Author Archives: Kayla Iacovino

Hawaii’s Pahoa Lava Flow Heads for Transfer Station [VIDEO]

All eyes have been on the slow-moving but unstoppable force that is the Hawaiian lava flow heading straight into the town of Pahoa, HI. The Kilauea lava flow has actually been going on since 1983, but a recent diversion in the flow has sent it streaming toward Pahoa. The town has been evacuated for some months now, so no one is in any danger. But, there’s no way to stop a lava flow, and it might end up swallowing the whole town.

Here is how far the flow has come to date:

That bright red part of the flow near the transfer station? Yep, the lava is heading straight for it. Check out some recent video:

Kayla Iacovino

Images of New Explosion at Ubinas Volcano, Peru

Today, the Geophysical Institute of the Peru (IGP) issued a press release including images of an eruption at Ubinas volcano that occurred at 9:11am local time. The eruption column reached a height of 1,500 meters, with ash dispersal to the south and southeast affecting the towns of Ubinas, Tonohaya, Escacha and Chojata. The eruption was preceded by a magnitude 4.6 earthquake recorded in the city of Arequipa and felt throughout southern Peru.


Kayla Iacovino

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.

Kayla Iacovino

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!

Kayla Iacovino

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…

Kayla Iacovino

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.

Kayla Iacovino

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!

Kayla Iacovino

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

Kayla Iacovino

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.

Kayla Iacovino

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

Kayla Iacovino