Tag Archives: volcanic eruption

This Is What An Erupting Volcano Looks Like from the Space Station (GIF)

On June 12, 2009, the International Space Station’s orbit happened to take it over the Kuril Islands (northeast Japan).

The Kuril Islands were built by volcanic activity and still have active volcanoes. The most active is Sarychev Peak, located on the northwestern end of Matua Island.

Although Sarychev Peak hadn’t erupted since 1989, it was somewhat overdue for one, considering it had previously erupted in 1986, 1976, 1954, and 1946.

By a stroke of luck, the ISS was flying overhead when Sarychev Peak was in the early stages of its eruption on that June day in 2009, and captured a series of amazing images which were converted into the incredible GIF below:

The images (which you can view frame by frame courtesy of NASA here) are remarkable for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there was little to no shearing wind to spread and disperse the ash plume, so the ISS was able to capture crucial features of the eruption, like the pyroclastic flow at the base.

Click to enlarge

The small white cloud at the top of the ash plume is known as a pileus cloud. It was formed as the eruption rapidly pushed the moist air above the island upwards with the plume. As this moist air is pushed upwards, it cools and condenses, forming a cloud. When a pileus cloud in above an eruption or explosion, it’s called an “ice cap”.

One of the coolest features of these images has actually caused a bit of controversy in the science world. If you look around the edges of the images, you will see that the ash plume is emerging from a large circular opening in the clouds.

When the photo was originally published, NASA postulated that the hole was “punched” through the clouds by the upward shockwave of the eruption. But this explanation sparked a debate between meteorologists, geoscientists, and volcanologists who viewed the images. SInce then, two other possible theories have been proposed.

One is that the hole has nothing to do with the eruption at all. In areas where islands are surrounded by oceans with cool surface temperature, it is very common for sheets of clouds to form and drift along with the low-level winds.

When these clouds drift over an island, the moist air closer to the surface is pushed up by the island. Since the air above the marine layer (where the clouds form) is dryer and warmer than the air over the water, the portion of the cloud over the island evaporates, leaving a hole.

Though it looks similar, this type of hole-punch cloud is created when supercooled water droplets (water that is below the freezing point but still in liquid form) in the cloud suddenly separate out into ice crystals and vapor, which quickly evaporates leaving behind a hole. Click to enlarge

The final theory is that as the ash plume rises, the air above it flows down its sides, like water flowing off the back of a surfacing whale. As this air falls, it tends to warm, which could also cause an evaporation of the clouds around the volcano plume.

Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree that watching a volcano erupt from space is a truly mesmerizing site.

Check out the original post from NASA’s Earth Observatory here.

The Volcano That Erupts With Blue Lava and The Brave Men Who Mine It (Pictures and Video)

The Kawah Ijen Volcano is unlike any other volcano you have ever seen. The mountain contains high levels of pure sulfur, which burns a bright blue-violet color when the volcano erupts.

The blue lava is extremely toxic, and reaches temperatures upwards of 239° F. Also, plumes of sulfur flames can rise up to 16 feet high. Despite the grave risks, many local men make a living by trekking up the mountain to mine sulfur from the volcano’s crater, carrying it out by hand.

The miners’ average loads are usually between 180-200 lbs of sulfur. The sulfur they collect only sells for about 2.5 cents per pound, so most of the men make the trip twice every 24 hours.

Recently French photographer Olivier Grunewald traveled to the Kawah Ijen Volcano to capture the beautiful yet frightening spectacle. Check out more of his pictures below (click an image to enlarge):

Grunewald also recently teamed up with Régis Etienne, the president of Geneva’s Society of Volcanology, to produce a documentary on the mountain and the men who mine it. Watch the trailer below (the narration is in French but the images are still spectacular).