When headlines go wrong (for the Grimsvotn update for 11/4/2010)
I write the Eruptions blog on Big Think. I've been mesmerized with volcanoes (and geology) all my life. It helps that part of my family comes from the shadow of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, where I could see first hand the deadly effects of volcanic eruptions. Since then, I've taken a bit of a winding path to become a volcanologist. I started as a history major at Williams College, almost went into radio, but ended up migrating to geology, including an undergraduate thesis on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. I followed this up by changing coast to get my Ph.D. from Oregon State University. Then I ran a MC-ICP-MS lab at University of Washington for a spell (and wrote for an indie rock website). I spent three years as a postdoctoral scholar at University of California - Davis studying the inner workings of magmatic systems. I am now an assistant professor at Denison University and have projects in New Zealand, Chile and Oregon.
I am fascinated by volcanoes, their eruptions and how those eruptions interact with the people who live around the volcanoes. I started this blog after getting frustrated with the news reports of volcanic eruptions. Most of them get the information wrong and/or are just sensationalistic. I will try to summarize eruptions as they occur, translate some of the volcanic processes that are happening and comment on the reports themselves.
And no matter what people tell you, I definitely do not have a cat named Tephra. (OK, I do).
You can find out more about my research by visiting my website. If you have any comments, questions or information, feel free to contact me at eruptionsblog at gmail dot com.
One of the biggest problems I find in the coverage of geologic events in the media is the relationship between cause and effect. Many times the confusion of what factors can bring about a geologic event and the signals that tell us that the event may occur is based on poor wording, but it can propagate into the general public who get their information from these articles.
A great example of this is the current situation at Grímsvötn in Iceland. The latest headline from the Press Association is "Melting ice could trigger eruption." Now, I read this and think that the melted ice (water) will cause the volcano to start erupting, in other words, it is merely the presence/lack of water that controls whether the volcano erupts. However, the presence of this melt water likely suggests that magma is close to the surface and, of course, that is what will cause any eruption to occur. The only role water might play is any explosions that could be caused by flash-boiling of the meltwater - a phreatic or phreatomagmatic event. The meltwater that is being released from Grímsvötn is a result of magma intrusion, but an independent event that will cause the volcano to erupt.
Of course, with the events at Eyjafjallajökull earlier this year, many media outlets are trying to imply that Grímsvötn will wreak the same chaos to air travel, which is likely not the case. Although the volcanoes are similar, by merely looking at back the history of eruptions at Grímsvötn, we know that there weren't major air travel disruptions during the volcano's 1984, 1998 or 2004 eruptions, so to assume that the 2010 would cause such disruption has no real basis in fact. Of course, the media does love fear-mongering without the science to support their doom prognostications, so I suppose this is no surprise.
The floodwaters are waning at the volcano, which might suggest that the melting event is also slowing down - and there are no other indications that an eruption is starting, however there are still signs that an eruption could occur in the near future (although that might mean in the next few weeks, months or year). If you want to see all the details of the Grímsvötn Jokulklaup in all its hydrologic glory, check out the post from the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
Top left: The 2004 crater area on Grímsvötn in an image by Craig Miller.
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