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    Wednesday, July 15, 2009


    Magnificient Displays: Volcanoes and Lightning


    Chaiten; Chile
    Several days ago, a volcano that had been dormant for 9,000 years near the coast of Chile erupted spectacularly, hurling liquified metals and lightning many miles into the sky. The results, which you see here, are called a "dirty thunderstorm," and are quite rare. Nobody is certain what causes them, but according to National Geographic it's believed to be "the result of rock fragments, ash, and ice particles in the plume collid[ing] to produce static charges—just as ice particles collide to create charge in regular thunderstorms."
    Redoubt; Alaska
    Tavurvur, Papua New Guinea

    To view original post from which the following segment is taken, go to:
    This post was written by:

    Karl Fabricius - who has written 160 posts on Environmental Graffiti.

    Karl was raised in Wales and currently lives in Bristol, though his family tree branches to both sides of the Atlantic. Besides holding an English MA, he’s made a documentary on grassroots boxing, played drums in punk rock bands, and traveled some lush parts of the globe. Back from copywriting in Dubai’s desert, he’s thirsty to get scribbling about things worth scribbling about – especially the environment.

    Volcanoes Vs. Lightning [Pics]

    Thu, Apr 23, 2009


    Chaiten, Chili
    Photo by Carlos Gutierrez via BLDGBLOG

    At Environmental

    Graffiti, we’re a bit partial towards all things volcanic. Smouldering fumaroles, bubbling mud volcanoes, sizzling lava lakes, they’ve all been covered here over recent months. Little surprise then, that the idea of volcanoes combined with another extreme and volatile natural phenomenon – lightning – really got us rubbing our hands together. Prepare for fire and brimstone clashes of epic proportions as two of Mother Earth’s most powerful forces go head to head – and we marvel at the mystery of volcanic lightning.

    Face off: Chaiten, Chile, 2008


    Photo by Carlos Gutierrez via BLDGBLOG

    These opening images depict the eruption of Chile’s Chaiten volcano, which last year unexpectedly began to vent its volcanic fury for the first time in over nine thousand years. With volcanic lightning getting in on the act, from a purely photographic point of view it was worth the wait. The awesome power of charged electricity violently grabbing hold of and coursing through the plume of volcanic smoke and ash leaves one breathless.

    Charged atmosphere: Chaiten again


    Photo by Carlos Gutierrez via BLDGBLOG

    However, there was a more ominous side to this geologically explosive incident, likewise brilliantly captured by these apocalyptic looking shots. Once it had escaped the grip of the lightning, Chaiten’s eruption column rose to an estimated height of over 98,000 feet (30,000 m), prompting the evacuation of its nearby village and surrounding areas, and sending out dense ash clouds that contaminated water supplies and coated one town 30 cm deep.

    Clash of the Titans: Rinjani, Indonesia, 1995


    Photo: Oliver Spalt

    But let’s concentrate on the volcanic lightning itself, shown here in the form of a bolt looking to lock horns with lava issuing from Mount Rinjani in Indonesia. When volcanic gasses and materials are thrust high into the air, lightning can be triggered inside the ash clouds. Yet despite the fact that such electrical activity frequently accompanies large eruptions, and have done so at least 150 times in the past two centuries, these spectacular natural light shows are not clearly understood.

    Fingers on triggers: Redoubt, Alaska, 2009


    Photo: Bretwood Higman via National Geographic

    For years geologists talked about dry volcanic dust particles colliding with one another and building up enough static charge to cause sparks in an attempt to explain volcanic lighting. However, a new theory focuses on the surprising water content of magma and volcanic debris, which would make this rogue phenomenon more like a typical thunderstorm. Before the recent eruption of Alaska’s Mount Redoubt – pictured above with fingers of lightning clutching at an ash cloud – scientists daringly set up mapping gear to try and see how lightning is born and spreads through the volcanic plumes.

    Thrust into the melee: Galungung, Indonesia, 1982


    Photo: R. Hadian, U.S. Geological Survey

    Curiously, some volcanoes with large plumes generate little or no lightning, while those whose clouds are smaller produce a lot more. This suggests that while all volcanoes have electric potential, lightning only occurs when there is high resistance to the volcanic current in the air. Size isn’t everything – and yet a large show of volcanic and electrical force can be a warning to expect a pretty major event. The massive 1982 eruption of Indonesia’s Galunggung – shown in the incredible shot above beset by lightning strikes – resulted in 68 deaths, and its ash column forced two Boeing 747s to make emergency landings.

    Seeing red: Sakurajima, 1991


    Photo: Sakurajima Volcananological Observatory via

    The branching of lightning in this image of Sakurajima volcano in Japan is just one example of the types of lightning known to take place over volcanoes. According to one source: “The 1981 eruption of Mt St Helens featured a spectacular display of sheet lightning, with truck-sized balls of St Elmo’s fire seen rolling along the ground 29 miles north of the mountain.” Volcanic lightning surely is one of nature’s most powerful and awe-inspiring pyrotechnic exhibitions, yet mystery still shrouds its origins.

    Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


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