Jan Mayen – The Fiery end of Civilization

Photographer: Hannes Grobe, released under GNU. A desolate sign-poste with a cinder cone in the background. Jan Mayen, the northernmost active volcano.

Photographer: Hannes Grobe, released under GNU. A desolate sign-poste with a cinder cone in the background. Jan Mayen, the northernmost active volcano.

The Norwegian island of Jan Mayen is situated north of Iceland. It might be the only place on earth where no one yet has bothered to find anything valuable. Except for a short stint in the early twentieth century when Norwegian trappers hunted polar bears and blue fox. Jan Mayen services as a combined polar research facility, meteorological post and radio station. The islands airstrip is also used as a point for air rescue services.

The location of the island gives Norway a large part of the Arctic. The Norwegian economic zone is counted from the eastern part of mainland Norway all the way to Jan Mayen. This “ownership” is becoming increasingly challenged today since large sub-aquatic oil and gas-fields are thought to be located there.

Photorapher: Gernot Hecker, released under GNU. Soaring straight out of the ocean, Jan Mayen might be the most beautiful strato-volcano.

Photorapher: Gernot Hecker, released under GNU. Soaring straight out of the ocean, Jan Mayen might be the most beautiful strato-volcano.

Jan Mayen is consisting of two connected areas. The northern is dominated by the towering Beerenberg strato-volcano that juts 2277 meters straight from the ocean. The southern end is elongated and rather flat.

The islands volcanic activity reminds quite a lot of the Icelandic. The island comes with its own hotspot, also named Jan Mayen, and the Island is placed on the Jan Mayen micro-continent. The micro-continent once belonged to the Greenland plate, but is welded to the Eurasian continental plate, right beside the Jan Mayen triple-rift spot on the North Atlantic Ridge, aptly named Jan Mayen of course. Jan Mayen is surrounded by about ten sub-aquatic volcanos, but very little is known about their level of activity.

Animation: Matthias Kabel, released under GNU.

Animation: Matthias Kabel, released under GNU.

Beerenberg volcano is a mainly basaltic strato-volcano with an abundance of parasitic cinder cones on its slopes. The volcano has had a period of heightened eruptive behavior that started in 1970 with a VEI-3 eruption that forced an evacuation of the island. Then another small eruption came in 1973 (VEI-1) and the latest 1985 (VEI-0). It is believed that the diminishing sizes of the eruptions is a sign that the volcano lost momentum, and might go dormant until the next eruption cycle starts again. The cycle dormancy length is normally roughly 100 to 150 years, so if that is true, it will be some time before an eruption occurs again.

The southern end of the island is consisting of the inactive Holocene rifting fissure volcano system of Sör-Jan. It is comprised of splatter cones and seems to have erupted in short fissures running along the length of the island and finally reaching quite far south of the island.

If I would speculate a bit here, the shape of the volcano more seems like a central volcano with a southward fissure swarm than two separate volcanoes. But this has to my knowledge not been scientifically tested.

Image courtesy of MODIS/NASA

Image courtesy of MODIS/NASA

A Karman Vortex Street is a fancy name for oscillating turbulence. It is when for instance wind goes around a flag-pole, and it start to alternate to go around on the left and then the right side. That creates a flag-pole that will start to vibrate and “sing”.

Beerenberg is a rather stupendous flag-pole due to its height and narrow top. The volcano sometimes slices apart passing clouds that get divided as they try to pass. And then the wind starts to the left, then back to the right, and so on back and forth. The result?

A Harman Vortex Street is one of nature’s most beautiful phenomena. Whoever said that theoretical physics can’t be beautiful when let loose in nature?


(Originally posted November 11, 2011)

53 thoughts on “Jan Mayen – The Fiery end of Civilization

  1. Do note that this is not a new post. It is the first post from the old site that has been reposted so that we can save it.
    We are curating the old posts and selecting those that we find worthy of saving for posterity on our new servers.
    In this process we will always post one or more posts on Wednesdays, so do not expect new material on that particular day. Unless of course something blows up. Which it will.

    Have a nice day!

  2. Karman vortex, Yes beautiful! Also a hot spot, part of a rift, AND, a cyclic activity. Is it somehow synchronized with the Icelandic activity cycle? Perhaps with some timelaps?

    • Nobody knows.
      Jan Mayen is less well studied (by far) than Iceland. There is just no known cyclicity since the records for the island is so much shorter. To be quite honest, the Norwegians are not spending a lot on studying their volcanoes on Jan Mayen.

      • …Reminds me of another country not spending a lot on studying their volcanoes along the Aleutian Islands…

        Probably for the same reasons, too.

        (It’s cold. And wet. And remote. Not to mention, it’s cold. And wet. And I hear it’s cold, too….)

  3. Is the Beerenberg stratovolcano also capable of erupting more evolved magmas like andesite and dacite because of magma staling inside Beerenberg’s magmachamber?

    • Just seismic. This area isn’t part of the caribbean subduction trench, but it is part of a region with a lot of transform faults.

      You would need to go a good bit further east and a little south before getting into volcanic territory.

      • Nice. Just wondering. When “Charlotte Ameilie, St Thomas” dominates my mobile QuakeFeed app, especially with all the knocking going on in Japan, it tends to pique my interest. Ya know?

  4. Is there I link between the latest quakes in Japan and Aso volcano? Same area but not under the volcano.

    • I doubt there is any direct link. It’s a very seismically active area as you can see, it’s also situated right on the fault line here.

      One thing somewhat worth mentioning however is that this quake occurs in the same graben that runs across Kyushu from Aso to Unzen. Also, while not directly related to Aso, there is some small potential for it to stir things up a little, but I wouldn’t count on anything major personally.

  5. Looks like another quake in Japan, 7.1 from emsc.

    off topic but since last night I’ve been having intermittent access problems for the café, on my phone and laptop but both through chrome. Any one else with similar issues?

    • Yes, our host has had intermittent problems with the server VC is hosted on, they say they have fixed the problem, but we shall wait and see

  6. 5.3
    18km NE of Ozu, Japan
    2016-04-15 18:03:12 UTC8.3 km

    This is around 15 km from the center of the Aso


  7. USGS “pager alert” is red status for this quake. Estimated casualties over 1,000 and economic losses in tens of billions. The quake hit at about 1:25am. However many may have evacuated because of fore-shocks over the past days – so for rescue teams then it’s hard to know if collapsed or damaged buildings were occupied or not. Hopefully the number of casualties will be much lower than USGS estimates.

    • That Pager Alert estimate is based off of population density and average building integrity vs the acceleration for the areas affected. Some pretty in-depth work was done to put the model together. The main reason was for disaster planning and preparedness. Hopefully the projections are high and the actual casualties are far less.

      DYFI Scientific Background

    • These quakes have been pedominantly left lateral strike slip events. (Ground on the other dude of the fault appears to move left when looking at it from the other side) the interpretation from what I’ve read is that this is the expected motion given the actions of the subducting plate and the stresses that it imparts on the over riding plate. This all covered in the narrative from the USGS and in the pdf poster that I linked earlier.

      • dude = side with one key offset – was that a left lateral earthquake between the top and middle row of your keyboard mid word ?

        If you put your fingers on s and I and slide them to d and u respectively – your fingers do the motion of the quake – so I suupose a keyboard quake that had that effect while you were typing in the correct spot would be a right lateral quake to move the buttons to those spots relative to your fingers 🙂

    • I’m not saying *nothing* happened but those videos look like normal Aso steaming… if there was an eruption it was likely just a burp in the hydrothermal system. Not saying nothing is *going* to happen of course – Aso is definitely worth keeping a close eye on at the moment and JMA are doing exactly that.

      • I concur. Hydrothermal activity would also be more likely to be triggered by the shaking. More likely than the magma.

  8. M7.3 Kumamoto quake on same scale as 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake: expert

    The April 16 “main shock” earthquake that hit Kumamoto Prefecture and nearby areas was on par with the deadly 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and, according to a University of Tokyo professor, was around 16 times more energetic than a powerful foreshock that struck the area on April 14. … http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160416/p2a/00m/0na/037000c

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