Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Major Eruption, November 28, 2012

credit: NASA MODIS satellite image of the ash plume from the November 28, 2012, eruption, dome collapse, and pyroclastic flows. Courtesy of Rudiger Wolf, Michigan Tech.

Account and photography
by Emma Rodes and Adrian Hornby

Emma Rodes and Adrian Hornby, armed with Guatemala’s top mountain guide, Armando, have just completed their second five day research visit to Santiaguito’s domes, and are back for serious R&R in Quetzaltenango…but not too busy to provide an update on their field excursions.

The first trip took us to the saddle between El Brujo and El Monje where the perfect campsite presented itself, with an easy scramble to either peak. The first two days were spent exploring the hidden spaces of El Brujo, deciphering tumbledown spines and climbing remnants of the old dome. Looking for evidence of frictional slip on spine surfaces and trying to piece together the structure of the dome kept us busy, while gazing at the landscapes on this relict dome kept us awestruck.

Before we knew it the days had flown by, and for our final day we set out for El Monje in fine weather, soaked in the spines and valleys on a grand scale, then settled down for a spectacular sunset over the fumaroles of El Brujo. The following morning we packed our tents, our campsite kitchen, our crinkled clothes, sandy tents and our plastic-wrapped mountains of samples. Greatly overburdened we staggered back down El Brujo to meet the porters, promising to pack lighter the next time.

This trip was followed by three days rest in Quetzaltenango, nightly expeditions to find good meals, and many skype calls back home. Our next trip sent us to Paradise, a campsite tucked close to the beating heart of Caliente, and under the crumbling ribs of Santa Maria. The hike to Paradise is described in earlier posts, but suffice to say with a full pack it is equal in pain and grandeur.

Our first day on La Mitad, the nearest dome to Caliente, consisted a productive search of spine surfaces, and rock textures on the summit. During the first two days there were no eruptions, just passive and active (loud roaring can be heard from Caliente) degassing. However on the morning of 28th November, Caliente underwent one of its largest eruptions for 10 years, with pyroclastic flows, partial dome and flow collapses. Camped ~1km from the vent, we first learned about the eruption by phone from INSIVUMEH to our guide, Armando. We poked our heads out of our tents to see a clear view of brown and grey clouds billowing from the vent to the east, and were surprised to learn that this had been going on for an hour already. The activity continued for another half hour, plenty of time for us to observe the activity and take photos. Some of the plumes seemed to sink or fall down the flanks of Caliente, but if there were any pyroclastic flows we could not see them from our location. Intermittent flow front collapses continued for the rest of the day. Armando reported that OVSAN had seen pyroclastic flows down to 800m and a partial dome collapse on the SE flanks.

Once activity had quietened down we started to prepare breakfast. Just as it was cooked the wind changed carrying with it ash from the eruption.  Within 30 seconds of the first ash landing the bright sunny morning changed to pitch black night, with visibility around 2 metres. We pitched the saucepan into the closest tent and dove in after it, devouring one of the worst breakfasts of our lives. The ash cloud persisted for two hours, thinning to cast an eerie light over the ash-covered landscape. Between 3 and 5mm ash fell around our campsite, and before striking out for the day we collected samples from the tent canopy. Up on La Mitad we worked as normal until midafternoon, when the skies over Caliente darkened again with another smaller eruption.

The following day was punctuated by a thunderstorm as we worked on La Mitad. Lightning struck metres away on Para Guatemala, the largest spine on the summit, and heavy rain forced us into cover. That evening we ate supper to the twin spectacles of Caliente’s glow and nearly constant lightning to the East.

After this unforgettable visit to Paradise we are looking forward to visits to the OVSAN observatory and the Southern lava flows over the next few days.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More from the Sampling and Structural Mapping Ground Team

by Fabian Wadsworth
16th November 2012

We’ve returned from those first three nights among the domes of Santiaguito volcano. The November expedition was divided into a summit and a ground team. While the summit team camped at Santa Maria’s peak, peering cameras over the edge to look down on the Caliente vent, the ground teams hiked to the base of the domes and looked up. Those on the ground had many objectives, however, our contingent of the ground group was focussed on sample collection and structural mapping of the dome tops.
Yan Lavallée (University of Liverpool, U.K.) and Ben Kennedy (University of Canterbury, New Zealand) coordinated a sampling campaign with a two-fold focus. Yan and student, Adrian Hornby, aimed to collect homogenous material from the active Caliente vent to use for a variety of experimental applications such as high-velocity friction experiments, high-temperature rheology characterisation, and crack-propagation and healing. Ben and student Emma Rhodes were interested in mapping the volcano’s structural information among the spines of the three ancestral vents. Yan and Ben’s interests converge on the careful description and sampling of shear zones at the spine margins. It’s in these most-deformed areas that they find the field equivalent to the experimental products from the lab including evidence for both brittle and ductile deformation mechanisms and foamy inflation. Combined, these two complementary physical studies aim to constrain the evolution of Santiaguito’s magma properties over the course of the volcano’s activity; information that feeds into the deformation models used by the monitoring ground-team.
Students Adrian and Emma are resting in Xela city for now before rejoining the hunt for spines and bombs in the coming three weeks. Their task is a big one, not least because it takes the best part of a day to hike down to the dome valley floor and it’s a demanding job to mount and descend each dome, carrying equipment, water and food each time through the isolated valleys. Armando Pineda, the volcano-guide of Guatemala, will be an invaluable aid in their field research.
Corrado Cimarelli (LMU, Germany), a Santiaguito veteran from the January excursion, collected ash samples from individual explosions at the Caliente vent. He and his group in Munich will characterise variations and try to differentiate juvenile ash from fragmented dome ash, providing a window into conduit processes at Santiaguito. The multitude of tent tops made ideal ash-capture funnels for the frequent explosions and Corrado is now expert in gentle ash-sweeping actions using his personal make-up brush.  
The walk out from the domes was punctuated by a torrential downpour on the valleys surrounding the domes which mobilised rivers and lahars down the dome-flanks and over the trail. We stood at the top of the ascent out of the valley and saw our camp of the night before flooded before it disappeared in dense rain clouds.
We all relished our time at the domes and are grateful to the wider team for accommodating us. The interdisciplinary, international focus on Santiaguito volcano is a mighty undertaking that has such a broad, ambitious scope that I am sure it will yield collaborative research connections that continue over the coming years.
Thanks everyone.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Old School Volcanology

by Ben Kennedy and Emma Rhodes

We are oldschool physical volcanologists complete with hammers, compasses and maps, and we loved bashing rocks and getting covered in ash at Santiaguito. It felt a little like being trapped between the devil and deep blue sea with Santa Maria shedding rock falls on one side and Santiaguito chucking out pyroclastic flows on the other but we wouldn't have it any other way.  Emma will spend the next month climbing all over the Santiaguito dome to map the surface geological structures and internal textures of the lava. This should allow us to contrast the textures associated with lava, when it overtops the crater as a lava flow with when it pushes up a vertical spine of mostly solid lava. It is important to understand this transition in activity as vertical spines of lava are more likely to collapse to form large hazardous pyroclastic flows than long fluidal lava flows. Emma hopes to apply what she has learnt at Santiaguito to a lava flow from the recently active Te Maari vent at Tongariro, New Zealand. In addition, Ben collected bubbly bombs that he will cook in an oven at 1000°C to cause bubbles to grow and collapse in the molten rock. This growth and collapse of bubbles in magma is a possible explanation for some of the inflation and deflation events that other members of the team observe and record.

Beyond La Playona to Paradise

by Benjamin Phillips

The efforts of the dome teams, detailed in subsequent posts, were facilitated this trip by a new home base and campsite proximal to Caliente. Thanks to scouting by Jeff and Armando during a brief February reconnaissance, a team set course the morning of Sunday, November 11, for a veritable Paradise, as coined by Armando - a haven with a reliable source of fresh water nestled up against a stable portion of the Santa Maria scarp, and a mere few hundred meters from the base of the dome.

It is an arduous hike, especially when lugging heavy gear, that takes one through several phases and associated micro-environments - an initial ascent on open terrain past locals hauling large bundles of firewood that make one cringe; a short traverse to an overlook called Mirador and the first view of the older domes; the initial steep descent through a thicket of brush known as La Cicuta, overgrown to the point that being tall is a notable disadvantage; further descent of the smoothly polished lava of the Canaleta, where footing is always treacherous; successful arrival at the primary lahar channel of Santiaguito where climbing begins again, this time through a section along the margins of the domes aptly nicknamed the "Khumbu Rockfall"; arrival at La Playona, the moonscape at the foot of Caliente otherwise known as "The Moat," and site to January's seismo-acoustic-tilt stations; and finally the new traverse across two barrancas (drainage channels from Santa Maria) to Paradise. This sequence took the entire group about 8 hours. Not your typical work day.

A couple of highlights before I turn over the text to accounts from other participants. One was what a number of members of the team characterized as their most geophysically active hour ever. During a break in the shelter of one of the bus-sized boulders of La Playona, Caliente was as active as ever with explosions roughly every 20 minutes. One of these was accompanied by a large pyroclastic flow, a first for many of us. At 22:15 UTC (4:15 PM local time), a magnitude 6.5 aftershock to the November 7 M7.4 offshore Guatemala thrust event let loose about 30 km off the coast and rumbled through our rest stop, setting off an amplified barrage of rockfall down the scarp of Santa Maria. This was the largest quake since the primary rupture. Following this flurry of activity, the 45 minute traverse to Paradise, setting up camp, and enjoying a good meal, the team settled in for the night. There we were, camped in a rocky wasteland below the glowing inferno of Caliente, a setting that the non-enlightened might mistake for the other end of the world from paradise. But, this was clearly our own slice of heaven. The idyllic sound of the waterfall behind camp, punctuated by the regular rockfalls down Santa Maria and Caliente, was topped only by the deep roar of yet another eruption. What better to lull one's aching body to sleep!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Return to Santiaguito, November 2012

by Benjamin Phillips

A new field campaign on Santiaguito begins tomorrow. A subset of the January team is back, supplemented by new faces. We were greeted in Xela today by a fiesta, including a death metal concert immediately outside the Hotel Modelo. Luckily, as of the writing of this post at 10pm the celebration has taken on a more subdued nature.

The focus this week is on imaging, sample collection, and mapping. Some will head first into the domes for two nights to test cameras and collect samples from below, while a small team will head straight to the summit to commence photogrammetry efforts. Look for an update later in the week.

November 2012 Santiaguito Team members:

Organized by
PI Jeffrey Johnson, Boise State, with student Brian Terbush

Dome imaging and sampling team
Corrado Cimarelli and Fabian Wadsworth, LMU Munich
Yan Lavallee, U. Liverpool, with student Adrian Hornby
Ben Kennedy, U. Canterbury, with student Emma Rhodes
Jake Anderson, New Mexico Tech
Danny Bowman, U. North Carolina
Lee Liberty, Boise State

Summit photogrammetry team
Ben Andrews, Smithsonian Institution, with student Ryan (U.T. Austin)

Documentation (and assisting with photogrammetry from the domes)
Ben Phillips, U.S. DOE / SRA Intl.

Logistical credit to
Armando Pineda, Mountain Guide

Monday, January 23, 2012

High-Speed Video of an Explosion

Sample 500 fps high-speed video of a Santiaguito explosion downsampled to 10 fps. Natural duration is 4.6 s.

credit: Piergiorgio Scarlato, Corrado Cimarelli, Daniele Andronico, and Elisabetta Del Bello

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Block and Ash Flow from the Southeast Lava Flow Station

Time-lapse animation and seismo-acoustic traces from the southeast lava flow of Santiaguito volcano, Guatemala. The active dome is in the background. Many of the events generate clear rock fall seismic and infrasound signals. Look closely to see the lava flowing in the foreground. The animation depicts a two-hour period sampled every five seconds on the morning of January 5, 2012. Time synchronized waveforms were recorded at the lava flow station.

credit: Jeff Johnson

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Preliminary Results: Time-Lapse Photography and Seismo-Acoustic Tilt

Time-lapse photography with particle image velocimetry and seismo-acoustic tilt signals for the night of January 7. Note clearly visible inflation and deflation of the dome, the active lava flow to the south (left side of animation), and visible explosions around 21:50, 22:15, and 24:31.

Animation of nighttime photographs of the dome taken from Santa Maria with full-image PIV.
credit: Ben Andrews and Jeff Johnson

Seismo-acoustic tilt signals for the period covered by the above animation.
credit: Jeff Johnson

Interview with Jeff Johnson and Kyle Brill

Vulcanólogos extranjeros estudian el Santiaguito

Monday, January 16, 2012

Updates will continue

Mountain guide Armando Pineda, with John Lyons and Ben Andrews in reflection

We will continue to add links to photo albums, videos, and data from the expedition as they become available. Please continue to check back for updates.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thermal Video of an Explosion

Sample uncalibrated thermal IR video of a January 8, 2012, Santiaguito explosion.

credit: Piergiorgio Scarlato, Corrado Cimarelli, Daniele Andronico, and Elisabetta Del Bello

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Santiaguito Volcano From Top to Bottom (Jan. 4 to 8)

Introduction and photography
by Benjamin Phillips

Three teams conducted final stages of this month's expedition at Santiaguito over the past few days. The high-speed video team (P.G. Scarlato, Corrado Cimarelli, Daniele Andronico, Elisabetta Del Bello) and photogrammetry team (Ben Andrews, Kirsten Chojnicki, Ben Phillips, Andrew Nies) looked down on the active dome from a perch atop 12,375 ft Santa Maria volcano. A mile below in the dome moat the seismoacoustic team (John Lyons, Cara Shonsey, Kyle Brill, Josh Richardson, Jake Anderson, and Armando Pineda) worked to retrieve data and equipment, and make permanent one of the installations. Following are accounts of these efforts from members of each team.

by John Lyons

For the return to the domes and the extraction of the two seismic, tilt and infrasound stations we assembled the A-Team, including two new members from Michigan Tech (Kyle Brill and Josh Richardson).  Jeff had fallen ill, so he stayed behind to orchestrate the final days of the experiment from Xela.  Cara, Jake, Josh, Kyle, Armando and myself headed into the domes early Friday afternoon.  Josh, eager to get his legs under him and get into the domes for the first time, valiantly offered to carry the extra car battery down (and then up)  to reinforce the long-term seismic and tilt station.  And down, down, down toward the domes we went. There was more ash on the trail this time, and although the water-polished andesite of the canaletta was slick with the ash patina, all major falls were avoided.

We reached the base of the domes and searched out the stash of water and food that we had left.  Thinking about the climb up the rock fall to the site of our installation, we decided to filter most of our water from a large pool in the smooth lava flows near the camp instead of hauling the extra weight.  This would prove a somewhat bitter decision.

Arriving near the installation, which we've dubbed El Playon (the big beach), we set up camp just before dark and watched an incredible moon rise over the summit of Sta. Maria.  With camp set, we headed out to check on the status of each of the seismic - tilt - infrasound stations, keeping a close eye on the incandescent glow from the top of Caliente.  Two stations were running well, but the third had suffered a slow death by drowning due to very heavy rains the night before and a leaky dry bag.  We quickly pulled the soggy, mud-caked digitizer, cables and battery out of the bag and disconnected the power.  Fortunately, we had the back-up battery, which we connected while holding our breath and crossing our fingers, hoping that the flood hand´t damaged other parts of the stations. Wiping the mud from the screen, we could see…. it was alive!  Whew, disaster avoided, and the late-night visit to the stations had saved 8 hours of potentially lost data.

Meanwhile, the volcano was much more active than during our first trip to the domes, with small gas explosions popping off at about twice per hour. We ambled back to camp in the moonlight and called up to the summit team by radio. After chatting with the Bens, we flashed our headlamps up toward the summit and got a response, more than a mile away. We all turned our headlamps upward and had a little dance party while Ben shot some photos.  We look like ants with headlamps.

Early the next morning we revisited each seismic station and connected solar panels to all the batteries.  I popped up to Jeff´s time lapse camera to swap it out with another, programed to record during the long-term deployment. We backed-up all the data, packed camp and got ready to climb up the dome located just the the west of Caliente, La Mitad, where we planned to spend our last night.  Although this put us even closer to the booming summit of Caliente, we were cautiously optimistic that the explosions were not currently throwing bombs onto La Mitad, and the different perspective, nearly level with the glowing summit was worth the climb.  Unfortunately, we were short on water and the clear, cool pool that we had planned to filter from had been half filled with sediment and was now a milky blue following the heavy rain.  It tasted terrible, like salty sulfur, and effervesced mildly after having been bottled for a while.  There was a good deal of speculation about what exactly we were drinking, but no one wanted to make the hike down and back up the rock fall to get fresh water, so we suffered the strange Santiaguito brew knowing that we had fresh, delicious water waiting for us after our descent.

After a steep scramble up the side of La Mitad, we creeped around the tall spines of lava and found a few well protected camp sites.  The clouds had rolled in and a light rain was falling, so we retired to our tents for most of the afternoon, waiting for a view.  The clouds persisted until after dinner, and everyone except Armando and me turned in for the night, knowing we had a big day of working and hiking ahead of us.  While we were setting up another time lapse camera, the clouds cleared and we were awarded with two beautiful explosion that showered Caliente with incandescent bombs.  Several large explosions occurred during the night and the coarse ash would fall on the tent several minutes later, sounding like short rain showers.

Up early to pack camp and get to work.  Down the slippery slope of La Mitad to stop acquisition on two of the stations and to transfer the batteries and extra memory to the long-term station.  The A-Team worked in overdrive and a couple hours later we were ready to descend the rock fall with loaded packs, beyond eager to get at that fresh water.  After drinking down half of our ague dulce, we shouldered our packs and cracked a few jokes before the last, long climb out of the domes. It was several hours of torture, and we could have swore that the dense vegetation was trying to keep us from leaving, but we arrived tired, thirsty and dirty just before dark in Llanos de Pinal, content knowing that we had the data, the equipment and ourselves back in one piece.

Camp at the domes as viewed from Santa Maria (three spots of light at lower right)

by Corrado Cimarelli

Hi guys, here we go with the second post after the trip to the lava flow. 
How do people say ... when you step back things look much clearer, especially if you have good tele objectives! 

We knew we should have had a better view of Caliente dome from the top of Santa Maria and this is exactly what happened. But, nothing comes easy with Santiaguito and as usual the volcano doesn't reveal himself if you don't give something back. This time we had to climb all the way up to Santa Maria summit (3700 m asl) from the very bottom (2500 m) with all the scientific equipment, plus camping gear and a lot of water. We surely wouldn't have make it without the help of the wonderful Lopez Family. They are hard working farmers, they say they are "gente de mais" but for the occasion they helped us carrying the extra load. Jeronimo is a rock and Ector (Jeronimo's son) could easily compete for a triathlon (this is actually what he wants to do next year, we are sure he will get a very good ranking!). On top of that we needed to ask for security assistance from the local police (PNC) since Santa Maria is very popular among the locals and you never know who you are going to meet in the forest. We made it to the top after about 4 hours of climbing.

The first day at the summit was frustrating, the dome seemed sleepy and just started some interesting activity when it was completely clouded. The time window when you can observe the dome is quite narrow given the rhythm of the eruptions (one every hour on average) so early morning and late afternoon are usually the best timing - of course they are also the colder hours on the windy top of Santa Maria! Trying to operate the camera with frozen hands is not trivial and the batteries can freak out pretty easily with moisture and cold. Radio-sync controls of orthophotogrammetry cameras didn't work as expected but excellent team work of Ben A., Kirsten, Ben P., and Andrew with walkie talkie did make things work. Some minor trouble with cable connections from our part just for the thrill, but we got it sorted out pretty quickly. Finally just as a welcome we had -6 C the first night of camping! 

Having paid the toll on the first day, over the following days Caliente blessed us with a gorgeous series of day and night explosions revealing all his magnificence. All the teams at the top got tons of gigas recorded. High speed and thermal videos reveal set of fractures opening in series at the margin of the dome and jets of gas and ash streaming through and soon converting into convective eddies and forming the plume... for the joy of Kirsten. Ejected ballistics are only observed toward the side of the active lava flows and frequent block and ash flows stream down along the same flanks. Sometimes blocks as big as a bus roll down, break and disappear in the steep valley at the foot of the dome, leaving behind just the trace of suspended ash.
Running out of water and batteries we headed back to Quetzaltenango with all our stuff and eager for a shower and a proper dinner!

While I am writing we are travelling back from Quetzaltenango to La Antigua - some of us will take a rest in this lively city before going back home, and others will soon move to Volcan de Fuego to install seismic arrays. The high speed and thermal cameras team will follow this group in a couple of days and repeat the camping experience on Fuego hoping to bring back some more gigas...

Hasta pronto

by Ben Anderson

Hi everyone,
I am back in DC and trying to process data from the (very successful!) trip to Santiaguito.  The expedition was a great deal of fun, I met many new people and am excited to work with them on this and future projects.  Most importantly I want to thank Jeff Johnson for helping to put together a great trip, and my photo team for making the data collection possible: Ben P, Kirsten, and Andrew – without those three, there would be no photogrammetry data.

I arrived in Xela several days after everyone else, and thus the hike to the summit on January 4 constituted my introduction to Santa Maria and Santiaguito.  It is a Big mountain.  Upon reaching the camp I was greeted by clouds. . . that cleared right after sunset to show a great view of the incandescent dome.  That first night I tested one of the cameras and radios to take several time lapse series of photos of the eruption.  The photos that resulted are pretty cool and helped us figure out what exposure settings we’d use in subsequent nights.

The original plan for January 5th was to deploy the cameras about 500 m apart in an arc along the edge of the 1902 scarp.  Reality, however, intruded on this plan.  First, the camera radios didn’t want to talk to each other – which was funny as they had worked together the night before at Hotel Modelo.  At this point we realized that there were different versions of the firmware installed on the radios, thus they wouldn’t play nice and we couldn’t get them to communicate over distances much greater than 5 m.  At this point we also realized that although it is pretty easy to draw points on a map separated by more than 300 vertical meters, it is altogether different to have to repeatedly make such a journey over the uneven terrain of Santa Maria. . .  So we ended up deploying the cameras a few hundred meters away from one another, with a total elevation spread of ~150 m.  We then used talkie-walkies to manually trigger the intervalometers on the 5 cameras.  Over the next few days we encountered a few more problems: fog, clouds, short battery life, more clouds, finicky SD cards, a cloud, and LCD screens that wouldn’t turn off.  Fortunately, those problems turned out to be pretty minor.  With that we were off and running. 
We collected >10 hours of synchronized images from the 5 cameras.  Some of the images have been stitched into a movie shown elsewhere on the blog.  We are still making sense of the image sequences, but here are some rough observations:

1) Parts of the dome are moving at >3.5 m/h.
2) Local inflation/deflation of the dome can occur as fast as 2.5 m in 13 minutes.
3) There are very hot regions of the dome that show no motion and persist over the duration of observations.
I am currently working on transforming the images into 3d surface models using photogrammetry techniques.  Stay tuned for new developments. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Southeast Lava Flow Trip (Jan. 3)

by Corrado Cimarelli
photography by Benjamin Phillips

This is dedicated to all my friends who are convinced I am on Christmas holidays in South America. Yesterday was supposed to be a relaxed day. Juan and Angel drove us to La Finca Faro, where the coffee and macadamia plantations are threatened by the two lava flows starting from the summit of Santiaguito. We descended in altitude about 2000 meters from the colder Quetzaltenango down to the Observatory at the base of Santiaguito. During the short visit to the Observatory we got to know Julio who is keeping the observatory active and served as group guide for the day. We walked up again about 700 meters in altitude zig-zagging in the plantations, too curious to resist fresh coffee beans and macadamias on our way up. There is not much to chew from fresh coffee beens, but they are sweet and tasty in the mouth.

If it wasn't for the constant slope and the deeply carved lahar deposits you would probably forget you are walking toward the active dome - this is probably what the plantation workers think every day going harvesting. With the help of the little 4-wheel drive of Angel the whole group made it to the observation point at the levees of the lava flow and installed our high speed and thermal cameras. Cloudy skies constantly made PG, Daniele, Betta and me switch our observation from the summit of the dome to the rock falls of the slowly advancing lava front 100 meters distant, but we got our data anyway. Impressive explosions at the summit often cause ejected blocks rolling down to along the flanks of the dome for hundreds of meters. Rumbling of the lava flow slowly advancing is impressive too, we are going to see what our installed microphones have recorded....

Today we are going to the chilly summit of Santa Maria and this is supposed to be a very long day before we set our camp. We will get great videos from there so crossed fingers! By the way yesterday wasn't soooooo relaxed, ask my blisters...