Heating up in Honshu

Ontakesan, the second-tallest mountain in Japan, is clearing its throat.

This is possibly the most frightening video I’ve ever seen. If there had been fresh hot lava erupted, the ash cloud would have instantly incinerated the videographer and everyone with him.

A less-terrifying video of the mountain:

There’s a webcam here.

Update: vulcanologist Erik Klemetti comments.


Sinabung, a volcano in Sumatra disconcertingly close to Lake Toba, has been erupting spasmodically since September. Above is a time-lapse video of pyroclastic flows there, the same phenomena that destroyed Pompeii and St. Pierre.

You can watch the eruption here during daylight hours in Sumatra. When visibility is good, you probably won’t have to wait long for a pyroclastic flow. See Eruptions and Volcano Café for updates and more information on Sinabung.

800 tons of mercury

Just another weekend at Mt. Etna.

Man-made vs. natural disasters:

During the last year or so I have had reason to study Sweden’s largest environmental disaster, the Nautanen Mining field. The Nautanen mines where active from 1902 until 1909 and in comparison to other Swedish mines the Nautanen field is puny. Still it releases more heavy metals into the surrounding waters than all other Swedish mines, historic and present, put together. It is estimated that if Nautanen is left without any measures taken somewhere in the range of 50 to 100 tons of heavy metals (mainly copper) will be released into the surrounding waters….

Let us go through what was released during [Pinatubo’s] VEI-6 eruption. While reading the numbers keep in mind the Nautanen maximum figure of 100 tons of heavy metals. Pinatubo produced 800 000 tons of zinc, 600 000 tons of copper, 550 000 tons of chromium, 300 000 tons of nickel, 100 000 tons of lead, 10 000 tons of arsenic, 1 000 tons of cadmium and 800 tons of mercury. All of it in the form of ash that was spread not only locally in layers tens of meters thick, it was also dispersed across the globe.

The concentration of heavy metals is so high that it causes birth defects, cancer, neurological disorders, liver and renal failure, heart and lung deceases and the list just goes on and on. It has been estimated that Pinatubo has shortened the lifespan on the island of Luzon by as much as a decade. That equates to 7 000 000 people in mortality if we recount the lost life years into average human life expectancy in the Philippines.

Mt. Doom in the news

New Zealand’s Tongariro, where parts of The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, erupted briefly yesterday. ((Some accounts state that this is its first eruption in over a century. That’s not strictly accurate. The particular crater might not have been active since the 19th century, but other vents in the Tongariro complex, which includes the photogenic Ngauruhoe, have erupted as recently as 1977.)) About two inches of ash are said to have fallen three miles from the volcano. There are no reports of damage or injuries. Things are currently quiet, but that can change rapidly.

Coincidentally, White Island had a small eruption a couple of days earlier. Like Tongariro, White Island is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. It has been quiet, and a tourist attraction, for about a decade.

Update: Further information about Tongariro. There’s also more information at Volcano Café on Tongariro and White Island.

Hot times in Hokkaido

Tokachi has roused itself from its nap. Its eruptions are usually “mild-to-moderate,” and I’d be more concerned with what El Hierro is going to do next, but any erupting volcano presents dangers. There are pictures and videos here, ((Update: as far as I can tell from the Giggle translation, the pictures are from five years ago.)) and a webcam here (the fourth on the list).

At the southwest end of Japan on Kyushu, Sakurajima remains its usual explosive self. If your local authorities forbid fireworks Wednesday because of fire danger, you can always watch the show here and here (fifth from the bottom).

Update: Since I grabbed the screencap of Tokachi, I haven’t seen any incandescence in the webcam, and there might not be anything of significance going on, after all. It’s not mentioned in the Japan Meteorological Agency’s list of warnings. You might want to keep an eye on Popocatéptl, instead.

Tonight and tomorrow

In case there is anyone reading who has just logged online after spending the past ten years in suspended animation: Venus will be passing in front of the sun, starting any minute now. There’s plenty of information about the transit here, including links to numerous live streams. You can also follow the event on the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the Katmai/Novarupta eruption, probably the most violent event on earth in the 20th century. I don’t have time to write about it, but I expect there will be commemorative posts at volcano blogs such as Eruptions. Update: ~5,300 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers per hour.

Update: Open the APOD image in another window to see it at full size, 4096 pixels square.

Historical notes

32 years ago today, Mt. St. Helens exploded. Stupendous though it was, it was scarecely more than a hiccup compared to the Katmai/Novarupta eruption of 1912 in Alaska, which has fascinated me ever since I came across an article on the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in a 1918 National Geographic. In anticipation of its centennial next month, the U.S. Geological Survey has published a paper about the eruption and the history of research on it, which can be downloaded here.

Also free to download: Alaska Park Science Journal, Volume 11 Issue 1: Katmai Scientific Studies


A friend forwarded this picture to me. This is the note that accompanied it:

The 120° panoramic image (and its crop) you see above is titled “Daguerreotype View of Cincinnati” and was captured in 1848 by Porter and Fontayne from Newport, Kentucky. It was created with eight full-plate daguerreotypes and shows a two mile stretch of the Cincinatti waterfront. Codex 99 writes,

The panorama is not only the first photograph of the Cincinnati waterfront but the earliest surviving photo of any American city. It is also the earliest image of inland steamboats, of a railroad terminal and of freed slaves. It may very well be one of the most important American photographs ever taken.

Politics, grammar and velcro

A few recently-spotted items worth quoting:

Being politically correct does not trump being grammatically correct…please fix.

Dr. J’s Gothic Literature teacher

But these days the wages of sin is boredom.

Res Studiorum et Ludorum

Well, I could argue that a proper understanding of punk and its inherent rebellion would have everyone becoming a libertarian or principled conservative …

Mollie Hemingway (in the comments)

The last is from a thread about the “Weirdest Band You Love.” It’s hard to pick the strangest of my many musical enthusiasms, but the Sons of Rayon might be the most obscure. The inventors of velco tap dancing (fiddler/guitarist Kelly Werts glued velcro hooks on the soles and heels of his shoes and danced on a patch of tightly-woven carpet, which was miced, creating sound when his feet left the platform), the Bill Monroe-meets-Robert Fripp trio was active in Wichita for several years around 1980. They released one cassette, No Velcro, which was one of the first items I digitized when I hooked up my computer to the stereo. Here is perhaps their loveliest song, written and sung by banjoist Paul Elwood and featuring Intergalactic Yodeling Champion Randy Erwin, “UFOs Over New Zealand.”

[audio:http://tancos.net/audio/UFOs Over New Zealand.mp3]

Continue reading “Politics, grammar and velcro”

Historical documents

My friend Richard has been following anime since the mid-1980s, when he was stationed in Okinawa. This past weekend he brought by a box of a magazines, many 20 years old or older. Most of them are Japanese-only, and I can’t read a word. However, I can look at the pictures, and there are lots of pictures.

Continue reading “Historical documents”

Hot stuff in Sicily

Etna is doing her thing again. You can watch the show though numerous webcams, such as this or those here. You can listen to the explosions here as well as see them when the camera is working and the server isn’t overburdened.

Update: the show is over. You can see pictures here and some videos of the eruption here. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see a cheesy Italian commercial.