GeoLog

volcanology

Imaggeo on Mondays: A lava layer cake

Imaggeo on Mondays: A lava layer cake

Brekkuselslækur, a small river, carves its way across Iceland’s ancient volcanic landscape. At Hengifoss, Iceland’s third-highest waterfall, it tumbles fiercely down thick, dark layers of lavas erupted from volcanoes some 18 to 2.58 million years ago, during a period of geological time known as the Tertiary.

Eruptions are rarely continuous; during hiatuses in the extrusion of lavas, ash is able to settle atop the smoldering layers. If the pauses are long enough and the conditions just right (a warm and humid climate is needed) the ashes, through the addition of clay and iron minerals, slowly turn to soil . When new lavas are layered over the top of the ash-rich soils, a chemical reaction takes place between the iron trapped in the soil and the oxygen transported by the lavas, to form iron oxide. In essence, the soils rust and turn a distinctive red colour.

As the process is repeated time and time again, layers of alternating black lavas and red soils are built up to form a giant ‘mille feuilles’ cake.

In the summer months, tourists flock to this popular site. An unspoilt view of the 188m high torrent means an early morning hike to beat the crowds. For a bird’s eye view of Hengifoss, the adventurous can even scarmble to the cliff tops too.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: In the belly of the beast

In the belly of the beast . Credit: Alexandra Kushnir (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Conducting research inside a volcanic crater is a pretty amazing scientific opportunity, but calling that crater home for a week might just be a volcanologist’s dream come true, as Alexandra postdoctoral researcher at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Strasbourg, describes in this week’s Imaggeo on Mondays.

This picture was taken from inside the crater of Mount St Helens, a stratovolcano in Washington State (USA). This particular volcano was made famous by its devastating explosive eruption in 1980, which was triggered by a landslide that removed most of the volcano’s northern flank.

Between 2004 and 2008 Mount St Helens experienced another type of eruption – this time effusive (where lava flowed out of the volcano without any accompanying explosions). Effusive eruptions produce lava flows that can be runny (low-viscosity) like the flows at Kilauea (Hawaii) or much thicker (high viscosity) like at Mount St Helens. Typically, high viscosity lavas can’t travel very far, so they begin to clump up in and around the volcano’s crater forming dome-like structures.  Sometimes, however, the erupting lava can be so rigid that it juts out of the volcano as a column of rock, known as a spine.

The 2004 to 2008 eruption at Mount St Helens saw the extrusion of a series of seven of these spines. At the peak of the eruption, up to 11 meters of rock were extruded per day. As these columns were pushed up and out of the volcanic conduit – the vertical pipe up which magma moves from depth to the surface – they began to roll over, evoking images of whales surfacing for air.

‘Whaleback’ spines are striking examples of exhumed fault surfaces – as these cylinders of rock are pushed out of the volcano their sides grind against the inside of the volcanic conduit in much the same way two sides of a fault zone move and grind past each other. These ground surfaces can provide scientists with a wealth of information about how lava is extruded during eruption. However, spines are generally unstable and tend to collapse after eruption making it difficult to characterize their outer surfaces in detail and, most importantly, safely.

Luckily, Mount St Helens provided an opportunity for a group of researchers to go into a volcanic crater and characterise these fault surfaces. While not all of the spines survived, portions of at least three spines were left intact and could be safely accessed for detailed structural analysis. These spines were encased in fault gouge – an unconsolidated layer of rock that forms when two sides of a fault zone move against one another – that was imprinted with striations running parallel to the direction of extrusion, known as slickensides. These features can give researchers information about how strain is accommodated in the volcanic conduit. The geologist in the photo (Betsy Friedlander, MSc) is measuring the dimensions and orientations of slickensides on the outer carapace of one of the spines; the southern portion of the crater wall can be seen in the background.

Volcanic craters are inherently changeable places and conducting a multi-day field campaign inside one requires a significant amount of planning and the implementation of rigorous safety protocols. But above all else, this type of research campaign requires an acquiescent mountain.

Because a large part of Mount St Helens had been excavated during the 1980 eruption, finding a safe field base inside the crater was possible. Since the 2004-2008 deposits were relatively unstable, the science team set up camp on the more stable 1980-1986 dome away from areas susceptible to rock falls and made the daily trek up the eastern lobe of the Crater Glacier to the 2004-2008 deposits.

Besides being convenient, this route also provides a spectacular tableau of the volcano’s inner structure with its oxidized reds and sulfurous yellows. The punctual peal of rock fall is a reminder of the inherent instability of a volcanic edifice, and the peculiar mix of cold glacier, razor sharp volcanic rock, and hot magmatic steam is otherworldly. That is, until an errant bee shows up to check out your dinner.

By Alexandra Kushnir, postdoctoral researcher at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Strasbourg, France.

This photo was taken in 2010 while A. Kushnir was a Masters student at the University of British Columbia and acting as a field assistant on the Mount St Helens project.

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.

 

Imaggeo on Mondays: Life on bare lava

Life on bare lava

There are plenty of hostile habitats across the globe but some flora and fauna species are resourceful enough to adapt and make extreme environments their home. From heat-loving ants of the Sahara to microbes living in the light-deprived ocean depths, through to beatles who brave the bitterly cold Alaskan winter, there are numerous examples of plants, animals and bugs who strive in environments often considered too challenging to harbour life. In today’s post, brought to you by geomorphologist Katja Laute, we feature Vinagrerilla roja, a plant species adept at making difficult terrains its home.

Vinagrerilla roja (Rumex vesicarius) / the Canary Island bladderdock is one of the most successful endemic plants for colonizing new territory in arid and volcanic areas. The photo was taken on the crater rim of the volcano Montana Bermeja (157 m asl.), located at the northernmost edge of the volcanic island La Graciosa. The island was formed by the Canary hotspot and is today part of the protected Chinijo Archipelago Natural Park which shelters endemic and highly endangered species of the Canary Islands.

The volcano Montana Bermeja is composed of red lapilli (pea to walnut-sized fragments ejected during an eruption) which seems to impede any kind of life. But as the photo shows, the bladderdock is actively growing in this apparently hostile environment. That plant life emerges from such a barren and rough volcanic environment seems almost impossible.

Only very few pioneer species succeed and manage to survive in such harsh environments with little to no soil and under an almost desertic climate. Being located on the northern side of the crater rim enables the bladderdock to capture moisture out of the reoccurring Atlantic winds. As these pioneer species grow, their dead leaves and roots will enrich the soil with organic content providing the base for a chain of ecological succession.

By Katja Laute, researcher at IUEM, Brest, France

If you pre-register for the 2017 General Assembly (Vienna, 22 – 28 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

The best of Imaggeo in 2016: in pictures

The best of Imaggeo in 2016: in pictures

Imaggeo, our open access image repository, is packed with beautiful images showcasing the best of the Earth, space and planetary sciences. Throughout the year we use the photographs submitted to the repository to illustrate our social media and blog posts.

For the past few years we’ve celebrated the end of the year by rounding-up some of the best Imaggeo images. But it’s no easy task to pick which of the featured images are the best! Instead, we turned the job over to you!  We compiled a Facebook album which included all the images we’ve used  as header images across our social media channels and on Imaggeo on Mondays blog post in 2016 an asked you to vote for your favourites.

Today’s blog post rounds-up the best 12 images of Imaggeo in 2016, as chosen by you, our readers.

Of course, these are only a few of the very special images we highlighted in 2016, but take a look at our image repository, Imaggeo, for many other spectacular geo-themed pictures, including the winning images of the 2016 Photo Contest. The competition will be running again this year, so if you’ve got a flare for photography or have managed to capture a unique field work moment, consider uploading your images to Imaggeo and entering the 2017 Photo Contest.

Blue Svartisen . Credit: Kay Helfricht (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

When you think of a glacier the image you likely conjure up in your mind is that of bright white, icy body. So why do some glaciers, like Engabreen, a glacier in Norway, sometimes appear blue? Is it a trick of the light or some other phenomenon which causes this glacier to look so unusual?  You can learn all about it in this October post over on GeoLog.

 

‘There is never enough time to count all the stars that you want.’ . Credit: Vytas Huth (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu). The centre of the Milky Way taken near Krakow am See, Germany. Some of the least light-polluted atmosphere of the northern german lowlands.

Among the winning images of our annual photo contest was a stunning night-sky panorama by Vytas Huth; we aren’t surprised it has been chosen as one of the most popular images of 2016 too. In this post, Vytas describes how he captured the image and how the remote location in Southern Germany is one of the few (in Europe) where it is still possible to, clearly, image the Milk Way.

 

“Above the foggy strip, this white arch was shining, covering one third of the visible sky in the direction of the ship's bow,” he explains. “It was a so-called white, or fog rainbow, which appears on the fog droplets, which are much smaller then rain droplets and cause different optic effects, which is a reason of its white colour.”

Gateway to the Arctic . Credit: Mikhail Varentsov (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

“Above the foggy strip, this white arch was shining, covering one third of the visible sky in the direction of the ship’s bow,” describes Mikhail Varentsov, a climate and meteorology expert from the University of Moscow. “It was a so-called white, or fog rainbow, which appears on the fog droplets, which are much smaller then rain droplets and cause different optic effects, which is a reason of its white colour.” Mikhail captured the white rainbow while aboard the Akademik Tryoshnikov research vessel during its scientific cruise to study the effects of climate change on the Arctic.

 

History. Credit: Florian Fuchs (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The header image, History by Florian Fuchs, we used across our social media channels was popular with our Facebook followers, who chose it as one of the best of this year. The picture features La Tarta del Teide – a stratigraphic section through volcanic deposits of the Teide volcano on Tenerife, Canary Islands.

 

Find a new way . Credit: Wolfgang Fraedrich (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Lavas erupted into river waters, and as a result cooled very quickly, can give rise to fractures in volcanic rocks. They form prismatic structures which can be arranged in all kinds of patterns: horizontally (locally known as the woodpile), slightly arching (the harp) and in a radial configuration known as the rosette. The most common configuration is the ‘organ pile’ where vertical fractures form. These impressive structures are seen in the walls of the Gole dell ‘Alcantara, a system of gorges formed 8,000 years ago in the course of the river Alcantara in eastern Sicily.

 

Home Sweet Home . Credit: André Nuber (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Can you imagine camping atop some of the highest mountains in Europe and waking up to a view of snowcapped peaks, deep valleys and endless blue skies? This paints an idyllic picture; field work definitely takes Earth scientists to some of the most beautiful corners of the planet.

 

Isolated Storm . Credit: Peter Huber (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

In November 2016 we featured this photograph of an isolated thunderstorm in the Weinviertel in April. The view is towards the Lower Carpathian Mountains and Bratislava about 50 kilometers from Vienna. Why do storms and isolated thunderstorms form? Find out in this post.

 

Glacial erratic rocks . Credit: Yuval Sadeh (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

As glaciers move, they accumulate debris underneath their surface. As the vast frozen rivers advance, they carry the debris, which can range from pebble-sized rocks through to house-sized boulders, along with it. As the climate in the Yosemite region began to warm as the ice age came to an end, the glaciers slowly melted. Once all the ice was gone, the rocks and boulders, known as glacial erratics, were left behind.

 

Snow and ash in Iceland . Credit: Daniel Garcia Castellanos (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Icelandic snow-capped peaks are also sprinkled by a light dusting of volcanic ash in this photograph. Dive into this March 2016 post to find out the source of the ash and more detail about the striking peak.

 

Living Flows . Credit: Marc Girons Lopez (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

There are handful true wildernesses left on the planet. Only a few, far flung corners, of the globe remain truly remote and unspoilt. To explore and experience untouched landscapes you might find yourself making the journey to the dunes in Sossuvlei in Namibia, or to the salty plain of the Salar Uyuni in Bolivia. But it’s not necessary to travel so far to discover an area where humans have, so far, left little mark. One of the last wilds is right here in Europe, in the northern territories of Sweden. This spectacular photograph of the Laitaure Delta is brought to you by Marc Girons Lopez, one of the winners of the 2016 edition of the EGU’s Photo Contest!

 


The power of ice. Credit: Romain Schläppy, (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

The January 2016 header image across our social media was The Power of Ice, by Romain Schlappy. This vivid picture was captured from a helicopter by Romain Schläppy during a field trip in September 2011. You can learn more about this image by reading a previous imaggeo on mondays post.

 

Sea of Clouds over Uummannaq Fjord. Credit: Tun Jan Young (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The current header image, Sea of Clouds over Uummannaq Fjord by Tun Jan Young, is also a hit with our followers and the final most popular image from Imaggeo in 2016. A sudden change of pressure system caused clouds to form on the surface of the Uummannaq Fjord, Northwestern Greenland, shrouding the environment in mystery.

 

If you pre-register for the 2017 General Assembly (Vienna, 22 – 28 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

 

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