Could volcanic activity be increasing?

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Since early May, volcanic eruptions have been making headlines across the globe. In early May, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted more extensively, resulting in the destruction of over 600 homes. This disaster may be the most costly and destructive in U.S. history. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, there has been enough lava expelled from the volcano to fill 45,400 Olympic-sized pools and cover New York’s Manhattan around 6.5 feet deep.

The lava from Kilauea is over 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit and has been entering the ocean and forming new land. The interaction between the lava and seawater creates a white plume called “laze.” By the way, the temperature to melt steel is 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mostly recently, on June 3, the Fuego volcano in Guatemala suddenly erupted. Area towns were engulfed in thick and heavy ash as well as hot gases as the explosion sent ash as high as nearly 20,000 feet in the atmosphere. More than 100 people were killed from fast-moving mixtures of hot gases and volcanic matter called pyroclastic flows that were rushing down the sides of the volcano. These flows are more common with explosive-type eruptions, not like the one in Hawaii.

According to Dr. Janine Kripper, a volcanologist at Concord University, there are about 20 volcanoes that will erupt every day. Currently, there are approximately 33 erupting volcanoes across the planet. The U.S. Geologic Survey says there are around 1,500 potentially active volcanoes, not including the ones on the ocean floor.

With these eruptions happening so close together, many are wondering if they are related or if volcanic activity is suddenly increasing. Most scientists and volcanologists say that this period of activity is “normal.” Thanks to the internet and other forms of media, more information is available, and much faster. This could give the impression that volcanic activity is rising, when, according to scientists, it is not.

The Fuego volcano in Guatemala is on the edge of the so-called “Ring of Fire,” a horseshow-shaped zone of tectonic plates that collide and create explosive-type volcanoes. Volcanoes in the western U.S., including Mount St. Helens, are also part of the Ring of Fire. In Hawaii, Kilauea is over a “hot spot,” a large region of molten rock that moves to the surface.

Predicting a major volcanic eruption has not quite become a reality, but much progress has been made. It seems that eruptions tend to come in bunches, as may be the case with the current eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala. Many explosions are often preceded by earthquakes, a swelling of the ground, the formation of cracks and the release of gases. There are also thermal infrared sensors in satellites to help detect the hot spots. Also, regions of warmer than normal sea-surface temperatures may also suggest a substantial increase in underwater volcanic activity that may eventually lead to another El Nino, the warmer than normal sea-surface temperature event.

There has been concern over the huge supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park that had a massive eruption around 640,000 years ago. It’s estimated that Yellowstone’s explosion was 2,000 times bigger than Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980. Although a huge eruption there would throw the Earth into a nuclear winter almost immediately, a major explosion is not expected for at least thousands of years, but who knows for sure.

Recently, a team from Washington State University and the University of Idaho have discovered a new way to estimate on how fast magma is recharging beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano. Researches actually “spiked” several hot springs in the region with a form of hydrogen called deuterium. Calculating the temperature of hot springs and length of time it took for the concentrations of deuterium to return to normal levels, scientists were able to determine the amount of heat flowing through the springs. They discovered that levels were a little higher than expected.

Also, Yellowstone’s largest geyser, Steamboat, has erupted for the eighth time since March. The last time this geyser erupted was in 2014 and its explosions in previous years were considered to be infrequent.

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As far as our local weather is concerned, after the moisture this weekend, conditions are looking pretty good this week with partly cloudy skies and pleasant afternoon temperatures.

Some showers and a few thunderstorms are possible toward the middle of the month, but most of the activity is expected to be over the mountains. However, it appears we’re getting into that drier than normal weather pattern for the late spring and summer season. Cliff and I still believe that the summer of 2018 will still be drier than normal, but not as dry as last year when we had those long stretches without moisture.

If sea-surface temperatures remain the same and our weather patterns keep evolving like we think they are going to, then rainfall should start to pick up again by late summer or fall to above normal levels once again.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.

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