Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eruptions Rock the Globe…Again and Again and Again

Science is an on-going story, an on-going quest. That’s a theme that I explore in all my science books.  But the Earth itself has been making the point for me since the release of my book Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives
Mount Pinatubo erupts in 1991.
Eruption! tells the story of a small group of volcanologists who help locals predict dangerous volcanic activity so officials can get people out of harm’s way. The eruptions I describe in Colombia, the Philippines, and Mount Merapi in Indonesia are dramatic and might seem extreme but they are far from it.  Since Eruption! came out in June, volcanoes have been erupting all across the globe, testing scientists and endangering lives. Here is a sampling:

In July, 200 people were evacuated when Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano shot a plume of hot ash, gas and rocks eight miles into the sky.

In the same month, residents of Mexico City woke to find a layer of volcanic ash spread across town from Popocatepetl. Residents were warned to cover water supplies, use face masks and stay indoors. The volcano has been emitting steam and gas intermittently ever since.

Colima, in Western Mexico, experienced some lava flows in July, but in November, activity has ramped up. On November 22, the volcano began exploding every half hour with plumes reaching almost a mile into the sky.

In August, Japan’s Mount Sakurajima shot an ash plume three miles high over the city of Kagoshima (population 600,000), darkening the sky and forcing locals to employ umbrellas, raincoats, and masks to shield themselves from falling debris.

Also in August, nearly 3,000 people were evacuated from Palue Island when Mount Rokatenda in Indonesia erupted, spewing plumes of white and gray smoke and ash. Five people were killed in the evacuation zone when red-hot ash seared a beach.

Mount Merapi, which I cover extensively in the book, has been keeping VDAP and their colleagues busy. In September a volcano observer noted hot glowing material and a hissing sound at the crater. Then on November 18, the volcano rumbled and shot ash and gases more than a mile in the air, which poured down on villages as far as 18 miles away. The volcano shot steam on Sunday Dec 1, but scientist are particularly worried about the recent growth of a large crack in the lava dome, which raises the risk that the dome could collapse, causing an avalanche or dangerous flow of searing hot ash and gases called a pyroclastic flow.

Mount Merapi erupts in 2010.
 Another volcano in Indonesia has been even more threatening.  In September a flurry of eruptions at Mount Sinabung chased 10,000 people from their homes. The volcano settled down for a little while and people returned to their villages.  But Sinabung is back at it again, with strong explosions in early November gaining intensity in mid- November. The volcano erupted eight times on November 24 and more than 18,000 people have been evacuated from a 3-mile radius around the volcano. Though the volcano has thrown coin-sized volcanic rocks, some residents have been returning to their farms from evacuation shelters during the day to check on livestock.

The story of the human quest to understand volcanoes and protect ourselves from them continues.  To me, this means that teachers across the country have many opportunities to share this on-going quest with students. When a volcanic eruption is in the news, teachers could share Eruption! with students so they can learn more about the geologic processes behind the activity and the exciting science done in the field to better understand volcanoes and protect people from their dangerous power. Likewise, after students have read the book, teachers can connect students to recent eruptions. Since the Common Core asks students to look at topics across a variety of media, teacher could send students to these amazing websites:

Earthweek (http://www.earthweek.com/volccat.php), which has a page dedicated to current volcanic eruptions.

Volcano Discovery (http://www.volcanodiscovery.com/volcanoes.html) where students can see a map of recent eruptions, a log of recent volcanic activity around the world, thorough descriptions of ongoing eruptions, and even webcams at active volcanoes.

Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program (http://www.volcano.si.edu/) gives weekly updates of volcanic activity around the world and an amazing searchable database of recent and historic eruptions.

Teachers could even ask students to use their research on an active volcano to write another exciting chapter of Eruption! After all, science is an on-going story. By no means do I have the last word.

Elizabeth Rusch

Teaching resources for Eruption!, including a half-page Common Core guide, are available at: http://elizabethrusch.com/ForYou/ForTeachers.aspx


Vicki Cobb said...

Liz has written a terrific book. I wrote a post about it recently for my blog on Huff Post:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vicki-cobb/a-volcanic-eruption-can-l_b_4319304.html

This led to a response from Dr. Glenn Johnson, a leading American geoscientist, living in Manila, who is involved with the production of a series of documentary films by Dan Molina called Geology Alive! Apparently the educational philosophy in my post and Liz's book resonated with their own problem of trying to educate the public about volcanos. The string of emails in my mailbox has continued and the copy list appears to be the elite group of scientists and others who cope with the ongoing problems faced by people who live near volcanoes. The fascination of children for any threat to life, as long as it's from a safe distance, is a way into learning--the mission I'm committed to. But for the people who live in the environs of the many active volcanoes around the ring of fire it's a matter of life and death. Our missions appear to be in complete alignment.

Gretchen Woelfle said...

Volcanoes are awesome! I climbed Mt. Etna in Sicily in October and four weeks later it began rumbling and exploding. The earth is alive! http://www.ct.ingv.it/en/