Beneath a Boiling Sun: Mercury Rising

Enhanced colour image of Mercury. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab/Carnegie Institution of Washington

All volcanoes are the same. You start with liquid rock some distance below the surface. It tries to rise because molten rock is less dense than the solid rock that surrounds it. Once it reaches the surface it is called a volcano. There are many variations, of course. The liquid may pour out and form lava ponds or flows, or it may cause a big explosion. The composition of the rock that melted makes a difference. The temperature is also not always the same. Some lavas form beautiful stratovolcanoes, other form messy cones; some flows are smooth, others are so rough and sharp they tear your shoes to pieces. But those are details. Earth’s 1500 volcanoes may look diverse, but under the skin they are all the same. Just like us, really.

But that is on Earth. How about space volcanoes? Do you get little green volcanoes on Mars, and multi-eyed monster volcanoes on planet Zorg? How much of the uniformity of Earth’s volcanoes is caused by Earth? Do we need Spock to explain to us ‘It is volcanic life – but not as we know it, Jim’?

In our tour of the Solar System, we have previously looked at Mars, Venus and Pluto, and found volcanoes very different from ours. Let’s do another one, to add to the volcanic diversity: our least known planet, mysterious Mercury.

Mercury: the fleeting messenger

It is not the easiest planet to observe, being so close to the Sun. After sunset, it will never be far above the horizon, as it chases the Sun down. It is brighter than you may expect, but few people in our modern world consciously see it, even if they could get off their phones long enough to recognize a planet. (Last month, on my travels, I unexpectedly saw the space station come over one evening. I pointed it out to a student. He had never heard of it.)

NASA/Johns Hopkins Univ. Appl. Phys. Lab./Carnegie Inst. Washington

Mercury is the messenger, traveling faster on the sky than any other planet. It is a small planet, our smallest since the demotion of Pluto, but heavier than one might expect. From the excess weight it is clear that there is more iron than rock, the only one of the terrestrial planets to have this. Images showed a densely cratered surface. Our current understanding of Mercury’s innards are depicted in the figure, as published by David Smith and colleagues (Science, 2012). Scaled to the Earth, Mercury’s iron core is huge, and its mantle is tiny. Like Earth, the core is cooling and the inner part has already solidified. As it cools, solid iron sulphide floats upward and it has formed a solid layer on top of the liquid outer core. The thin, dense mantle rests on this.

The model is not undisputed, as it is not clear why Mercury should have so much sulphur. There was very little sulphur in the inner Solar System at the time the planets formed, and in fact Earth doesn’t have that much. But the large amount of iron compared to rock is well established. You would expect Mercurian volcanoes to be ultra-mafic: iron makes this world go round. You’d be wrong, though.

The surface is airless and cratered, inhospitable, baked by the menacing Sun. And the Sun takes forever to set. Uniquely among the planets, Mercury’s day lasts longer than its year. A Mercury year takes 88 of our days, but a Mercury day lasts 116, exactly two of its years. It gives the term ‘birthday’ a whole new meaning. At mid-day, every other year, the temperature gets up to 450 C, and at night it cools down to -120C, the largest range in the Solar System. Still, Venus gets hotter and the mid-day heat is not hot enough to melt the rock. In any case, surface heat can’t form volcanoes, only internal heat can. The interior has cooled a lot (a small planet looses heat faster than a big one). So the strong expectation was that Mercury probably would have had volcanoes, but would do so no longer. The Messenger space craft, which orbited Mercury from 2011 to 2015, confirmed this, but it found that ancient Mercury had been very active indeed.


Getting to Mercury is hellishly difficult. Venus and Mars have received many spacecraft, but Mercury has only been visited twice. The journey takes too much fuel; it is at the limit of what rockets can do. Mariner 10 was the first one to come, just before the focus of the US space program decisively shifted to the outer Solar System (after it, Mariner 11 was renamed Voyager 1). It managed three fly-by’s of Mercury, in accordance with the Coleridge poem The Ancient Mariner, with which it shared its name: He is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three. Except that Mariner 10 never could stop.

To get to Mercury, Mariner 10 used a gravity assist from Venus, the first Solar system probe to steal a bit of extra velocity that way. Every little helps: every kilogram of fuel you don’t have to carry means 10 kilogram of extra useful weight, and Mariner 10 had only about 500 kilogram of load to begin with. After this Venus fly-by, it arrived at Mercury on 16 March 1974 but it lacked the fuel needed to stop and flew past at high speed. A second flyby was rather distant, and finally the close encounter of the third kind brought it to within 700 kilometer of the surface. A week after the third fly-by, NASA turned off the radio. Presumably it is still there, forever chasing Mercury and wondering what on Earth has happened to us and to its albatross, Mercury. Again in the words of the Ancient Mariner: Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea! For many years, its grainy images of half the surface were the only ones we had.

35 years (!) later, the Messenger probe arrived. This was a far more ambitious probe. Launched in 2004, it took 7 years to get into orbit around Mercury, and at the end of its mission, in 2015 , after 5 years or orbiting, it was allowed to crash into the planet. The probe weighted 1100 kilograms. To cope with the heat, out where the Sun is ten times brighter than on Earth, it took its clue from Mary Poppins and carried a parasol: all of the spacecraft was shielded by a sun shade. Only (obviously) the solar panels peeked out from underneath the shade. The sun shade could not protect Messenger from the heat reflected of the surface of Mercury. To cope with this, it followed a highly elliptical orbit, taking it within 200 kilometer of the surface, followed by a spell as far as 15,000 kilometer from the planet where it could shed the incinerating heat reflected off the planet. The two integrated electronics modules (one as a backup) ran off a 25-MHz processor. This was, after all, 20 year old technology. The solar panels provided 450 Watt of power, a positive luxury for a deep space mission.

In order to keep the fuel demand within reasonable limits, Messenger made generous use of other people’s gravity. It was launched in August 2004. On its post-launch orbit, it didn’t even get as far as Venus. After one year, it was back at Earth with nothing to show for it. But now the tricks began. It flew low over Earth, and let Earth’s gravity bend its orbit and so picked up extra speed. (To be precise, you need to lose speed to go the inner Solar System, not gain, but the principle is the same.) Now it could get to Venus, without having had to spend a drop of extra fuel. In October 2006 and again in June 2007, it flew close to Venus, picking up (negative) speed both times. Now it finally could get to Mercury. But it still wasn’t enough – on arrival at Mercury in January 2008, it whizzed past the planet. No problem, it used this encounter to decelerate further, did the same at the next encounter in October 2008, and the next one in October 2009, and finally was caught by Mercury on the fourth encounter, in March 2011. Space travel has become complex and slow. Mercury is only a little further than Mars, but whilst going to Mars takes 7 months, getting to Mercury took 7 years.

The scenic route to Mercury

To finally get into orbit required 200 kilogram of fuel. After 7 years of free loading, it burned 20% of its weight in just 15 minutes.

Five years of scientific studies followed. Because of the highly elliptical orbit, one side of the planet (the north) cold be studied in much more detail than the other. The X-ray instrument didn’t work so well at first, because the Sun (which provided the X-rays) had an unusually deep minimum. But the mission was a flying success. It ended in 2015 when Messenger ran out of fuel and crashed into the surface. (This was a planned crash, no need to worry.)

There is one further mission to Mercury scheduled: a joint European/Japanese mission to Mercury, Bepi-Colombo, will be launched next year. A surface landing has been planned for this mission, but sadly it was sacrificed to the budget gods. Both partners have a history of unplanned crash-landings on non-terrestrial surfaces, so possibly the insurance premiums just became astronomical.

The surface

The topography of Mercury shows the usual aspects of planetary surfaces: high regions, low regions, craters of all sizes, and ridges. The range of heights isn’t large, by planetary standards. From the lowest to the highest point is less than 10 kilometer in altitude, considerable less than the Moon (20 kilometer), Mars (30 kilometer) or even Earth (20 kilometer). On Mars, which has similar surface gravity, the range of altitude is dominated by Tharsis, a huge volcanic area undoubtedly pushed up by the mantle. This suggests that Mercury never formed tall volcanoes, and either lacked strong mantle plumes or has a lithosphere too weak to carry a big bulge.

The polar regions are a bit lower, whilst most of the highlands are around the equatorial regions. That is probably not accidental. It can be caused by something called ‘true polar wander’ where the crust slowly reorients itself so that the highest points are now at the equator. Mars has done this: the Tharsis bulge is exactly on the equator, even though the surface structures suggests that when it formed it was 20 degrees off the equator. It requires a strong solid crust, and a liquid lithosphere or upper mantle which allows the entire crust to shift.


394 craters in Mercury have been named. If they are larger than 250 kilometer, they are called a ‘basin’ rather than a crater. There are many more smaller craters, of course: counting craters in one area and scaling to the surface area of Mercury, I estimate upward of half a million craters in total. This includes quite a lot of secondary craters: debris kicked up by one impact forms more craters as it rains down. These form the rays surrounding some of craters. Mercurian craters tend to be a bit deeper than similar-sized craters on Mars, possibly because the average impact velocity is higher.

Caloris Basin

The largest crater by far is the Caloris basin, a staggering 1550 kilometer across. It is one of the largest craters in the Solar System, the scar of an impactor around 100 kilometer diameter. Mariner 10 only imaged half of it: it was located close to the edge of its coverage. Messenger completed the job 35 years later. But in spite of its fame and glory, it is not that easy to see Caloris. On the topographical map above it is not visible, and there are few images available that clearly show it. The crater walls are easier to pick out than the interior. It is better seen in (enhanced) colour images, because the inside of the basin is smoother and redder than the outside. But it is not deep. Part of the inside is even higher than the crater wall: clearly there has been infill and perhaps uplift, an attempt to wipe it off the map. Outside of the main crater wall, which is 3 kilometer high in places, there is a second wall, about 100 kilometer further out. Outside of that there is a vast debris field where the ejecta ended up.

The next largest craters are Rembrandt (720 km), Beethoven (62 km) and Tolstoj (510 km), also sizeable wounds. They are better visible.

Rembrandt. The wall running through the middle is a more recent tectonic feature, the largest fault on Mercury

The presence of craters allow one to identify which are younger and which are older terrains: the former will have fewer craters. The area around, and inside the Caloris Basin stands out as having few craters. Either Caloris was the last of the major impacts, or the surface here was reworked later on. ‘Younger’ is relative: it would still be 3.5-4 billion years old. Rembrandt has a similar age but Beethoven and Tolstoj are older. (The order of the names may not be entirely historically correct.)

Scarps and rupes

The surface of Mercury is more than just craters and basins. The cliff running through Rembrandt is an example of something different. There a number of other curved scarps. Discovery Rupes (Latin for cliff) is 500 km long and over 1 km high. These are thrust faults, and as they cut across craters they must be ore recent that these impacts. How can a planet without plate tectonics have faults? It is caused by its small size. Mercury has cooled over time and much of the core has solidified. The interior has shrunk because of this, and the crust was left oversized. As the planet shrank, by perhaps 5 kilometer, the crust wrinkled. The scarps are these wrinkles, the signs of old-age.

But there may be a bit more to them. Take a hard look and there are impressions of buried impact craters in places. Some of the rupes and scarps seem to run as arcs around these vaguely visible features. Perhaps they are signs of an underlying older surface, rather than the deeper interior. But many scarps are not related to such buried features, and remain attributed to planetary shrinking.

An unnamed wrinkle ridge on Mercury

Volcanic plains

Around a quarter of the surface of Mercury are the ‘lowlands’, and about a quarter of these are ‘smooth’ regions. The main regions are in the north (the North Volcanic Province) and surrounding the Caloris basin. Both are regions of thinner crust, 20-40 kilometers, as compared to the 50-80 kilometer-thick crust around the equatorial regions.

Volcanic plains are indicated in pink. From Platz et al. 2015, Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 401, 1–56

The vague outlines of a ghost crater (named Goethe) can be seen underneath the smooth lava. After the lava was deposited, it cooled and shrank. The flows cracked above the buried surface features.

The smooth plains are young volcanics. The lava flows appear to be up to 1-2 kilometer thick and they cover an older terrain, flowing over impact craters and debris fields. The covered impact sites are known as the ghost craters. There are fewer craters on the surface of the smooth plains, and this shows that they formed relatively late, meaning 3.5-4 billion years ago. The ones around Caloris are clearly associated in some way with the impact basin. There may also be a large impact basin underneath the northern volcanic plains but this is disputed.

The smooth lava flows created low shield volcanoes or lava plains. The lava was very fluid (low viscosity), and was able travel very large distances. No stratovolcanoes or cinder cones here! The volcanic plains show that Mercury had a phase of massive flood lavas, putting Iceland to shame.

nnels. In the image, the partly buried mounts inside the channel showed how the lava flowed, the kipukas of Mercury. Strange pits in the surface nearby suggests that some of the lava flowed underground.

Not all the flows flowed. In some places there is a bright, reddish material surrounding a small volcanic flow, believed to be debris from pyroclastic flows. These volcanoes were clearly a combination of effusive and explosive eruptions, and the explosions were very powerful, with the pyroclastics reaching 50 kilometer from the vents. There is only one case where there is a pyroclastic deposit but no effusive lava. The explosions were unexpected: as Mercury formed so close to the Sun, all the volatiles (water, CO2, etc) were believed to have evaporated before Mercury ever formed. Without such volatiles, you can’t get explosions. Clearly that expectation had been wrong.

Rachmaninof crater near the top, with radial vents (center). The vents are surrounded by pryoclastic deposits (brighter area).

Some of the smaller lava fields show more than one point of origin. One field inside the Caloris basin formed from nine different, overlapping vents. These are compound volcanoes, perhaps caused by an eruption site migrating along a dyke. Most of them trace explosive eruptions.

Pits and hollows

The image shows a field of ‘hollows’ where the surface appears to have been eaten away, or more likely collapsed. The field is 10-15 kilometer long. There are quite a few such fields on Mercury.

Mercury’s acne comes in two different types. Pit craters form inside impact craters, are deeper and have irregular floors. They are surrounded by ejecta and appear to be volcanic in nature. Hollows are smaller and shallow and have flat floors. Curiously, hollows are more common on slopes that face towards the equator, and are also more common on the two hottest areas of Mercury (the two regions where ‘noon’ occurs when Mercury is at its closest to the Sun). This suggest they form as something sublimates, but it is not clear what this ‘something’ is. It is the second indication, after the pyroclastics, that Mercury has unexpected volatiles.

Hollows tend to form on darker, less reflective surfaces areas but the flat bottoms are bright. We don’t quite understand the formation, but perhaps they form where a thin layer (of lava?) overlays a different surface, and whatever sublimates is found only in the top layer. We don’t know whether the volatiles are unique to the dark material, or that these are more susceptible to sublimation because dark material gets hotter in the Sun.


The surface of Mercury showed some surprises. For such an iron-rich planet, there was rather little iron on the surface. There was also a lack of aluminium and calcium, but a lot of magnesium. The composition was intermediate between that of Komatiite (very hot lava) on Earth and basaltic mare on the Moon. Sulphur was much more abundant than had been expected, ten times higher than in the crust of the other terrestrial planets. It was found especially in places with higher calcium, and perhaps it came up as CaS.

Back to Caloris

The Caloris basin is much more notable from its colour than from its topography. It has clearly been filled in, while the region outside of the crater has also been flooded with lava but of a different colour. They are separated by the crater rim, up to 3 kilometer high but in places obliterated by the later lava. Where the crater rim is visible, it is much more densely cratered than the lava plains. This means that the plains formed considerably later than the crater itself. Although there are many places where the two lavas are adjacent, it is not clear whether one consistently covered another. Thus, we don’t know which one came first.

Where the redder material inside has been hit by a later impact, the deepest impacts show that the underlying material was blue (note: all colours are greatly exaggerated. This is not what your eye would see.) But similarly, a deep crater in the blue region revealed a red underlay. It is confusing.

The only way this seems to makes sense is that the original material was blue. This may have been a flood event sometime after the impact. It was embayed by 1-2 kilometer of red flood basalt coming from within the crater, which in many places overflowed the rim. Finally, it was covered by another batch blue flood basalt coming from outside the crater but in a few places flowing into the crater. The process was completed by 3.5 billion years ago, and there has been little or no volcanic activity since, apart from the formation of the hollows.

Composition measurements from Messenger show that the red material has high Si and Al, and low Fe, Mg, Ca and S compared to the rest of the planet. The blue material is more standard (for Mercury) in composition. Clearly, they were formed by different eruptions from different magma reservoirs. Of course, Mg, Fe and Ca are most affected by partial crystallization: if the magma sits for a while and cools a bit, these elements will form solids and drop to the bottom. The composition of the red material inside Caloris is consistent with this. But it is unique on Mercury: no other region appears to have this composition.

To explain these events, we need a large magma chamber which was sitting underneath Caloris. For some reason underneath Caloris it cooled faster or further than it did underneath the exterior. This may be because of the thinner crust left by the impact, which provided less thermal insulation. A hundred million years after the impact (speculation alert), the magma erupted on the surface. What triggered this? That is not known – perhaps the shrinking of the planet provided the pathways. The magma came up, and flooded the interior of the basin, and perhaps shortly after this the exterior region flooded from its underlying magma.

The lava almost filled the basin. It took a long time to cool. As it cooled, it compacted, and for unclear reasons an intricate spider web of cracks developed. The image below shows this web. It is centred on a crater (‘only’ 40 kilometer across) but whether the spider came from this secondary impact is now known. It is amazingly similar to the ‘astrums’ on Venus, and these are due to doming: a local uplift. The spider web, named pantheon fossae, remains a mystery.

The End

Mercury has been dead for 3.5 billion years. The scars show a fascinating history, volcanic eruptions unlike Earth has ever seen, but it was a long time ago. Underneath the blazing Sun, the planet has cooled too far.

But it could still rule the Solar System. Mercury has a funny orbit, close enough to the Sun that it feels a different, non-Newtonian gravity. Its precessing elliptical orbit had at first been interpreted as due to perturbations from another planet. This new planet was even given a name: orbiting between Mercury and the Sun, the appropriate name was clearly Volcano. A few astronomers saw it crossing in front of the Sun. At least until Einstein decided that gravity itself was to blame. He came up with General Relativity, and this explained Mercury’s precession perfectly. Volcano was never seen again.

This precession, though, is one of the danger points of the Solar System. The rate of precession is, by a complete fluke, very close to that of Jupiter. In the future, the two may fall into sync, and Jupiter would distort the elliptical orbit of Mercury and pull it away from the Sun. Free-flying Mercury would play havoc with the inner Solar System. In some models, it collides with Venus – or with Earth. In one model, an interaction causes Venus and Earth to swap places. An unguided messenger is a terrible danger! The chance of this happening is quite small: it is estimated as only 1-2% over the next few billion years. But it is not zero, and it is the biggest danger the Solar System faces. Take care.

54 thoughts on “Beneath a Boiling Sun: Mercury Rising

  1. I don’t remember ever hearing the last part about Mercury possibly relocating in our Solar System. Very nice article.


  2. Several reports are surfacing of a possible undersea eruption near the Axial Seamount off the Oregon coast.
    Recently, VC had a nice discussion relative to possible climatic and environmental impacts following an eruption in 2010/2011 in the same area. The area is in a central location relative to the California Current, and is a rich fishery for Salmon, Steelhead, Halibut and well, the entire food chain. Will be interesting to note in 3 years whether or not these eruptions are meaningful in any way to the local eco-system. With massive rains this Winter in most of California, and an ample snowpack to keep water flowing all Summer, I’d expect the Salmon spawn success rate to be above average, despite a low number of adult spawners. Given that Salmon return to spawn in about 3 years, we should see an upwards spike in numbers three years from now.
    If we don’t, then something else is going on…and an offshore eruption seems like as good as explanation as anything.

    • This article is going on three years old. Your spike should be two years earlier than you stated (should be next year if your knowledge of the salmon sex life and habits are accurate). 🙂

      • Ummm, you’re absolutely right. The original article I read was undated, and the one from the Seattle Times is indeed quite old as you point out….as such, my Salmon spawn success theory will have to wait. Thanks fer picking me up!

  3. One more star for Mr Bardy
    Normal tectonic star
    Saturdayb 27.05.2017 09:36:19 64.621 -17.467 7.0 km 3.9 99.0 3.6 km SE of Bárðarbunga

  4. We have 3 new quakes south west of Kilauea. A 3.7 at 4.1 km and two 2.2 at a little less depth. Not an area that has a lot of activity, but they are in an area of previous activity. We have seen lots of activity at depth and near the surface around the whole island. I think the island is expanding and the stress is showing in areas around faults, and in between the volcanoes. With the new access to the GPS and Tilt reporting we can see that both of the active volcanoes are growing.

    Just the opinion of the JR. member of the blog.


  5. There is another earthquake swarm in western Turkey, a bit inland from where the swarm in February was. The main quakes are around M5. There is some concern. This region in Turkey had M6.5 quakes regularly, about every decade, but it stopped after the 1970 quake, apart from one in the mid-1990’s. These swarms are a way to gently release the strain but they may also increase strain nearby

    • Not that long ago, there was an alarmist article in the press hyping the hazard of a long quiet fault segment under te sea near Izmit if I remember correctly.

  6. My only real question is “blue, as in optically blue? Or blue as rendered by false color imaging assigned to some particular spectral line of interest?”

    • It is false colour in the sense that the filters aren’t the usual ones, but it was coded such that ‘blue’ means it is brighter in the bluer filters. But to our eyes it would be 50 shades of grey

    • Not me. They can take their wannabe softcore porno and shove it up the appropriate orifice. Hollywood is into that sort of thing.

      Thanks for the info on how the image was color coded. I’ve monkeyed around with FITS format images and done the same. Great eye candy.

  7. OT

    On Wednesday, May 17, the Furnace (Volcano, island of Reunion, France) was set on alert (Eruption imminent).
    Nothing happens (until now).
    Is it a failed eruption?
    Is it a lack of understanding of the mechanism of an eruption (from the volcanologists)?

    • Can’t trust these volcanoes. All the signs must have been there. The alerts are a fine judgement: you can’t have too many wrong ones or people will stop taking notice, and you cannot afford to miss the ones that do go one to erupt. Those volcanoes should support the staff better, and do as they are told.

    • Perhaps the volcanologists…… But not for the reasons you imagine.

      People wait for eruption 😊

      When this volcano erupts, thousands of people rush at night to see this volcano. Parking is full. People park their cars anywhere. It’s traffic jam for km. It takes hours to reach the Enclos (beside the summit). People are proud and happy to see this erupting volcano.

  8. In the last few days there has been some activity in the area east of Iceland and North of the Faroe islands. A few stars have popped up, but I imagine there has probably been a larger swarm with lots of quakes too small for IMO instruments to pick up. Anyway, it seems to have calmed down now. Is there anything interesting out there? Volcanic? Tectonic?

    I also noticed a couple of odd quakes in eastern Iceland a few days ago. Could they be related?

    • It seems to be at the southern end of he Aegir ridge, extinct for 20 million years. I didn’t understand these two events. Perhaps a collapse of the steep wall?

      • If it causes just a minimal tsunami event, some politicans and other people here (Faroes) will yell out “We told you so!!!” as homosexuals have just been given the right to marry (civil unions), amid insane opposition claiming that the country will go to ground as punishment from the guy upstairs.

  9. Several news agencies report that the US is withdrawing from Paris. That would be a sad day for science. The physics is so simple that the first calculations on what a doubling of CO2 would do were done in 1896. And it found pretty much the same number as we do nowadays, although the person at that time believed it could not possibly happen for hundreds of years. The actual warming follows the predictions very closely. Denial won’t make it go away. And the worst thing is that it is a solvable problem: the changes that are needed to keep climate change within manageable limits are not dramatic. But the longer you wait, the worse it gets.

    As one politician said, no one cares about what happens in 50 years time.

    • It’s not vulcanism, but Albert has erupted, so I hope I can erupt, too

      Albert, I am hoping your first sentence will come to pass.

      In future decades, it will be seen as a glad(not sad) day for science(the IPCC is a political organization that is using global warming climate science as a means to political ends.)

      Arrhenius was initially very wrong in his calculations(which he later corrected). Yes, the calculations are simple for what he did. But the real world physics are not. His calculations were for CO2 and water vapor. But the atmosphere is incredibly more complex than that. Cloud cover, various albedo effects, volcanism, UHI, soot, oceans and their currents, solar insolation, GCRs, etc. ALL affect temperature, yet their impacts are little understood and together, for now, impossible to ‘model’ accurately.

      The actual warming has NOT followed the model projections. NONE of the models, even after much fiddling and endless adjustments to both the models and the raw data, get it right. Be a scientist, check the facts beyond what you have been spoon fed.

      DENIAL: Using pejorative terms to describe those who, scientifically, disagree with you is not science. Scientists are skeptical, if they are scientists at all; they are not in ‘denial’. Most skeptical scientists agree that adding CO2 will cause some warming, but are skeptical about ‘how much’ and what might be the deleterious effects, if any, from such warming. Contrary to the constant media hype, weather is not getting more extreme and sea levels continue to rise at the same rate they have since coming out of the last ice age. Be scientific, find out for yourself.

      Nothing dramatic needs to be done? I guess that depends on from where you are watching the show. A new study is out..the developed world should pay four trillion dollars a year in order to ‘control’ the climate and stop AGW. That would work out to more than a thousand dollars a year, per person, for those who could afford/be forced to pay. It would be a forced global tax handled by a global bank administered by unelected global officials. Yeah, great efficiency there. Sorry, but I cannot afford to pay, in my household, another 2-4 thousand dollars in taxes. That’s dramatic to me!

      Here is the real drama, and it isn’t Netflix: Cheap energy (read: fossil fuels, there is no renewable that comes close) lifts poor people out of immediate suffering. Cheap energy provides food, clean water, clean cooking(cook fire smoke is a major cause/aggravator of death from respiratory illness), access to transportation, access to jobs. Life expectancies rocket and suffering plummets where cheap energy invades. Mortality rates drop, but birth rates moreso. If it weren’t for immigration from poor nations, most first world nations(where fossil fuels continue to be the vastly dominant form of energy production) would be losing population due to low birth rates. Overpopulation would be ‘solved’ by increasing cheap energy(fossil fuel) access to the poor.

      Letting the poor suffer and die in mass numbers due to famine, water shortage, and exposure might not be dramatic to you but is dramatic to me… and is especially dramatic to them. But that will, in time, I guess, prevent some additional CO2 from entering the atmosphere, if that’s what you want. Feel free to condemn the poor to their ‘fate’. I’d rather help them. Yeah, I am more concerned about millions of children suffering and dying right now from lack of cheap energy than the already failed predictions of those who claim worldwide catastrophe is ‘just around the corner’… unless you send us money NOW. To me it is very dramatic to spend four trillion dollars per year in order to condemn a large percentage of the population to a life of intense suffering and poverty.

      I WILL, and do, send my money to people I personally know who are on the ground, working to relieve suffering among the poor in tangible ways. I lived for four years in a third world nation serving the poor and saw watered down, little or no benefit to the poor from the foreign aid sent by other nations through government agencies. Waving our hypocritical hands and throwing money at corrupt global agencies will not change the effects of CO2. But it will fill some pockets with money…and make some people feel better about themselves because they paid their taxes for a cause they have been convinced places them on the moral high ground. I’d rather be called a denier and continue to examine the science closely. My opinion/view can change as the science dictates.

      And, I’d rather send MY money where it is verifiably, observably(sounds like science, again) doing some good for someone with actual needs. That’s a worthy cause.

      • I think as well, that for the most part those of us trying to convince sceptics/denialists that climate change is a real massive problem can tend to be very pessimistic and gloomy about it, as in concentrating exclusively on the worst effects of climate change, and not putting enough of the spotlight on solutions.

        How often do we hear about “catastrophes are on the way and we’re all screwed, we’re on the highway to hell” etc. (which by the way is still most certainly a necessary part of the whole cause, don’t think that I’m a denialist btw), compared to things that can be done about it, like investments in green energy, and finding ways to help the whole world transition away from total reliance on fossil fuels, without putting excess financial strain on the vulnerable, and avoiding basically “punishing” people for letting it get to this critical stage (like the carbon tax for example).

        It’s seems to be all about “this is how bad it’s going to get, unless we do “something” about it” and not “if we do this, this, and that, we can STOP things from going beyond hope and having x, y and z happen to us all”. Some even say that we have exactly ZERO hope of sorting out, surrendering before we even start (“we’re screwed anyway so why even bother”). Yes, at the moment not enough is being done, but we should try to put more emphasis on what we CAN do in the future and not what we HAVEN’T done yet.

        There’s still time to at least stop everything from going completely tits-up, even if we can’t completely stop it from getting much worse than it already is. If we can at least bring it under control first, then we can concentrate on atoning for the damage we’ve done. It’s not necessarily about halting everything right now or else, it’s about not going past the point of no return, and hopefully doing things in the future to reverse the effects of the warming we’re causing. It’s not too late just yet but obviously we need to get a move on. Just because Trump is about ruin the US efforts doesn’t mean the rest of us need to sit back and say “well that’s it we’re screwed anyway, let’s give up”. That just lets the denialists win. Besides, there’s too much negativity full stop right now. That’s just my two cents on it all.

        • -“How often do we hear about “catastrophes are on the way and we’re all screwed, we’re on the highway to hell””

          Speaking on this point specifically, part of the problem with climate change is that it isn’t going to show up suddenly. The actual effects of climate change are such that the symptoms lag the causes by a decent margin of time.

          So even if we don’t see a rising tide, or a massive drought in the american southwest farmland, or a clathrate gun runaway climate scenario now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t already reached the threshold of those scenario’s tipping points. The problem is simply that this isn’t an overnight process, and we are dealing with non-immediate feedback. Keep in mind, the global temperature has been rising, and glaciers have been melting, but even with an extremely hot world, glaciers will still take a considerable time to melt entirely to raise sea levels. Permafrost still will take a long time to fully thaw out between warm seasons.

          The globe is warming, that is undeniable science even for skeptics. I do understand your comment on scientists being skeptical, and you are correct. But there is a little bit of a difference in this scenario in that if there is even a chance that the globe IS in fact warming, then we are all majorly screwed. Are you comfortable taking that gamble?

          First off, I’m pretty confident in the models, which an extremely large majority of non-politically affiliated scientists have reached consensus on. But even if you were to be skeptical of these models, wouldn’t it be prudent to play a conservative role here? If there is even a chance that climate change is real, there is ZERO reason we should not move forward on actions to combat it in my opinion. The consequences for humankind as a whole are very much unknown, but there are a LOT of very bad scenarios that can occur.

          Being a skeptic is a good thing, but that should go both ways, and it shouldn’t entail outright denial of something that is a very very real problem in our world.

      • Your reply is very emotional, motivated by many ideas and subjective opinions, some of which I also share. But science is not about expressing passionate opinions.

        I often believe that Hekla and Katla will erupt in the next few days, and I am passionate about it, because I enjoy watching volcanic eruptions. But the truth is that Hekla will erupt when the physics dictate so. And my wish is not science. The volcano does not care about what I think or feel.

        The same applies for climate science.

        A volcano can and does affect human life. And so does the climate.
        So it is in our collective interest to invest in science to study it.

        Unfortunately Trump, the man that claims to be skeptical of climate science, is censoring climate research and also cuttings its funds. That is utterly biased and not to say, arrogant. Trump is unreasonable to speak to, one cannot have a logical discussion with him, because he only bases in biased passionate beliefs and opinions, rather than a objective view of the world. The Trump phenomena is one born of anger against the establishment, and this is very easy to understand, but that anger clouds any logical reasoning.

        Our history is full of such examples. The French revolution was a revolution against an opressive old order, and look what happened after. Same with the anger and the rising up of Germany in the 1930s. Same with communism. The world is full of beautiful passionate political motivations (bur very subjective) which then became distorted by those same underlying emotions and passions.

        • If I could, I would throw some stones in these foolish human politicians.

          I appologize that a volcano like me, enters a volcano forum to discuss politics, in the defense of science. But I deserve to be given the change to erupt too.

          This will be my last off-topic comment.
          I am going back to my earthquake-behavior.

      • I like to think that I am qualified to judge the data and models. My work is close enough and I have run CO2 models myself. Have you? The data agrees well with the models, and the data from different groups (with different funding!) agrees to about 0.1C. The warming so far, of 0.8C, is not disputed. You talk about dissenting scientists. Who do you have in mind? I have met many dissenting politicians and commenters – but the scientific discussion has moved on as that debate has been settled. The data has won. As a scientist, I am required to list my funding sources to make any conflict obvious. Politicians do not have to do this, nor do commenters – so if you want to know who are the scientist, check whether they list their funding.

        Now there is a lot scaremongering around, and I find Hansen over the top. Limited global warming is manageable – if we are willing to manage it. A lot of development aid will be needed. Our town supports an orphanage in Bethlehem. The stories there are about the growing lack of water, down to a few hours a day. That is due to the drought in the Middle East, and that is climate change. It is the same drought that caused the war in Syria. TV shows you what can happen if you deny the crisis, rather than trying to manage it. The biggest effect is actually sea level. Your point about sea level rise is wrong. Sea level was rather constant for a thousand year, before the 20t century rise began, and the rise is now accelerating. Whether we will have 60 cm or 1 meter this century is irrelevant: it is what happens after that. The last time CO2 levels were at out _current_ levels, sea level was many meters higher. If we get 2C change, we can see what sea level was like the last time we had those kind of global temperatures. It was 4-10 meters higher than now. That is what we need to prepare for, and we need to know how fast this will come.That requires research.

        If CO2 keeps rising uncontrolled, we get major problems. It won’t be +10C: that is scare mongering. But +4C is probable. At that rate, we lose a significant part of our farming productivity. Yes, CO2 helps plant growth – but heat and drought hampers it, and the models indicate that the net effect is a decline in food production. With a population growing towards 9+ billion, models shows that we can manage to feed the masses, but only just. Throw in major global warming and expect famine.

        Now what we need to do is not dramatic. If people can cut their energy use by 2% per year, we can do it. That is not a lot, and that is doable for everyone.

        As to cost, solar power is now cheaper than fossil fuel. There are three main problems with alternatives: there is less power available per person, they can’t fuel petrol cars, and they are intermittent. All three are solvable, but need research and time.

      • I’ll say two things to that:

        1. Be distrustful of _anyone_ from any position on this issue who expresses too much certainty. There’s far too much we don’t know; the system is far too complex. The basic effect of CO2 is indeed simple physics and maths – but the web of _feedbacks_ involved – which can either amplify or mitigate the basic effect – is vast and complex and still far from completely understood. It was only a couple of years ago, for instance, that we started to understand the very significant role played by aerosols generated from the volatile organics responsible for the scent of pine forests in cooling the planet.

        2. Irrespective of whether climate change is happening fast or slow; irrespective of whether it’s good or bad or not happening at all, we need to urgently develop better energy sources than fossil fuels _anyway_

      • Well, here we go again. Climate change denial, and we have now a volcano answering….

        I have been active profesionally in nature conservation for 35 years now. Changes in distribution of species defenitely are taking place caused by climate change. Some species go, others take empty niches. Global warming is a item these days defenitely. Caused by humans? I am positive about that, so many scientific papers that support this, it cannot be ignored anymore. Fe in the Alps wintertime has shortened about 4 weeks in comparison with the 70’s. And sea ice trend at our north pole…. And, and…

        Alternative energy sources slowly are beginning to play a role inour modern society. Not there yet, at all. But innovation using alternative energy sources will be soon at higher level and ahead of the traditional sources. The Trumpians will be in backwardness as result of denial.

        I agree on the poor – rich opposition. Quick money may lessen urgent needs. In future other solutions are needed. I still believe in sharing technology (-> wealth) as one of the main solutions.

        If we won’t succeed? No big deal. Our human niche will be filled in quickly! Nature rules. 🙂

        • When I graduated back in 88 with a degree in Environmental Science we all sat round and discussed what we all knew to be true. Humans were changing the climate. We discussed at great length and beer how this would play out over the next hundred years. I remember it very well. So far we have been right. Politicians would first ignore it, then deny it, then do very little about it, then panick, but then it would be too late. We discussed how big money would play its part and even that there would be protests against the changes to our lives that it required. We couldn’t predict the Internet or mobile phones, but green eared twenty somethings we were depressingly right to be so sceptical. Our only bright note was there would be a reduction in the worlds population due to its effects, even a nuclear war and that this would allow the plant to recover within a few thousand years or so to a new state.

          • But it doesn’t have to be like that. Take the HFC treat to the ozone layer. The first science showing the potential crisis was in the mid 1970’s. Th US made funding available to study the science. The ozone hole was discovered in 1985 which settled the argument. The Montreal protocol was adopted in 1992. It can be done! And all the time, the chemical industry denied the science up to 1990. Now compare to global warming. The science was settled by 1990: after that, improvements have been in made in modeling and in understanding of the secondary effects, but the basic science hasn’t changed. The warming itself was observed by the late 1990’s, through the studies of the retreating ice, the earlier nesting and flowering seasons, etc. In hindsight, the warming started to be significant around 1980. The arguments from the industry are identical to the earlier ones: denying the science, underplaying the danger, and claiming mitigation is too expensive.

            It is interesting to see what has happened since. On the same time scale as the HFC’s, there could have been a CO2 action plan adopted by 2005-2010. Paris was 5-10 years late. Why? A major reason is that the chemical industry involved was not a big priority to the governments. In contrast, oil companies own several governments (including, one could argue, the US). But the oil companies are slowly coming around and have stopped denying the science. Really, only the coal companies are left and they are not a major economic player. What you are now seeing is inertia: the US is still reacting to a driving force from 5 years ago. Basic physics: momentum continues after the force has switched off.

            Of course other forces are involved. The US is a deeply divided society. Again basic physics: polarization is a force. It is what politicians try to achieve when playing the ‘us against them’ card

            The best solution would be to find an alternative industry for the US coal regions. You can’t just leave people without a livelihood.

    • Both climate and world instability is primarily being caused by increasing world population. Much of the world really struggles to have a real GDP growth that allows reasonably full and proper employment. The net result is large numbers of unemployed men (the women live at home) easily and cheaply employed as soldiers.

      1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
      Syria 4M 6M 8M 12M 16M 20M
      Jordan 0.9 1.6 2.3 3.3 4.7 6.5
      Gaza st 0.7 0.9 1.25 2.0 2.5
      Iran 22 28 38 56 66 74
      Indonesia 88 115 148 181 211 241
      India B 450 554 700 870 1050 1230
      USA 186 209 229 252 283 310

      • Yes, it is a lot of people who need food and resources. The UN projects a faster rise than the US. I haven’t gone into the details, but I think it is related to a slower projected reduction in family size in Africa, and perhaps a higher estimate of improvements in child mortality. Everyone (I know) agrees on the need to keep population under control, preferably without invoking catastrophes. That means encouraging women in a number of African and Asian countries to have fewer children than perhaps their husbands want. It is matter of education and equality.

        I found in China that there is now a push for more children, and removing the one-child has done that but not by as much as the politicians expected. Woman do make their own choices, if there is equality.

    • I think it was fe = ‘for example’ rather than using the standard abbreviation eg

      so I’m guessing not a native speaker, but with very good english

  10. Bogoslof

    May 18, before the most recent eruption. The eruption on May 16 had destroyed part of the island, and led the sea back in.

    Perhaps the abundance of water caused last week’s eruption (May 28) to be so strong

    I am hoping that AVO will make a movie out of the satellite images, to show the continuous changes on the island. Every eruption remodels the island. It is like SImCity with volcanoes.

    For some images, see

  11. Hello from Mr Bardy

    01.06.2017 09:54:07 64.670 -17.407 2.2 km 3.6 99.0 6.6 km ENE of Bárðarbunga
    01.06.2017 09:53:55 64.676 -17.433 7.8 km 3.2 99.0 6.0 km NE of Bárðarbunga
    01.06.2017 09:49:06 64.666 -17.416 8.9 km 3.2 99.0 6.0 km ENE of Bárðarbunga

  12. An M4.2 reported off the northern coast of North Korea. I wonder what they did this time!

  13. Hello, all.
    A few weeks ago I noticed a persistent thin smoke/cloud on the webcam of Ebinodake (Kirishimaya/Iozo) for a few days. I searched for news, found nothing, dismissed it as weather or something else. However yesterday I checked the JMA website and noticed that at 9 May the alert level was raised to 2. Anyone knows more about this?

    Cheers and keep up the good work. I have to admit, Albert is a great storyteller (and I suspect a movie afficianado), loving the historical and planetary posts.

  14. Is there a soothsayer in the room to tell me what will be the future at Herðubreið and Bárðarbunga?


Comments are closed.