Fun with a fresh bomb at Erebus volcano

This past field season (winter 2013), Erebus volcano was churning out more volcanic bombs than usual. The very lucky field team even got to play with some freshly erupted ones and watch the still molten insides flowing! These bombs can be anywhere from the size you see in the video below to the size of a garage. They are phonolite in composition and come straight from Erebus’s phonolitic lava lake that sits in the summit crater. Generally, the farthest the bombs fly is about 1 km from the crater.

Posted in Fieldwork, Mt. Erebus | Leave a comment

Live Lava Lake Imagery from Erebus Volcano

Now that the team is settled in at the Lower Erebus Hut, the live webcams are streaming again. Below are two views, one visible image of the volcano’s summit as viewed from the hut and one infrared image of the lava lake itself from a camera perched up at the rim. These feeds are also available at the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory website.

Refresh this page for new images.

Erebus volcano as viewed from Lower Erebus Hut:

Erebus lava lake in the infrared:

Stare at these long enough and you might just see an eruption!

Posted in Fieldwork, Mt. Erebus | Leave a comment

Icy Weather and Our Longest Dataset Yet from Erebus Volcano

The southernmost active volcano in the world tends to get a bit icy over the winter. Volcanology team G-081 arrived at the observatory hut on the side of Erebus volcano one week ago, and they found that what would become their home for the next several weeks had been totally covered in ice over the Antarctic winter!

Icicles had taken over the hut while it was unoccupied over the long, dark Antarctic winter

Just getting up to the hut proved a challenge this season. Nial sent us this update when he had secured internet access:

Well we finally made it up on to Erebus after having our helicopter flight cancelled a couple of times. We flew straight in to the Lower Erebus Hut (which is our main camp on the volcano), pulled all the snowmobiles out of the garage and drove them down to Fang (which is our acclimatisation camp). Starting snowmobiles in a confined space at high altitude is not a very good idea it turns out, and we all ended up with bad headaches. Still, after two days of lying around at Fang camp (the weather was rubbish so we basically just stayed in bed for two days) everyone had acclimatised pretty well and we drove back up to the hut again. The snow conditions are awful for driving this year with huge sastrugi (hard packed snow drifts) everywhere.

The team had a brief weather window after they arrived at the hut, which was just enough to set up tents and clear all the accumulated snow out of the hut, and then the wind picked up to 40 knots and the temperature dropped to -30 and below. The weather has been pretty bad ever since, with low temperatures and very high winds.

Home sweet home for the next several weeks

What about the camera?
If you’ve been following recent posts, you may be as anxious as we were to hear about the fate of Nial’s thermal camera, which was perched atop the Erebus crater all winter long with the hopes that we would have the first ever over-winter data set from Erebus. Nial gave us the scoop.

We had a few hours of good weather the other day, so Clive and I went up to the crater rim to assess the damage. The camera was not running….which was not too much of a surprise since the power had never come back on. All the batteries at the power generation site had exploded over the winter, not quite sure why yet but hopefully we can fix the problem before we leave. Anyway, even if the power had come back on the camera would not have. It looks like there were some crazy winds at the summit this year – the tripod mount for the camera (which is a 5mm stainless steel bar) had been bent out of shape, allowing the camera to be rotated around by the wind. This broke the power cable to it and meant that it wasn’t pointing at the lake anyway! It wasn’t all bad news though, the camera had worked perfectly up until the power went off (in late April) so we have over 3 million lovely images of the lake (which is more than all the other field seasons put together), and when I restored power to it it started up fine. The lava lake looks much the same as ever, a bit bigger than last year perhaps. There are a few fresh bombs around the summit, but we haven’t witnessed any big explosions yet.

Nial’s infrared camera at the rim, not really pointed toward the lava lake…

Posted in Fieldwork, Mt. Erebus | Leave a comment

Update from the Ice: Preparing for Erebus

Nial and the rest of the G-081 team are “on the ice” at McMurdo base, Antarctica patiently awaiting a helicopter flight up to the camp on Erebus volcano. Bad weather and an early Thanksgiving celebration on the base have kept the helicopters grounded and the crew stuck in town. Another attempt is scheduled for this evening. in the meantime, Nial sent over some pictures taken close to the nearby New Zealand Scott Base.

“Last night we drove over to Scott base (which is the New Zealand base just over the hill from McMurdo) and took a hike out in the pressure ridges. These are the “wrinkles” in the sea ice formed where the sea ice meets the Ross ice shelf. So it’s a combination of big ice towers, and depressions flooded with sea water. The weather had finally started to clear and it was really beautiful (a few photos attached – they don’t really do it justice though). There were lots of seals out on the ice too which were fun to watch…..well actually they don’t really do much, just lie in the sun. I think I would make a good seal.”

That's Erebus volcano in the background, rising 3,974 meters above the sea ice.
That’s Erebus volcano in the background, rising 3,974 meters above the sea ice.

Posted in Fieldwork, Mt. Erebus | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Erebus Field Season is Officially a GO: The Team is Off to the Ice

It was touch and go for the Erebus crew this year. Canceled, uncanceled, canceled again, and now, finally, the field season is a go for team G-081 heading to Erebus volcano, Antarctica. Access to Erebus is through the largest base in Antarctica, McMurdo, which is run by the Americans. Our Cambridge crew get to the volcano via a collaboration with New Mexico Tech located in Soccorro, NM, USA. They’re funded by the National Science Foundation. The US government shut down meant that this year’s field season almost didn’t happen. At one point, the NSF even issued a press release claiming the Erebus work had been shelved. Finally, after much confusion, our team got word that they were clear to head for the ice and up to the camp on Erebus.


Did Our Camera Survive the Harsh Antarctic Winter?
Volcanofile Nial Peters has been on pins and needles all southern hemisphere winter — he left an infrared camera perched atop the rim of Erebus, pointing at the lava lake that sits in the Erebus crater. Details of the specially designed camera system are in a paper now open for discussion in the journal Geoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems. The crew left the camera with the hopes that it would survive through the entire winter season. If so, we’d have the longest data set from Erebus ever. The camera’s power system was registered as working for some months after last year’s field season was over, until one day it stopped. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean the camera stopped running.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” says Nial. “We know the power lasted for as long as it normally does. The power stopped when the sun went down”. Solar power is a main source of energy for the systems at Erebus, which is fine during the 24-hour-a-day sun in the summer months. In the winter, power systems rely on wind turbines. The timing of the shut down, Nial explains, indicates that the wind turbines may be damaged. We haven’t seen the power return since it switched off, but that could indicate a number of things. It could be that the power came back on but that the telemetry, which tells us if we have power, never returned. If that’s the case, the camera could still be running, but we won’t know until we go and have a look ourselves. There is also a seismometer attached to the telemetry system. If that’s damaged, it could simply be a case of the seismometer not registering any voltage even if the system is running fine. Again, we won’t know what happened until someone goes up to have a look.

Nial Peters with his thermal camera system at the summit of Erebus.

Nial Peters with his thermal camera system at the summit of Erebus.

Erebus Activity Revving Up?
While we were all worrying about whether the Erebus season would be canceled this year, Erebus decided to put on a nice show for us via the our seismic stations. It looks as though the volcano may have entered a highly active phase, and it may even be throwing out volcanic bombs generated by explosive volcanic eruptions from the lake. Seismic data streaming in from Erebus kept us all on our toes. But, again, we won’t know exactly what’s been going on until the team get there and have a look for themselves.

Another explosive day at Erebus. The small earthquakes are the result of explosive eruptions. The eruption near the bottom of the chart is one of the largest seen in October. The large teleseism is the magnitude 7.3 quake off the coast of Honshu, Japan.

Another explosive day at Erebus. The small earthquakes are the result of explosive eruptions. The eruption near the bottom of the chart is one of the largest seen in October. The large teleseism is the magnitude 7.3 quake off the coast of Honshu, Japan.

An exciting season lined up…
In addition to all the exciting science that happens on Erebus each year, this year promises to be an exciting one. With the activity gearing up and the possibility of our first winter data set from the volcano, there’s a lot to look forward to! Watch this space for updates from the field!

Posted in Fieldwork, Mt. Erebus | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Epic Journey to Paektu volcano, North Korea: Or, How to Service a Seismometer in -12 °C

Just two months ago this August, Volcanofile Kayla ventured along with volcanologist (and Volcanofile PhD supervisor) Dr. Clive Oppenheimer and seismologist Dr. James Hammond to a remote volcano that straddles the North Korea-China political border.

Peering into the caldera of Mt. Paektu this August (photo credit: Kayla Iacovino/The Volcanofiles)

The gigantic 7 km-wide caldera that hosts a deep Lake Chon was created about a century ago in one of the largest volcanic eruptions to occur on Earth in the last 2,000 years. A few years ago, the volcano started acting up after decades of quiescence. It awoke with a seismic crisis that lasted from 2002-2005. The new rumblings caused anxiety in the region, since little was known about the slumbering giant Paektu.

So, the Mount Paektu Geoscientific Experiment, a UK-US-DPRK collaboration, was born, and after two years of bureaucracy, the international team made it to the DPRK along with a set of seismometers and empty sample bags. The trip was a great success, thanks to extensive support from North Korean scientists and officials. Not too long after the team’s return, however, it was discovered that some of the seismometers were acting up.

“We only have these seismometers for a year,” says Kayla Iacovino, Volcanofile and PhD student working at Paektu, “so, it’s imperative that we get as much data as possible from all of the stations.” Just this month, seismologist James Hammond set off on an epic adventure to service those stations. Why so epic? Paektu, while temperate and quite agreeable in August, is known for some of the most extreme weather on Earth. What was a picturesque, lush area in summer quickly became a white, frozen mountain peak only passable with the right gear.

James Hammond’s view of the Paektu crater covered in fresh October snow (photo credit: James Hammond)

“I am back in Pyongyang after a trip that can only be described as epic,” Hammond wrote in an email to his UK-based team. “It was very challenging both physically and mentally, but the good news is that all our stations are now working.”

(photo credit: James Hammond)

The project was made possible with help from AAAS, the Royal Society in London, the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP), and Pyongyang International Information of New Technology and Economy Center (PIINTEC), a DPRK non-governmental and non-profit organization that organizes international exchanges and cooperation.

Follow the team on twitter:
James Hammond @joshammond
Kayla Iacovino @kaylai
Clive Oppenheimer @ultraplinian
The Volcanofiles @TheVolcanofiles

Posted in Fieldwork, Paektu | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching Tools – Tectonic landscapes: Volcanic research at a subduction zone

After the Volcanofiles 2012 Chile Expedition, supported by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), we teamed up with GCSE Principal Examiner Martin Parham who took our experiences — photos, data, anecdotes — and turned them into useful teaching tools. As part of the RGS From the Field Programme, Martin created three lessons:

  1. A case study of active volcanism in Chile.
  2. Data analysis using some of the data we collected in the field with UV spectrometers.
  3. And, a practical task using a KML file of a walking transect at Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano.

The full lesson, with introduction and all downloadable materials, is available at the From the Field Programme website. As the website states:

This will be of particular interest to A-Level students studying Tectonic Activity, but is also a valuable resource for all students interested in understanding the activity of different volcanoes and how researchers collect data from the field.

Posted in Chile, Fieldwork | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memorial talk at IAVCEI 2013: Kelby Hicks

It’s now less than one week until one of the biggest volcanology conferences on Earth – the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI). It only happens once every four years, and it always takes place in a volcanolgically interesting place. This year, the conference will be held in Kagoshima, Japan. Over 1,000 volcanologists are slated to present orals and posters. Among them are a few of the Volcanofiles, including our recently departed Kelby Hicks. To honor his work and his memory, Kayla Iacovino will be presenting his talk, entitled “Volcano monitoring using ultraviolet cameras: Two case studies from Volcán de Colima, México and Volcán Villarrica, Chile”. The session will be light on science (Kayla’s no expert in UV cameras), but will showcase the work that Kelby was so proud of up until the day he died on Volcán Colima. Anyone who would like to attend is of course welcome.

Kelby Hicks oral presentation: (given by Kayla Iacovino) Volcano monitoring using ultraviolet cameras: Two case studies from Volcán de Colima, México and Volcán Villarrica, Chile
Session 2C. High-level volcano monitoring and data interpretation
O16, Wed July 24th, 15:00

Kelby hard at work on the UV camera at Villarrica volcano last season.


Come listen to the rest of the Volcanofiles present their research throughout the week:

20th – 24th July, 2013
Kagoshima, Japan

Kayla Iacovino oral presentation: Experimental constraints on the storage conditions and evolution of alkaline lavas at Erebus volcano, Antarctica: A case for CO2-dominated volcanism.
Session 1C. Generation, transportation, and emplacement of magma in continental crust
O12, Sun July 21st, 15:00

Tehnuka Ilanko oral presentation: Degassing of Erebus lava lake, Antarctica
Session 2I. Open system volcanoes
O12, Wed July 24th, 10:45

Yves Moussallam oral presentation: The redox state of volcanic gases: a reflection of magma depth.
Session 2G. Volatile tracking of magma degassing processes and volcanic eruptions
O17, Tue July 23rd, 15:00

Yves Moussallam oral presentation: Zonation in anorthoclase feldspar megacrystals reveals dynamics of the magma
conduit feeding the lava lake at Erebus volcano, Antarctica.

Session 2I. Open system volcanoes
O2, Wed July 24th, 8:45

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is the Kilauea lava lake less dense than water?

According to a new study, the answer is yes. In a paper published this week in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, lead author Daniel Carbone says that, based on gravity measurements in the lava lake at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, they’ve worked out that the bulk density of the stuff in the lava lake (that includes lava, dissolved volatiles, and gas) is an astonishingly low 0.95 g/cm3. For those keeping track, that’s less than the density of water (1 g/cm3).

Thermal image of Kilauea’s lava lake (Carbone et al., 2013)

How is this possible? Carbone and colleagues suggest that the vapor-melt ratio (that is, how much gas there is in the lava lake compared to how much lava) could be very high to account for the low density. Since the density of gas is so much lower than that of lava, more gas means lower density. Intrigued, I decided to do the math. Just how much gas does it take to get a lava lake with a density of 0.95? Here’s a quick run-down of my calculations. If anyone spot’s an error or wants to improve upon this back-of-the-envelope calculation, please do so in the comments below!

Let’s assume:

  1. The density of a Kilauea tholeiite at 1200° C is about 2.66 g/cm3 (reference: Lange and Carmichael, 1990. Reviews in Mineralogy)
  2. To simplify things, let’s use a vapor consisting only of H2O, which makes up most of the budget of volcanic volatiles (other components would be CO2, SO2, H2S, F, and Cl)
  3. The density of water vapor is around 0.0006 g/cm3 (reference)

Now we can calculate the bulk density like so:
Bulk Density (lava and gas) = [Density of Lava]*[Weight fraction of lava in the bulk] + [Density of water vapor]*[Weight fraction of water vapor in the bulk]


ρ_bulk = ρ_lava * F – ρ_H2Ovapor * (1-F)

Plugging in the above numbers gives us a weight fraction of lava of about 35%, meaning that gas must make up 65% of the Kilauea lava lake (by weight) to account for such a low density of 0.95. That’s equivalent to about 70 mol% gas and about 70 vol% gas. That’s a LOT of gas, and it raises a LOT more questions: how does the magma hold itself together without simply degassing it’s huge volumes of gas? The paper is an intriguing one whose results have certainly caught the attention of a lot of volcanologists. What do you think?

Check out the paper published in EPSL here: Continuous gravity measurements reveal a low-density lava lake at Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i

Posted in Lava Lakes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rest In Peace, Kelby Hicks

kelbyIt is with great sadness in my heart that I announce the passing of Kelby Hicks, 31, who was found dead on fieldwork at Colima volcano, Mexico earlier this week. He died of apparently natural causes, heart failure, and was discovered next to his instrument at his remote field camp on the volcano. Although his life was tragically cut short, we can say that Kelby died doing what he loved.

His passion for volcanology was contagious and only outweighed by his passion for living life. Kelby was the guy who knew how to handle anything that Mother Earth could throw at him. He had an adventurous spirit, a distinct talent for off-road driving, and as a white water river guide for seven years he never flipped his raft. Not even once. In his short life of only 31 years, Kelby accomplished more than most people do in 10 lifetimes. And, along the way, he touched the hearts of many people all over the world.

His work on Colima volcano in Mexico had just taken a turn for the better. After a string of bad luck with volcanic activity, dengue fever, and bad timing, Kelby had just become a part of a research team sent to Colima as part of a NERC urgency grant designed to assess the volcano’s recent awakening of activity. He was keeping us updated regularly through The Volcanofiles and his personal facebook page. Last week, Kelby posted the below photo to his Facebook page with the caption, “Colima volcano on my birthday!”


Kelby's last post on his facebook page before heading to his field site on Colima volcano.

Kelby’s last post on his facebook page before heading to his field site on Colima volcano.


Kelby was a man of many words and never failed to fill an awkward silence with a funny, outlandish story. He was adventurous, brave, kind, loving, and most of all passionate. Kelby is survived by his loving wife, Anna, his dog, Buddy, and the hundreds of people who he called friends. Kelby, dear brother, we love you and miss you. Although you’ve certainly left your mark, this world will never be the same without you.

Kelby Hicks: The most bad ass volcanologist this world has ever seen!

Kelby Hicks: The most bad ass volcanologist this world has ever seen!


If you wish to express your condolences or post memories/photos of Kelby Hicks, please feel free to do so in the comments section of this post and on the facebook page created for him by his wife:


Services in Memory of Kelby Hicks


Funeral for Kelby Hicks in West Virginia, USA

From the obituary published here:

On Saturday, April 27, Kelby’s family will be at the farm helping each other through this difficult time. Extended family and close friends are welcome to visit from 4-7 p.m.

For those who wish to stay on, at sunset, to celebrate Kelby’s life, there will be a private memorial at the pond from 7-10 p.m.

Gathering together his diverse and extensive friendship group was so important to him, and we know this is what he would have wanted.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to Friends of the Cheat, 119 S. Price St., Suite 206, Kingwood, WV 26537.

In the near future, a scholarship will be established to fund promising geology students.

Arrangements are being handled by Field Funeral Home.




Cambridge Services for Kelby this Friday, April 26th at 1:30pm


View Larger Map A memorial service for Kelby Hicks will be held at the St. Edmund’s College Chapel in Cambridge at 1:30pm. All are welcome to attend. A memory book for Kelby is currently on his desk in his office and will be available for signing at the memorial service.

Services will be held at:

St Edmund’s College

Friday, April 26th, 1:30pm


Celebration of Kelby’s Life to be held in England

After the funeral in West Virginia, a celebration of Kelby’s wonderful life will be held in England, possibly at his home in Brandon. As details arise, we will update this page.


Flowers and Memory Book

Kelby’s wife Anna asks that all flowers are sent to the Geography Department to be displayed on Kelby’s desk. A memory book for people to sign is also located there, so please drop by or contact to get more details. If sending flowers by post, please send to:

University of Cambridge
Dept. of Geography
Attn: Kayla Iacovino
Downing Place
Cambridge CB2 3EN

Posted in Uncategorized | 25 Comments