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Some volcanoes are making news this month

by RANDY MANN
| November 20, 2023 1:05 AM

There are many volcanoes that are erupting and some of them are making headlines across the world. For example, Iceland’s volcanic activity is currently threatening one of its popular resorts. Lava flows have been spotted on Mount Etna and a supervolcano in Southern California has been unleashing swarms of earthquakes.

We’re hearing about more volcanoes becoming active in recent weeks, but this is not entirely unusual. According to the Smithsonian Institution, about 40 to 50 volcanoes are erupting practically every day. The latest figure has 46 volcanoes erupting across the globe. Amazingly, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 80% of the Earth’s surface, which includes above and below sea level, originated from volcanic activity.

 Satellite technology has greatly improved over the last 30 years. Therefore, there have been noticeable increases in volcanic activity since the late 1990s, due to better observations and reporting networks. One of the big eruptions within the last several years was the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater eruption in the South Pacific in January 2022. Scientists say that this eruption would have likely gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the advances in satellite technology.

 The potential upcoming eruption in Iceland, which many now think is “imminent,” may be big and has led to the evacuation of residents of a town called Grindavik and the closing of the popular Blue Lagoon Resort. Since early this month, there have been reports of swarms of earthquakes as the magma below the surface is moving and bubbling. In fact, the town of Grindavik reported over 1,000 earthquakes Oct. 25. It’s still unclear how big this eruption could be, but there is a geothermal power plant that supplies power across Iceland that could be in the path of this potential explosion.

 Iceland currently has about 32 active volcanoes. Back in 2010, there was a big eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that led to massive air travel disruptions across Europe. Scientists say that Iceland may be entering a new geological era as volcanic activity in this region has been increasing over the last several years.

 On Nov. 12, Mount Etna in Italy began spewing ash clouds and lava flows. This volcano is one of the world’s most active, but it is situated near one of the most heavily populated parts of Europe. At this point, Mount Etna is not posing a major threat to the city of Catania which is home to over a million people.

 Most of us are familiar with the giant supervolcano located in Yellowstone National Park. However, there are other supervolcanoes across the world including one in California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. This big caldera, also known as the Long Valley Caldera, has been producing swarms of earthquakes since the late 1970s. According to an article in Livescience.com, this supervolcano has been “simmering down” based on new research and the seismic activity is primarily caused by gases and bubbles in the upper layer of the cooling reservoir of magma beneath the surface.

 According to the United States Geological Survey, the U.S. is one of the planet’s most active countries for volcanic activity. The most dangerous volcanoes are located along the western Pacific coast. Alaska has the highest threat, but Oregon, California and Washington make up the third, fourth and fifth most dangerous volcanoes.

The big eruption of Mount St. Helens in May 1980 was historic and killed 57 people. Recently, there have been reports of an increasing number of earthquakes. Over 400 tremors have been detected in the region since the middle of July. Despite the activity, there are no immediate indications or threats of a new eruption.

 With the advancements in technology, scientists can monitor volcanic activity and the cause of an eruption with higher accuracy. However, predicting exactly when a volcano will erupt is still many years away from perfection.

 In terms of our local weather, the first half of November has been wet across much of the Inland Northwest. Through the first 15 days of the month, Coeur d’Alene has received 2.75 inches of rain, compared to the November normal of 3.07 inches. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we’re expecting more unsettled weather with rain and snow showers. Thanks, at least in part, to the warmer El Niño sea-surface temperature event, snowfall in the lower elevations has been minimal as only 0.2 inches has fallen in Coeur d’Alene.

 The overall weather pattern continues to point to more storms from the Pacific into early December. However, it still looks like we’ll have more rain than snow in the lower elevations as the colder air masses remain to our east. There’s still the possibility of some snow in the lower elevations later in December, but the chances for a White Christmas this year are much lower.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.