km north of the village Çüngü, where about 5500 people live. The earth tremor occurred at 17.55 UCT. Reports on the damage balance are not yet available. However, earthquakes of this magnitude may have caused great damage to the old buildings in the rural area of Anatolia. There were and are aftershocks.

Update 25.01.2020: The fears that there would be far more victims than last night have come true. Meanwhile, the media are reporting at least 21 fatalities and almost 1000 injured. 30 people are still missing and are very likely buried under rubble. The province of Elazig in the district of Sivrice has been particularly badly affected. The quake was practically felt in large parts of Turkey and in neighbouring countries. Even in Israel the earthquake was still felt.

The quake occurred at the East Anatolian Fault Zone. It forms a border between the Anatolian Plate and the Arab Plate. It is one of the most dangerous earthquake zones. Lighter earthquakes are commonplace here. One of the last stronger earthquakes occurred in 2010 and had a magnitude of 6.0.

Taal: Seismic high, SO2 low

The situation on the Taal is still exciting. Yesterday and today the VAAC registered one ash cloud each, whose ascent heights could not be determined. The seismic activity is still high. The Taal network recorded 486 tremors in the last 24 hours. The strongest one had a magnitude of 2.7 and was not noticed by local residents. The seismic activity is probably caused by rising magma. The ground deformations are correspondingly large. Especially in the southwest and north of the caldera there are ground elevations which are probably related to the inflation of magmatic fluids. In the eastern part of the caldera, however, the ground has been sinking.

Sulphur dioxide emissions are disproportionately low, at only 224 tonnes per day. One would expect at least 10 times the current value. Philippine volcanologists speculate about plugs in the production vents that prevent the gas from escaping. However, such plugs would not only block the sulphur dioxide, but also impair the entire gas exchange. The result would be an enormous increase in pressure in the earth’s interior. Alternatively, the soil deformations could not be caused by magma, but by other fluids. Water would be one possibility. This would also be an answer to the question where the disappeared water of Lake Taal has gone: Last week the lake level dropped a few centimetres.

Etna: Summit activity continues

The activity of the volcano Etna on Sicily (Italy) continues and is even worth seeing, as the video below demonstrates. The intracrater cone of Voragine is strombolian active and continues to grow slowly. From a vent on the lower flank of the cone a lava flow is flowing, which splits into 2 arms. They flow into the neighbouring crater Bocca Nuova and form a rare lava fall there.

From the technical point of view the eruption manifests itself in an increased tremor and moderate thermal signals. MIROVA registered radiation with a power of 44 MW. In addition, the INGV thermal imaging camera now shows 2 hot spots in the area of the New South East Crater. It looks as if another vent has become active there.

Taal volcano erupted

On 12 January, the eruption began with phreatic explosions, which then increased rapidly. A violent eruption caused ash clouds to rise into the stratosphere. The eruptions manifested from the main crater of Volcano Island, which is located in the middle of the Taal caldera. The ash not only rained down in the immediate vicinity of the volcano, but even reached the capital Manila. The airport was closed.

In various places, house roofs collapsed, which could not withstand the weight of the ash. The following day, lateral vents opened on the flank of Volcano Island. These generate smaller eruptions. PHILVOLCS also reported short lava flows of highly viscous lava.

The eruption was announced by numerous earthquakes. Their frequency increased in the last weeks and reached peak values of 140 quakes per day. Shortly before the eruption the magnitude of the earthquakes increased and reached M 4.0.

The authorities reacted quickly and ordered evacuations. A 14 km long exclusion zone was established. It largely encloses the Taal Lake, which is located in the caldera.

Translated with (free version)