Don’t Panic! – Volcanoes, Overdue & Douglas Adams

Oh look, it is Fuego time again!

Time and again we see the statistical fallacy pop up in regards of volcanoes, and then as a letter in the mail, the word “Overdue” is dropped in our mental mailboxes. But, fear not, there is a hero of sanity out there in the form of the greatest philosopher of all time to save us from such silliness.

Here I sincerely apologize for the headaches I am about to cause to you poor readers, so before going forward I suggest that you go and fetch a towel to put over your heads when it becomes to brainwhacking. Remember, Don’t Panic and you can always take a pan-galactic gargle-blaster at the end of reading this.

But let us instead start with something that everyone with a high school diploma can understand, the much loved and hailed Bell-curve.

The decreasing fit probability problem of the Bell-curve

Albert Einstein 1947. Photograph by Orren Jack Turner, Princeton.

Let us begin with that a Bell-curve is by nature finite and not analogue, there are no decimals in the probabilistics here. As soon as you go below 1 you get a probabilistic quantum foam of undeterminable chances.

In high-school statistics you just chop off those pesky undeterminables and leave them be. And most likely you will never get back to them unless you study advanced mathematics or fall in love with quantum physics.

There is no doubt that the Bell-curve is useful and that it can help us to determine a few things about our world. Problem is that the more detailed you try to be when using it, the less precise it will be.

In a Bell-curve based on a population of ten measured instances of when a volcano is most likely to erupt you will typically get a 70 percent probability for the 3 most likely events to occur. 70 percent sounds good doesn’t it? We pretty much nailed it! Nope…

Let us flip it around. We have a 30 percent probability that something completely different will happen compared to the 3 most probable outcomes. And it becomes even worse if we go for the single most probable outcome. The percentages here will be something like 30, 40 or 50 percent. If we now flip that we see that there is between 50 to 70 percent chance that something else will happen. Bummer.

As the instances (n-population) increases the 3 most likely outcomes become ever more narrow, with improbabilities increasing.

In other words, it is more likely that a volcano will erupt prior, or after the “due date”. In reality it is even improbable that it would erupt on the “due date”. This also goes for behaviour; a volcano exists in a probability field of what it can do in eruption styles and sizes. It is all more or less fuzzy until after the eruption has occurred.

It is a human trait to do ever more complex models of our reality, and a population of 10 in a Bell-curve is to low to give any meaningful result. A population of 100 measurements are seen as a minimum value.

Here comes a funky thing. As you increase the population more things will start to crop up above the value of 1 further out on the Bell-curve. Or in other words, the Universe will start to throw us more and more odd-balls the more and longer we measure something.

This inevitably leads to the 3 most likely events to happen having a slightly lower percentage with a population of 100 than with a population of 10. That 70 percentage probability will drop down to typically the low 60s.

And as we get more data into our model spanning ever longer time, we will see that probability continue to drop. This is where statisticians start to bin probabilities into groups that are ever larger, five most likely outcomes, seven, nine and so on these bins grow. And lo and behold, the probability ratios start to soar, but in reality, we are stating less and less about the important thing. When will the volcano erupt. Or in other words, statistics has become almost pointless at this point.

Problem is that humans like to see things from our limited lifespan, and a volcano lives from anything to a thousand years up to millions of years.

Let us take an example, Grimsvötn. We do not know the exact age of the volcano, but we believe it to be between 100 000 to 250 000 years old. We have great record of it’s antics for the last 1000 years, and a fair one for the last 10000 years. The rest is just “out there”. So, we have data for just a small percentage of the time it has existed, and we for obvious reasons lack all the data that we need from the future to see how it will develop.

Still we try to wrangle useful statistics out of the 1000 or 10000 years of data we have, even if that is less than 10 percent of the lifespan of the volcano.

Volcanologists are well aware that any statistic bandying will never give an answer to when a volcano will erupt, at least in any useful manner.

Still the statistical fallacy rears its ugly head even among volcanologists. Quite often volcanologists say things like “if you want to know what a volcano will do, look at what it has done historically”.

Now, let us go and use Fuego as an example for this kind of fallacy. After hearing that from volcanologist X, volcano-lover Y will go to The Global Volcanology Page entry for Fuego and see that it has behaved quite well in recorded history producing VEI-1s to VEI-4s. Our volcano-lover will also find a reference to the ancestral Meseta volcano and the Esquintla-debris avalanche.

And here the fallacy turns into a full-blown Dragon. What has happened historically is not the same as all that has happened in the 250 000 years that the Meseta volcanic complex has existed. It has changed behaviour many times, and thrown some quite large black swans into the camp fire.

So, in other words, at best we can say that a particular bin of eruption sizes and styles are most likely, but out there are dragons lurking aplenty just waiting to happen, ranging from quite plausible up to almost impossible.

Black swans

We often use the term black swan in here for those improbable things that lurk out in the fringes on any Bell-curve. And as we have just seen, there will be more and more of them lurking about as we get closer to a 1 to 1 parity with reality.

The name black swan comes from a very rare black swan that was born outside of Paris in the early seventies. And in one of these great jokes of the Universe it turned out that the gene that produces white swans are recessive, and that the gene that produces black swans is dominant. It also turned out that swans sexually prefer black swans to white swans. So, we now have an ever expanding amount of black swans, resulting in the white swan turning into a true black swan event in a few hundred years.

This kind of begs the question if it would be possible to predict how realistic a black swan event is, and if we can predict what type of black swan would be coming for us?

Grab your towel and let us venture into the field of quantum-probabilistics and then into the heartland of Douglas Adams.


Richard Feynman, photograph by Thamiko Thiel.

First relax, I will not go into any great depth here. To do that I would have to transform to Feynman and write QED. Oh wait, he wrote that book, read it.

It is said that humanity only have proved two things, these are parts of mathematics and formal logics. The rest is just probable knowledge. Just remember that a scientific theory is thousands to million times more likely to be correct than a half-arsed theory. See for instance the Entire Scientific Community™ against the Flat Earth Society…

Two different scientific theories stand apart and are by now seen as so well proven that they are very close to be upgraded to being True. These are Einstein’s Specific and General Theories on Relativity. The second is the Feynman Interpretation of the Copenhagen Interpretation of the double-slit experiment, that is the foundation of Quantum Electro-Dynamics (read QED).

The foundation of the latter is quantum probabilistics. The mathematics here is quite exotic, and Feynman himself ventured out into the rarefied field of path-integrals to quantify certain aspects of quantum uncertainties. I will do my darnedest to keep it far simpler, so much so that our dear Albert will groan bemusedly, and hit me over the head for splitting the proverbial beer-atom.

Well, I might be a Yahoo, but I take this subject ever so Serious.

Remember that I said that the Bell-curve is finite since we can’t measure anything less or larger than 1? It is either a 1 or a 0 in the boxes of the Bell-curve. But, what about 0.42? Problem is that we can’t know anything about a probability below 1 (with the exception of 0 and -1).

Still it is between 1 and 0 that most of the interesting stuff in the Universe happens. In that box we find not only Yes or No, we also find Maybe, and all sorts of Black Swans. Due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle we can never accurately know what is inside that box far out on the Bell-curve. We can just assume that it is containing something, unknown what.

And even if we know that there is a cat inside the box, we will not know if the cat is alive or not. The cat is literally alive and dead at the same time. Or we will know if it is dead or alive, but we can’t know if it is existing or not. We can never know both at the same time.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Schrödinger’s Cat may seem funny, but they are the fundamentals upon which our Universe rests. Personally, I believe that the reason for the existence of the Universe is to laugh it’s arse off at us as we try to understand it, and that if we ever truly understand it fully, it will change into something even more bizarre. “Some say that this has already happened.” (Douglas Adams)

What physicists do is to bin those boxes of uncertainties together into something that is called probability-fields that will through mathematical wrangling divulge what it is most likely to be. This of course gives off more black swans further lowering the significance of the most likely outcome of the Bell-curve.

So far nobody has bridged the gap between the quantum world and our mundane relativistic one. So, we do not know how these quantum uncertainties affect our life, we just know that they probably do.

Now it is time to go into the world of one Douglas Noel Adams.

The Douglas Adams Model of Quantum-Improbabilistics

Douglas Adams, photograph by Michael Hughes.

In a true quantum fashion, we will never know if Adams became the greatest philosopher of all time through intent, or if he just bumbled across all the marvels he wrote about. We just know that he did. Another view might be that the Universe churned him out to prove it’s hilariousness. Be that as it may.

When I was 11 years old I read 3 books that forever changed my life. Those where Einstein’s ‘The Meaning of Relativity’, Richard Feynman’s ‘QED – The strange theory of light and matter’ and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams.

The lesson I learned from the third book was that you can always look at the Universe from a completely different angle than the rest of humanity, and still be equally correct.

The book also talked about the Infinite Improbability Drive based on the theories of Finite Improbability and Infinite Improbability. Adams never further expounded on the subject, instead he just gave glaringly improbable examples of the effects of infinite improbability.

Back then nobody had done any work in the field of Improbabilistics, and to date there is only one major work done in the field, David J. Hand’s ‘The Improbability Principle’ (2014).

In short, Improbabilistics is the study of how improbable an event is, and what the characteristics is of improbability. It works explicitly with the part of statistics that is not covered, and can not be covered by probabilistics.

It takes over where quantum-probabilistics leave off. Instead of determining the strength of a probability field out in the far yonders of the non-finite Bell-curve, it instead is giving the means to calculate the properties and value of how improbable an event is. It also deals with emergant groupings of improbabilities.

One may say that it is the evil twin of probabilistics and quantum physics. It is the tool for studying the outer fringes of reality and beyond, and to be quite frank, it is a larger field than probabilistics.

In the world of volcanoes statistics will never tell us when a volcano will erupt, probabilistics may at best tell us what is most likely to occur, but only improbability can give us data on the next upcoming black swan, since we can calculate the improbability number for an upcoming event (but still not getting a date for it).

Since I love volcanoes and other potentially horrendous things that can happen I more and more found that Improbabilistics was a good way to understand the Universe. So, when there is no light I ventured forth with great fervour to create light.

At 16 I sat down and filled a blackboard with strange math, sat down exhausted, and then started to laugh. Unwittingly I had produced a mathematical law that is simpler to write in ordinary language than in mathematic symbols (or, I just suck at math). I call it the “Law of Miracles”.

An Improbable amount of Improbabilities will happen to you Improbably often.

This means that there are more unlikely things that will happen to you, than there are likely things. This does not mean that there will be colossal bad things all the time, it instead means that you should well and truly expect the unexpected, if not even the outright weird and outlandish.

Instead of being the theory of big colossal bad things, it is the theory of the ordinary every day miracle. If you look carefully you will start to see them happening everywhere. Just remember that they can be both good, bad, neutral, or just plain odd.

Whereas it is hard to calculate the value of the quantum probabilistic field strength of say 58, it is always easier (but requires more computational power) to calculate the Improbability number of 42.

One of the most blatant miracles in our lives is love, most people are not aware how improbable it really is that you will find your wife or husband, fall in love, and get married. It is a true miracle with a calculable improbability number. The one for me and me wife are 2276709 to 1.

I am not going to go any further into this, except than to say that thanks to Douglas Adams we now know that a volcano will almost certainly not erupt when it should, and when it does it will be at least subtly different than it was expected to happen, or even wildly different. In other words, statistics be arsed in a Douglas-field.

An example with volcanoes

Tondano with its five flank-volcanoes, just imagine it with 100 flank volcanoes and you have the picture of what I am trying to describe. A hotbed for black-swaning.

Let us say that you live in the perfect of worlds. In it there is a volcanic system with 100 equidistant volcanoes, and that each of those volcanoes erupt on average once every 100 years. Down in history there has mainly been one eruption each year, but with some exceptions with years of several eruptions, and some years without eruptions. And you live in the middle of this marvel of volcanism.

As 2018 started you knew that there was a 61 percent chance that you would see a single eruption, and 17 percent for two eruptions, and 17 percent for no eruption. You can confidently expect to see fireworks, if not this year, so surely the next year.

Here we have covered the regular finite Bell-curve as described above.

Since you live in the best of worlds you are also immortal. So, as years go by you start to notice odd occurrences in the statistic pattern, ever longer time spans with no eruptions occurring, and changes to the eruptive statistics of many volcanoes. And even more frightening, you notice unexpected changes to the eruptions of some volcanoes.

You have now entered the land of quantum probabilistics. But, since this is the best of worlds you are fluent in the usage of Improbabilistics, so you apply the tools you learned millennia ago to the problem.

By now you discover the obvious thing. You are living in the middle of a very large caldera volcano, and those 100 volcanoes equidistant from you are flank vents, and the changes are caused by an increased pressure right below you. Right before the unexpected VEI-8 eruption occurs you utter the most frightening word known to man, a very quiet “Oops”, and all goes dark.



175 thoughts on “Don’t Panic! – Volcanoes, Overdue & Douglas Adams

  1. News flash: This article has been spotted flying in the air, way above everyone’s heads!! 😛

      • For some reason, whwn I read that I heard Leonars Nimoy’s voice.

        And to Carl: An excellent article. I’ve been a fan of Douglas Adams for 30 years, or so.
        As fascinating as his improbability theories are his conclusions on the consequences of whether the universe is infinite or not.
        At least I know where all those missing socks went…

        • Douglas Adams may be the only person who ever understood the complete ramifications of real Infinity (see the possibility that Douglas Adams was churned out by the Universe to prove it’s strangeness).
          The Universe as we know it is not truly infinite, it is just ridiculously large. The multi-verse would though be infinite.

          • Love this! thank you Carl.
            BTW saw a You tube about an Orca that can make human sounding words.
            I kept waiting for:”So long and thanks for all the fish…”

          • I agree, but I find that Terry Pratchett was/is a close second. Just check out his musings about the improbability / probability of Discworld existing. As was Douglas Adams for you, it was Terry Pratchett for me who, along with Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, forever changed my life.

  2. perhaps we should try to apply this to our two most frequent eruptors (although far from regular): Grimsvotn and Hekla. In both cases we don’t have enough data points to make a Bell curve. So predicting the next eruption is fun but requires a certain amount of self doubt. But we do have an idea how large eruption an eruption is likely to be: in both cases, a VEI2-3 is normal, 4-5 possible, but 6 unlikely (to put it mildly) and 7 would be a black swan (and black swans may have limited survival chance there as they do stand out against Iceland’s ice and snow).

    • Applying something that I just spent an entire day of finding creative ways of disproving the possibility of?
      Talk about a challenge. 🙂

      I will tackle Hekla next week since it is a binge of black swans.

      But, one thing I can say is that Hekla is not that big on 2s. There has been only 1 VEI-2 eruption from Heklugjá (Hekla proper). That is in and of itself a black swan. But as I said, I will get back to the factory of black swans.

      Grimsvötn on the other hand, we do know of several VEI-6 eruptions from both Grimsvötn proper, and during fissure eruptions. So, another one would not be that big of a black swan. Especially since the system is rebuilt after the Saksunarvatn tephras. I think that a medium sized VEI-5 would be a true black swan. It should after all damage the magma reservoir roof so much that it cracked and dumped Grimsvötns glacial lake down into the magma reservoir insta-upgrading it to a VEI-6. I think that constitutes the only real black swan, a sturdy VEI-5 remaining a VEI-5.

      • How close to ‘sturdy VEI 5’ was the 2011 eruption? Also maybe if it erupted along its rift zone then it might be able to go VEI 5 without a caldera event? (like in 1783 only closer to grimsvotn/under vatnajokull).

        Is next weeks article a resumption of the long delayed hekla series? 🙂

          • Actually regarding the wisdom of ‘hekla erupting bigger the longer it isn’t erupting’, if it doesn’t actually erupt in the near future and hangs on for 50 years or so, with the increase of eruption in Iceland this century its return would probably be an eruption that would more than live up to heklas (literally) hellish reputation.

          • Nobdy knows about Hekla, and I’m not even sure Hekla knows about herself. She pretty much does what she wants when she wants, as long as it has “berzerk” written all over it.

      • Grimsvötn-katau… Plinian phase, caldera roof collapses, water gets in, flashes to steam and mountain goes into low-Earth orbit. Yikes.

        Is this volcano really capable of doing this kind of stuff, at least in its current state?

        Just a semi-educated guess, it’s far too basaltic for that and can’t go explosive this way. But it may be really annoying, cover a large part of Iceland in mud and cause mayhem with air traffic.

    • A black swan would stand out against the ice and snow but so do black rocks so the swan could still be hiding in plain sight.

  3. I don’t remember ever having so much fun writing an article.
    I have set a record of referencing pop-cultural artwork in it.
    I freely admit to having chuckled madly while writing this.
    I hope that someone will smile as they find a reference or two hidden in the text.

    • i was hoping for a dead refrigerator with a hair draped across the door.

      • Wouldn’t that be a Cowboy Beebop reference? In one episode a contaminated refrigerator feature in the plot. Somewhere out on YouTube verse, someone peiced together that episode with “Living in the Fridge” by Weird Al.

  4. you lost me somewhere along the way, but then I only had one cup of coffee this morning, I look at it this way:
    1+9 = 10, 2+8 = 10 etc. so it goes,
    well I live in a volcanic field as I discovered after I started researching things once I joined VC many years ago, it is not likely anything will happen if it does I would say ‘shit’ or some other choice words, enjoy it until I am well done, since running away from it at my age is an impossibility, long live VC

  5. “An Improbable amount of Improbabilities will happen to you Improbably often” = sh*t happens. It’s well experienced by 99% of all known humans.
    Great article. Enjoyed it! Thanks Carl.

    • First rule: sh*t happens.
      Second rule: some of it will hit the fan.
      Third rule: the stuff that hit the fan will be flung at high velocity.
      Fourth rule: you’ll be hit in the face, or with your mouth open.

      Get ready and stay out of the line of fire.

  6. My only issue/question regards the finite extent of the bell curve. (aka “Normal” or “Gaussian” curve. At what point does it terminate? 5 standard deviations out, 10? Eventually it drops to near zero, but I have yet to nail down a point at which it does. (of course, I haven’t looked very hard either. In my line of thinking I just count it as being a non-zero probability, making it all the more dangerous from the Swan perspective.)

    Side note for the crowd. “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the idiocy of relying on the Gaussian curve for determining risk. By Taleb’s reckoning, it has short tails and does not accurately represent risk. A side example is the Gaussian Cupola created by David X. Li, The Cupola is just a way of folding several Gaussian distributions into one index term that too many fund managers (all) relied on to gauge risk on financial instruments. In 2008 we all saw an example of a classic Black Swan in all it’s glory. (as defined by Taleb)

    The central issue is that the probability of calamity is so low, that everyone assumes it as effectively zero.

    For a while, I thought the Fukishima catastrophic event was another example. I was proven wrong by Albert. By my calculations, the seawall there was only designed to handle 85% of the potential tsunami threat. The other 15% would have been cost ineffective to build for. Per Albert, they had not gone that route, they had just picked the largest tsunami ever seen in the Pacific basin and designed the seawall for that. What they got (by my estimate) was in the less than 2% range of possible tsunami.

    And, in homage to Taleb, a black swan;
    1) Has a probability so small that it is assumed to be effectively zero.
    2) Is profound in it’s effect.
    3) Is logically explained away afterwards. (“If only we had more data” or “If we had known about [whatever]” etc…)

    I really appreciate this article. In previous discussions with Carl, he had pointed out the “Law of Large Numbers.” Simplifying that a bit, on the grand scale of things, the more times you do a Bernoulli trial (testing for a specific [yes/no] condition) the greater the chance you will actually find it. Under LLN conditions, you will (correct me if I’m wrong Albert) “Almost surely” find it.

    A logical fallacy that is related to this, is the gambler’s fallacy. That’s playing a game with the belief that you will hit a correction in the statistics that will put the odds in your favor. LLN does not apply here. The ability to stay “in the game” depends on how long your funds can last. Unless you have infinite funds, you can not stay “in the game”. So, if you have infinite funds, why are you playing? Generally, “The House” can afford to play far longer than you can. Besides, usually The House has the odds stacked in their favor anyway and succeeds on far more levels than the simple player.

    For humans playing against Volcanoes, the only winning option is to not be there when it’s go time.

    • BTW… prior to Fukishima, one renowned scientist had been making noises with the authorities about the quake threat was Kiyoo Mogi… known for the Mogi model.

      Useful for estimating the quantity of magma inflow-outflow to a volcano based on ground deformation.

      I don’t know for sure, but I think he had been watching GPS data along the coast of Japan and noticed that there was a lot more energy stored there than was believed.

      • The number and size of nuclear-fission related accidents is the best proof that Carl is right. Statistical probability for a meltdown in a nuclear reactor is about 1 every 50 years. Yet we have seen 5 such events from 1957 to 2011.

        • I think there have been two full meltdowns (Chernobyl, Fukushima) and two partial ones (Lucern, three mile island). Plus a variety of other accidents, such as Windscale. Plus several nuclear submarines but they would not have counted in your 1 in 50 years number. But I am not sure where you got this number from, and what it refers to. The WASH report (1975) had it as 5 x 10^-5 per year per reactor. For 600 reactors worldwide that gives roughly a 50% chance of a meltdown over 25 years. They were spot-on. Newer reactors are much safer though: problems have been mainly in the older ones.

          • Here is the complete list of official complete and partial meltdowns.
            Partial meltdowns: 9
            Complete meltdowns: 10

            1. BORAX-1: Complete meltdown, done intentionally.
            2. EBR-1: Partial meltdown.
            3. Santa Susana Field Laboratory Sodium Reactor Experiment: Complete Core Meltdown.
            4. SL-1: Complete meltdown.
            5. Santa Susana Field Laboratory SNAP8ER: Partial meltdown.
            6. Fermi 1: Partial meltdown.
            7. Santa Susana Field Laboratory SNAP8DR: Partial meltdown.
            8. Three Mile Island: Partial meltdown.
            There was also a complete one at Hanford, but that is classified so it is not in the official canon.

            USSR and Russia
            1. Chelyabinsk, complete meltdown
            2. Chernobyl, complete meltdown
            3. Chelyabinsk, partial meltdown of unknown type of military reactor (2017)
            There are more, but the Russians aren’t that forthcoming.

            Fukushima 1, 2 and 3: 3 separate complete meltdowns.

            Lucen: Partial meltdown.

            AECL NRX: Partial meltdown.

            Windscale at Sellafield: Reactor core fire, still unknown if the core has melted due to the core being permanently sealed. In the canon it is counted as a partial meltdown.

            Saint-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant: Partial meltdown.

            A1 Plant KS-150: Partial meltdown due to silica pads… (Sigh…)

            R3 Ågesta: Partial meltdown.

            Now onwards. It is normally stated that modern powerplants are less susceptible to meltdowns. At the time of Fukushima the powerplant was upgraded and held the highest level of security. In other words, there are no known safer nuclear plants on earth.
            Also, the second Chelyabinsk disaster occured at a new reactor.

            That being said, there have been other disasters or malpractices that have far longer reaching consequences than any meltdown will ever have.
            Very little is known about Russian malpractice, but there is no reason to believe that it is better than the US.
            The Hanford Site is the second most radioactive place known on earth, and it will not be possible to clean up. It is worse than 10 Fukushima. Just as an example, 500 cubic kilometres of ground water is above levels deemed hazardous to human health.
            But the cherry to pick is The Dome. The US took all of the stored waste high-level waste and other waste from the hydrogen bomb program and dumped it down on a peaceful atoll of Runit. It was encapsulated on a cheapest bid contract with sub-par concrete mixed with salt water. It instantly started to crumble.

            Doctor Strangelove would be so proud of us humans…

          • Your list includes experimental reactors, and not all those meltdowns will have been full or partial meltdown (for instance, Susana Field is listed as experimental and partial). Chelyabinsk was not a reactor but involved a chemical explosion among nuclear waste (that in no way downplays its importance!) I only counted power generating plants as that is what the number of 1:50 (or 1:25) referred to. Otherwise a number of 1950’s submarines will need to be added as well!

          • The safety officer at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory is the only person to receive a Darwin Award while still being alive.
            He positively glowed of joy as he picked up the award!

          • “Chelyabinsk was not a reactor but involved a chemical explosion among nuclear waste”

            Dont you mean Chernobyl? Chelyabinsk was a meteor air burst in 2013.

          • No, Carl was right in listing Chelyabinsk. It is a large region in Russia, where possibly the largest nuclear accident happened in the 1950’s. The details I don’t think are fully known so the size is disputed. It happened in a military plutonium production facility (read: nuclear weapon production) and involve a very large, but apparently non-nuclear, explosion. An area of over 100 by 100 kilometer had to be evacuated. There was a second accident there last year when a plume of radioactive material was detected over Europe. Russia denied it but there is little doubt it came from the same nuclear processing facility in Mayak. But there is no evidence this involved a meltdown.

          • Let us not get bogged down into semantiks. Let us remove the experimental reactors, we are still down to 7 complete and 6 partial meltdowns. Even if we remove the military ones we down to five each.
            So a grand total of ten. That is more than one per decade.

            And in regards of the new ones. They are even more complex than the old ones, and as we have added redundancies on top of redundancies, and ever more brilliant redundant safety features thinking that we are clever, we have just created systems that are so complex that the sub-systems have started to interact with each other in ways we just can’t predict. And even worse, “in the end it always comes down to an o-ring bought from the cheapest supplier” (Feynman).

            Chelyabinsk is one of the Russian counterparts to the Hanford site in the US. It had nearly 100 various accidents down the line. Among them the exploding storage tank that Albert referenced, and the meltdown(s) I referenced. Among other things they solved their waste-management problem by pumping spent fuel as sludge into two lakes.

          • Sorry, Albert, you’re right. I was mistaken there, 50% chance over 25 years is not 100% over 50. Sorry.
            Still, there have been way more meltdowns (full or partial) than expected. If you count in the number of events where a meltdown was prevented by pure coincidence (e.g. the almost-meltdown in 1977 of Block A at the Gundremmingen Nuclear Power Plant in Germany), the number of potentially catastrophic events rises even higher.
            According to a relatively new study from the german Max-Planck-Institute, meltdowns are more than 200 times more likely than previously though.

          • So we did use the same (old) number. I think it was defined as full meltdowns, i.e. where it stays out of control. Of those, we have had two, or five if you count Fukushima as three occasions rather than one incident (I expect that is a discussion they will have had with the insurance company!) Partial meltdowns are rather more common. The weak spot in many reactors is the need for electric power. The coolant needs to move around, and when a reactor goes off-line, the power for this has to come from elsewhere. If the power goes off over a very large area in an event that also puts the reactor out of business, you have a problem. Meltdown is terminal for the reactor but does not automatically mean that radiation escapes: that depends on other containment structures, and these worked to some degree in Fukushima but in the end were inadequate.

        • From a technical point of view, you’re right. The need for power is the achilles’ heel of every nuclear fission reactor. But the main risk factors are, in my opinion, not technical, namely the potential for human error and the capitalistic (profit-oriented) motives. If we take a look at the full meltdowns at Chernobyl and Fukushima, we see those in action. It is easy to forget that the RBMK-Reactors at Chernobyl had design faults, yes, but the accident was mainly caused by the operators, who, under orders from the chief operator, who wanted to prove himself to gain political influence, ignored basic security measures and instructions until the reactor was out of control.
          At Fukushima, TEPCO refused to update security features and faked reports to save money or, make more money.

          Both kinds of risk factors cannot be calculated or quantified. They are also my main reason to oppose nuclear fission based power generation as a whole. Modern reactors are indeed very safe, from a technical point of view. But the human ingenuity will always find ways around even ten times redundant security measures.
          If I may quote Terry Pratchett: “Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time”.

    • Btw, as used here on VC, the swan is just the full blown outlier that isn’t expected. The profoundness of it isn’t usually concidered, though when a volcano does the unexpected, the surprized run like hell, the wise are already gone.

    • About the where the ends of the Bell-curve tooters off to nothingness.
      In a sense of it they never do, but in reality they do if we are talking about a Finite Improbability situation.
      Yes, you would have hovering small anomalies way far out, but somewhere out there they would stop having any effect.
      How far out, well that depends on the size of n=population.
      In Infinite systems there is no end to it all, you can have pretty hair-raising things lurking out at mile-marker gazillion. Thankfully for us, we do not have an infinite amount of volcanoes on earth, nor are they infinite in size, or temporal extension. Yes, the systems can be pretty large and long-lasting, but still a far cry from the peculiarities of Infinity.
      The multi-verse volcanism is though a different ball-game, but I am not sure that we need to dabble with the multi-verse as a constant for an Infinite volcanic system. 🙂

      • Well, the number of volcanoes is finite from our point of view, but time is pretty much infinite from the same perspective. In that frame, bizarrely distant standard deviations are then still a valid thing to look at. I’m not anywhere near an expert, but from what I gather, true swans happen out beyond 5 SD. Essentially non-zero, but way out there.

      • The thing to remember is that the normal distribution is itself incomplete at expressing random events. Not least because its generated by completely random systems, which can be approximated to but never precisely. It works well for atoms in a gas, and for large numbers of items with a variation about a mean but its terrible for non-random physical systems, like volcanoes. We know that here as we have a coda: “volcanoes do what they bloody well like” being a highly technical expression that perfectly exemplifies the statistics. About the best one can say is that if a volcano has erupted, it will most likely erupt again. Until it stops, of course.

        And that’s really what a black swan is, its the perfectly reasonable behavior of a system which reflects the fact that its not random and doesn’t fit the normal distribution we keep trying to shoehorn the system into. So, not unsurprisingly, a non-random event happens that we didn’t predict because we are using the wrong tools.

  7. Carl,

    Great post. not that it’s relevant, But I just finished reading ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ a few weeks ago. Then, the one I read didn’t have the last book, so I had to pull out my more than complete guide to read the last book. I still think we need more (or at least some) B arks.

    Trying to get my kids to read it, but they’re more interested in their iphones & stuff. 🙁

      • Heh, guess that means they weren’t worth $15/hr. (sorry, again, OT) I’ve taken my kids into some local chain restaurants and pointed out the little computer screens for ordering on the tables and made the point that when do-gooders try to artificially increase the minimum wage, there are unintended consequences…people lose jobs.

        • But were those jobs worth having? We are living in an age where robotification is rampant, and few jobs will be safe. You would not want to be an Ueber driver, knowing your company would prefer a car without you in it.

          But we have been through this before. The industrial revolution saw the same effect, running into trouble when it turned out that if you don’t pay your work force (child labour, with the children shipped in from London), the work force can’t buy your products. It is the Walmart economy: if every company is a shark, they will find nothing to eat.

          • Great point Albert, too bad the neo-liberal ideologues, and the economists that provide the foundation for them will never be able to figure that out.

          • Great point Albert. Too bad the neo-liberal ideologues, and the economists who form their foundation will NEVER figure that out.

  8. The one for me and me wife are 2276709 to 1

    and falling. Congratulations on reaching normality. 🙂

    • Very true. But what I wrote in the article still holds.
      I just used the Bell-curve since that is an almost universally known type of distribution.
      Hekla for instance would definitely not have a bell-shaped temporal distribution.

      • Which raises a novice question. Can you use the CDF of something like a Poisson dustribution for probably estimates?

        Them that know, don’t laugh, them that don’t, I am actually curious and the question really isn’t as stupid as it sounds.

        • The problem is that any type of statistical wrangling will at best give an estimate spanning many years of when an eruption is more likely than during other timespans. And then you get The Law of Miracles wrecking it since it will throw a spanner into your statistical model.
          The entire point of the article was to point out that statistics and probabilistics will never be able to give data that is useful as long as we define useful as saving lives.
          If we on the other hand got Improbabilistics to work in a meaningful way it could give us a slightly clearer picture of what oddities and black swans could be likely to pop up down the line.

          I will get back to this in the next article, it is all Alberts fault, he got me thinking. 🙂

        • Depends on whether the time that has elapsed since the previous eruption plays a role. It doesn’t work for major earthquakes, because the chance of a big event increases as the time since the previous one goes up. For volcanoes, the relation isn’t as clear: the character of an eruption will depend on how long the magma has been stewing but the size may not. It would work for monogenetic volcanoes, except of course you don’t know where they will be.

          Currently, Bayesan methods are favourite. That combines the probability distribution for eruptions (e.g. Grimsvotn goes once per decade on average with a spread of maybe another decade) with a probability distribution for the size (small eruption are much more common than big ones). I used something related when calculating the likely size of the Lisbon earthquake (M8.4).

        • there are also bimodal distributions (see comment about rainfall) where the average is less common than one extreme or another.

          • The last bimodal distribution I ran across was an order of fries at a fast food place in Defuniak springs. I had time to kill so I measured and logged the length of each fry in my order and ran them through a spreadsheet and plot when I got home. (yes, I was that bored).

            My interpretation was that the two peaks represented the length and average width of the potatoes used to make the fries.

            A follow-on activity that I haven’t gotten around to trying, is to do the same for a competitors fries. It’s generally known (unproven) that they mulch the raw potatoes and generate their fries through an extrusion process. If I am correct, this should show up as a single peak normal distribution in their fries.

            One of that chains claim to fame was that they had managed to control the density and moisture content of their fries and produced a consistent product.

      • Neither does rainfall in California. 15 inches per year average actually means most years from 5-12 per year except if it’s an El Nino then we get 30.

  9. I always assumed the the last column at the edge of the bell curve was for ‘total probability of less that this is 1’ and ‘total probability of more than this is 1’ meaning that any further improvement in granularity would not affect the chances of things in the middle (as long as you used the same total bin size in the centre) ?

    • If you look at the animation in the article and keep track of the 3 central alternatives you will notice my point visually. And the ends is just an arbitrary end demanded by the population limit in the model, not a limit in reality.
      Never confuse the model for being the real 🙂

      • DING!!!

        The most salient point. “Do not confuse the model with reality!

  10. Fascinating conversation. I failed my UK Mathematics “O-Level” (age 15) 3 times comprehensively, and had to abandon it. I’m number blind and incapable of doing mental arithmetic. Yet in my own, blind stumbling way I can get a hint of what you are all talking about. I feel a little sad I cannot understand the language of numbers and all this stuff. So keep it up and I’ll kind of follow along!

    • One of the amazing things with writing for Volcanocafé is that you get to write for everyone.
      So, I try to use as plain language as possible, and I always avoid mathematical language.
      In this case it was har for me to avoid it since mathematical terminology and functions are the foundation of what I am talking about.
      It is like walking on a tightrope to write about something founded in mathematics, without using mathematics, and still not water it down to becoming pointless.
      Therefore I am very happy about your comment. It feels like I got the level just about right from it. Thanks!

      • You did, too! Very readable and (for me) close to being able to grasp it. Thanks!

      • You always get the level right Carl – as do most of the other commentators on here! That is why this site is so brilliant!

    • Don’t sweat the math skills. I was clueless until our principal got the wild idea to teach us analytic geometry. At that point I finally found that there was a reason for all this symbolic stuff. I’m still mostly in the dark with regards to anything more complicated than entry level calculus, but the concepts come easy.

  11. One could also use the doomsday hypotheses.
    (Or atleast my understanding of it)

    Lets say one is looking at Grimsvotn on its upcomming 7th birthday of its last eruption. She would not see an erupting volcano. Nor any signs its about to erupt or the smoking crater from a recent one. This means there is a 95% chance she is seeing it at any point in roughly 95% of its current nap.

    Grimsvotn is currently 7 years in its slumber. If she sees it at roughly the beginning of its nap. It has only snored 2,5% or 1/40th of its nap away. This implies it will erupt again in 273 years. (7X39) If it however is already near the end. It only has 2,5 or 1/40th of its nap left. Meaning it will erupt again in 0,175 years or 64 days (7/40).

    This suggests that there is a 95% chance that Grimsvotn will erupt between autumn 2018 and 2291.

    Offcource one has to remember the old saying. Statistics never lie, but liars always use statistics.

    • And next Grimsvotn eruption may very well be completely anticlimactic. It may not even break through the icecap, or do a 2004-like event. The 2011 eruption was the bolt from the blue.

      • I doubt it would stop before breaching the glacier, if it didn’t breach within a few hours of the eruption starting it is probably a small eruption yes, but I doubt grimsvotn would actually stop at that point for long. Grimsvotn isnt drained from the 2011 eruption the way holuhraun drained the magma chamber of bardarbunga. The 2011 eruption was a central volcano eruption that went straight up and out, there was no extensive intrusion feeding it only the existing magma chamber so probably the majority of magma involved was either erupted then or is still underground but in an eruptible state for next time. So even though 2011 was big I don’t think it has done much to suppress a big rifting eruption at some point in the not so distant future. If a dyke goes southwest towards thordarhyna I think the volcanic highlight of this century is upon us, let the show begin…

    • “Offcource one has to remember the old saying. Statistics never lie, but liars always use statistics.”

      I remember it as “there are 3 kinds of lies. Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” – Samuel Clemens.

  12. The longer something doesn’t happen the more likely it will happen statistically but then again the more likely it shouldn’t happen thereafter. I.e. Here in the midwestern US 500 year floods are more common than before, but accordingly they should no longer be considered 500 year floods

  13. About 30 little quakes today in Campi Flegrei, the stronger one seems 2,5 magnitude or little more; tremors felt in Pozzuoli.

      • Q1 – do black swans attack humans? Q2 – if they do is wrapping a towel round your head any kind of defence?

        • Q1: No unless you are seen as a threat (which is to say they think you are a predator) Q2: No because the only way for one to attack your head would be to fly into it which would probably kill you anyway (swans are HUGE it is like a fying small child with a long neck and 3 meter wingspan…)

          Black swans are only dangerous when talking about volcanoes. There are lots of black swans on hekla 😉

      • That didn’t help the Neanderthal any. Campi was slap dab in the middle of their home range and probably didn’t help their longevity 40k years ago.

  14. I have observed that getting bogged down in formal statistics is an excellent way to avoid looking at the larger picture, because there are no numbers to crunch relating to the black swan outliers – and it is precisely those outliers, possibly from a completely different field entirely. which produce the “aha” moment that generates the larger picture. We get some volcanic veiling here in Eugene Oregon from Shinmoedake and Sakurajima and my photography buff friends are oohing and aahing over the amazing sunsets while I go online and notice that the respective calderas of which those volcanoes are side vents are pretty close to each other.

    • Meanwile at Shinmoedake…. That lava dome extrusion was not really expected…….

      Thinking of odd stuff, is it my biased point of view, or did Mayon erupt this year in a very unusual way… None of the usual big blasts, but steady disgorging and spattering of what looked like very degassed basaltic lava….

      Is it the leading edge of a new fresh basalt slug coming into the chamber from the deep beyond (in this case, let it all fester for a while and when things will get mixed up enough, basaltic-andesite may start spraying very quickly)…

      Or is it the gas-depleted dregs of what was left in the chamber, finding its way up by chance… or pushed up by some much more energetic stuff lurking below….

      • 2014 was a fairly small lava flow, 2009 and 2006 were fairly large lava flows. None of which had a large explosive component like 1978 1984 and 1968.

        • Considering that the inflation recorded on tiltmeters around mayon only stopped this week and the eruption has been ongoing for about a month and a half, maybe this is the leftover magma from the previous few eruptions and new magma from this year is still to come. Also it is feeding 3 lava flows simultaneously which are all ~3 km long. In other eruptions with long lava flows there was only one flow, so this eruption might not actually be smaller at all just more spread out.
          Maybe the real show will come in the next few weeks when new magma from this last year starts erupting.

  15. A magnificent recent exemple of a black swan exemple, is Sinabung’s recent display of power. For years it was churning out lava lobes and modest-sized pyroclastic flows with the odd vulcanian explosio in between.

    Then, without any warning, on February 19th…. BAM….. Big, fat, juicy vulcanian explosion which outdid everything happened in the last 5 years.

    Think of improbable. Everybody was expecting it to keep chugging along, and eventually peeter out.

    • One that I am wondering about is: are Batur and Agung fed by a common source and if so is that related to magma movement along the subduction fault?

      It would be consistent with some of the local myths about Semeru for example.

        • Have the magma chambers been mapped? I tried to find papers on that but don’t have university access.

  16. In south Iceland I lived surrounded by 15 volcanoes. They never erupted in the 5 years I lived there. The ones that erupted in 2011 and 2014 were located far away in Vatnajokull. Still I felt their severe effects: ash fall and SO2 smog

    • It was dramatic enough to feel surrounded by M5 quakes felt every day during the Holuhraun eruption.

      Will never forget the occasional daily shaking M5 at night, during an entire 3-5 months!! The major fear was of course that Bardarbunga would go caldera. I stockpiled plenty food, water and gas masks back then.

      So I can’t imagine living surrounded by 100 volcanoes.

      But Java, Indonesia, has many of them (how many? 30? 50?), and interestingly, it’s one of the most populated places on Earth. Next door are islands that experienced VEI7 and even VEI8 eruptions.

  17. And, first and foremost… Do volcanoes obey statistical laws?

    Or can statistical models be bent and twisted into fitting with volcanoes??

    The human brain is a master for pattern finding, and so are computers, because they’re programmed by humans and have inherited our bias. Even if there’s no pattern.

    My head hurts. Time for an aspirin.

    • A classic statement found on this blog is “volcanoes do what the bloody well want to do”. The implication is that they don’t follow laws and typically tend to be named after typically unco-operative Icelandic gods…

  18. Perfect excuse for me to post a video of one of my favourite authors discussing my favourite bird; Douglas Adams talks interestingly and hilariously about the mating habits of the kakapo:

      • Dunno, but the way the article reads, the experiment doesn’t require yet to be invented technology and should be a strait forward statistical analysis of a fairly simple process.

    • GOOD GRIEF! For starters, the flares were on 5th and 6th of March, CME from those, would of reached us few days ago.
      a G1 class storm is also minor and not really have much of an affect, plus the one that’s hitting us today will be caused by a hole in the Suns atmosphere, this releases a solar wind that causes the G1 storm.

      read about it here

  19. ”A G1 Watch is in effect for the 14 & 15 March, 2018 UTC-days. Enhancements in the solar wind due to the anticipated effects of a coronal hole high speed stream (CH HSS) are expected to cause the escalated geomagnetic responses. Visit for the latest info.”

    7:27 PM – Mar 12, 2018

  20. Solar Storm? Not going to happen unless the UK’s Met Office has put out one of their Yellow Weather Warnings about it! More seriously, the last BIG ONE did actually disrupt my car radio for 2 minutes. I was slightly impressed. I won’t hold my breath over this one.

    • I am reminded of a stint I did in the Persian Gulf, bored shitless. I had a shortwave receiver and a cobbled together long-wire draped over my equipment shop. The station I could get with half way decent music was somewhere in the Netherlands. I paid close attention to the ionosphere conditions since that determined if I would be able to hear anything other than the “call to prayer” which is a seemingly popular show.

      (Yes, my receiver was registered in the ships personal electronics program and I had gone a step further to make sure my local oscillators didn’t leak)

      • And an fyi. The F layer tends to split into the F1 and F2 layers. The E layer is fairly persistant, and the D layer, when active, tends to attenuate the radio signals passing through it. All of this changes on a daily and seasonal basis and is most affected by what the Sun is up to.

  21. All three going at once, left to right Bezymianny, Kamen and Klyuchevskoy.

    • Kamen is extinct so that isn’t steam. At least I’m pretty sure….

    • We have lost the great science communicator. And the Nobel prize committee waited too long.

      • An inspiration to us all.
        In a way, he was the epitome of being a “Black Swan”…..given how unlikely it was for any human with his physical obstacles to achieve what he did.
        I will truly miss him.

    • He was not only an eminent scientist, he was also a great singer in Pink Floyd with a unique voice.

    • This post begins with Einstein and ends with Hawking!

      This is his most famous equation:

      It has been pointed out that he seems to have hidden his name in it: his initial on the left, and something approaching ‘Hawk’ and ‘ing’ on the bottom. That of course is conjecture. But if anyone could bend physics to their purpose, it would be these two.

    • I have replied twice to this, but neither has appeared (nor have a few other replies). This happened after I requested a link to be deleted by a dragon.

      • Was there any error message or indication? I can’t see anything here so it looks to me that the comments didn’t reach.

          • Were you logged in? I have had issues when the login time had expired after the last refresh, so the comment is send thinking it is logged in but received thinking it is not. That was some time ago though. I am clutching straws here.

  22. Wednesday
    14.03.2018 21:10:34 65.024 -16.669 4.2 km 3.8 99.0 3.4 km WSW of Dreki

  23. Quite liking the translation of the IMO weather warning this morning: Astronomy due to avalanche.

    Is that a correlation or causal relationship?

  24. BBC quote from Hawking: “Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or 10,000 years.” And he didn’t even consider volcanoes.

    He (and others, e.g. Musk) have stated that we have to have colonies off-planet to safeguard against Earth-based disasters. Henrik’s Olympus Mons’ posts dabbled with Mars colonization and exploration and it is nice to know how widely this was read. But what do people here think: spend our money on Earth, or aim for Mars?

    • I have been pondering writing an article about the subject since I really burn for the subject, but I have deemed it to far off our general aim. (unless you and me can come up with a suitable volcanic angle over a beer or five)

      In short, Mars is a dud. Gerard K. O’Neill put my thoughts most eloquently unto paper in The High Frontier: Colonies in Space.
      Why drudge down gravity wells when all the resources are abound without gravity wells if you live in human constructed space habitats that are movable. Ie, turning us into space cows that grace where there are lush asteroids. If so, I am all for spending on space.

      • Mars makes for a good base from which to launch expeditions further out to nab asteroids. It basically lets us apply our current technology set in order to provide a good backup while we work on the much more problematic steps (building a multi-mile space facility) that we don’t yet have the answers for. The Martian gravity well is shallow enough to allow current materials to be used as the basis for surface to orbit infrastructure such as space elevators, which massively simplifies the logistics of getting from ground to the step before everywhere. I mean, I do agree that space habitats are probably a logical better step, but the problem is that we haven’t even figured out proper construction techniques for space yet, and lack sufficient spacelaunch facilities to send up the cubic kilometers of materials needed to make it happen, while we have the resources; technologies; and plans to make Mars viable in the near-future.

      • Space-based locations sound nice. But they do come with problems: a lack of gravity, a lack of shielding against unpleasantness in space, and a lack of resources. If you are not bound to a planet, than your orbit can also become unstable. The Moon has some resources (water is still a question though) but no atmosphere so outside living is untenable. Mars is better: it has plenty of water, probably lots of resources (its volcanoes show that magma has moved up, and that makes it likely that mineable metals can be found), and just enough atmosphere to give some shielding. Hawking thought it would take (much) more than a century before any space colony could become self-sufficient, so regular supply missions will be required. (One of the supplies that will be needed is more people). It is important to live in a place where the bulk raw material are available, so only the low-weight high-value material needs to be shipped. That is doable with Mars but less so with a space colony. So I think Mars first, space later.

        • Lurking around here I find the discussions and articles very interresting and deversified yet always linked to Volcanism. An increased volcanic activity would make the discussion about Mars very related, but who knows if or when. On the mars subject I just read that astronuts have gotten their max. time during a life “out there” revised down from apx. a 1000 days to less than 700 days in a quite short timespan (since the 90’s if I remember correctly). Due to increased cosmic radiation. Since it is still on the rise – due to upcoming solar minimum – it may be revised down again.

          Has this been studied in regard to colonies on Mars? There is to date no material that stops this radiation and it seems it might be more (deep) earth-penetrating then previous thougt. Since this is high-energy radiation some theories put forward points to a link; reduced magnetic field strength -> increased cosmic radiation -> energy reaching deep into the ground (i.e magma chambers) -> slowly increased volcanic activity. Several studies puts larger historical eruptions at a higher insidence in or around previous Solar Minimums. Any input on this?

          All the best from Norway 🙂

          Rescued from the dungeon, future comments should work without problems

          • Most radiation comes from solar flares, and these happen at solar maximum. The radiation (and cosmic rays) mainly gets stopped in the upper atmosphere. There is a risk of radiation damage to astronauts. The Martian atmosphere should reduce the radiation on the surface, but not nearly as efficient as the Earth’s atmosphere. Some bits of the Martian surface have a residual magnetic field and this may be helpful. Lead is very good at stopping radiation.

            The radiation does not penetrate the ground, and cannot affect volcanoes. Volcanic activity waxes and wanes, and probably did the same on Mars. The cause of the volcanism, and its change over time, lies underground

    • To be honest mars is a stupid place to start a colony.
      The sunlight levels are only 44% of earth and so plants will be short of sunlight.
      The atmosphere is negligible, less than 1% atmospheric pressure.
      Its a very long way away.
      It has a high escape velocity so leaving is difficult.

      The moon would be a far more suitable place. Sunlight the same as earth, close by and easily supplied by comparison. If you can’t do it on the moon, forget about mars.

      • The only alternative is venus which will just undergo a greenhouse again once we put enough water on it to make it habitable. That isnt including the huge task of getting rid of 95% of its atmosphere and making it spin faster. To terraform venus you would need to move it to about where mars is now actually (technically anywhere between earth and mars would do). So its possible and fairly straightforward but is way out of our capabilities now. Mars isnt going to be permanently habitable but its probably not a lot harder to live on then the south pole is, which we have done already.

        (mars actually has 1/3 of earths gravity so it would actually be a lot easier to take off there)

    • You’re thinking mainly about impact events The radiation front from a supernova in our immediate stellar neighbourhood could be even more dangerous; and setting up off-Earth colonies (Mars or L-5) wouldn’t help in that scenario

      • I actually was thinking that the biggest problem was going to be radiation events. Impact are also an issue: a minor hit on an asteroid will cause much more severe shaking than a similar hit on a planet. It is the reason asteroids tend to be rubble mountains. Nearby supernovae would be bad but are a pretty rare event. You would need neutrino detectors to warn for approaching supernova radiation fronts: that could give you a couple of hours warning. But solar events are more likely and will be more troublesome. There were two big solar events a little over 1000 years ago which have left a beryllium trace in tree rings: we have not seen anything like that in modern times, and our satellites are probably not well protected against such solar flares. It is safer to be below the surface of something.

        Regarding sunlight: on the moon plants would have to cope with two weeks of darkness. That might be a problem!

        • Hmm.. good point about the two weeks of darkness…

          No ideal place then, a planet called ‘earth’ would be ideal…

          • Yes, I think that is an arguable statement! We are talking about ‘terraforming’ for a reason. And on Earth, Africa was ideal for us. We still managed to spread out, and to our benefit, even if in our hearts we are still african.

          • If venus and mars formed in each others places, then moving off earth would probably be way easier then it is for us here. So if venus was moved to a wider orbit it would be a good start. Getting rid of its atmosphere might be helped by the sun not providing as much heat so carbonate rocks could form again. and if you want to add water back to venus, just crash ceres into it and its good to go 😉 (might get rid of a lot of the atmosphere too, as well as spin it up enough to be able to generate a magnetic field)

          • Terraforming Venus would involve water – lots. Ceres doesn’t have nearly enough. Charon might do. But you would end up with a planet that would be too hot for us. And if you think two weeks of night a rather a lot, on Venus it would be ten times as long. Mars is better: all it needs is a decent atmosphere, and an atmosphere is a lot less massive than an ocean. I’ll check out ebay, whether they have a second-hand one.

            (I could also ask Manchester United where their atmosphere has gone and whether it is for sale.)

          • I actually brought up venus because of one factor that is probably the most important factor of living on another planet or moon, gravity. And not because of bone deterioration but because of atmospheric reasons. mars is too small to hold onto both water and oxygen so an earth like atmosphere is unstable even with a magnetic field. Venus is only a bit smaller than earth so the 10% less gravity it has is pretty negligible in this case. Im assuming you already knew most of this stuff though but I think the studies on mars losing O2 and H20 might be new.

            Venus also wouldnt have to have oceans to be habitable, just lakes or rivers. I have seen a source that it could have been like that until a billion years ago when it underwent a greenhouse event and ended up the way it is now (which I think you probably also know about). If it was moved to a further orbit then it could be stable at a lower temperature, and then you could deel with the atmosphere. Actually if it was moved out it would probably cool down enough to have lakes of sulfuric acid, which is still only slightly better than 400C temperatures but it is a start. Also crashing ceres into venus would speed up its rotation if done correctly, not to where its day is 24 hours but more than it is now, and maybe long enough to restart its magnetic field. If a bigger object is needed you could use mercury…

            This guy has some good ideas:

      • 100 sek magma tremor at MJO. Four quakes.
        Most promishing in recent times.
        *not expert*

        • Hekla tends to erupt mist often around the period February to April (statistics). For some strange reason. So worth paying attention.

          It might erupt in the next days.
          But don’t take my word.

          Quake in Askja also interesting.

          • For a moment I wondered why Hekla would erupt “mist”. I had a picture in mind of a cloud around the summit, until I realised it was a typo.

          • If it does erupt in the next few days, carl will have to add quite a lot more to the planned next article (which he said would probably be about hekla and is a play on from this one)

            Im wondering if this eruption (whenever it happens) might be a bit bigger then the 1991 or 2000 eruptions given that it has been dormant for almost twice as long as it was preceding either of those eruptions. Noice big mushroom cloud followed by some big lava flows for a few days/weeks/months/years (/decades, that one would be a vantablack swan… 🙂 )

  25. Possible Black Swan event being dealt with in S Florida. Brand New 950 ton pedestrian bridge collapsed on the roadway trapping several cars. Rescue operations underway in Miami-Dade county.

    Not saying one way or another, but stuff like this is usually the result of a collection of errors or substandard materials and practices.

      • A witness is stated that construction crews were tightening cables on the span and something fell off a crane and struck the bridge causeing the collapse.

        Note: this is anecdotal and unverified.

    • News reports state the bridge was supposed to have park benches on either side and WiFi access points on either end for students.

      Claim is the thing was supposed to be able to handle a cat 5 hurricane.

      Latest report is that 8 vehicles are under the bridge. NTSB is enrte.

    • Information comment. The span seems have been a prestressed concrete design. This design uses high tension cables/rods in the concrete to keep the concrete under tension which is the strongest mode that it has. In extention, concrete is weak, in compression, it is quite strong.

      • I have no way of knowing that. Officials on site have already lambasted reporters for speculation of cause. But there are indications that workers were adjusting the tensioning system and something fell off a crane and hit the span. “Stress test” was used several times in the news, but I’M GUESSING that they were placing a weight on the span and adjusting the deflection response of the structure. Though the span was in place, it was still at least a week before it was due to be opened.

        The only similar thing I have witnessed is the testing of gravity davits in the shipyards. A gravity davit is supposed to be able to lower and launch a whaleboat or gig in the absence of electrical power. Part of testing involves being able to lift a specific weight in normal operation.

      • Seems it’s not the first problem this company has had.

        FIGG was fined in 2012 after a 90-ton section of a bridge it was building in Virginia crashed onto railroad tracks below, causing several minor injuries to workers…

        …[Another] The suit said a worker at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, where the company is working on an expansion, fell and injured himself when a makeshift bridge MCM built collapsed under the worker’s weight.

        The suit charged the company with employing “incompetent, inexperienced, unskilled or careless employees” at the job site.

        • That “careless employees” bit sort of fits with the idea of something not being properly secured to the cranes hook and falling off.

        • This type of bridge, if the middle flexes, it puts tremendous force on the mounting points at either end. One of those gave way, judging from the pictures. When the force suddenly wasn’t purely vertical, the supporting pillar snapped. I expect (read: speculate) they didn’t do the stress calculations for vertical flex but assumed it stayed in shape. They say it was hurricane proof but that probably meant it wouldn’t flex under a wind field if everything else was perfect.

  26. Hmm, yes its possible I guess. Usually concrete items arrive from the factory containing the steel elements cast-in; in a prestressed state. Concrete lintels are a good example.

    Pre-stressing is the process where a concrete beam is put into compression, and some steel elements put into corresponding tension, such that at no time (in use) does any part of the concrete member go into tension. This results in the concrete never cracking (which can happen with reinforced concrete) and thus preventing moisture etc reaching the steel components. Often without the pre-stressing, the composite unit is very weak indeed and vulnerable to crack and fail at very low stesses (like its own weight).

    Some larger systems do seem to be stressed in-situ judging from large threaded bolts visibly extending outside the structure which appear to terminate steel elements that run through the section of the structure. This would make sense as they are replaceable (one by one of course) should corrosion or other structural problems emerge over the years. It would not surprise me if these structures were supplied to site partly or completely unstressed. Its not impossible that weights were being placed on the bridge and the tension elements adjusted to give the appropriate deflection. If a weight were to fall, that might well be catastrophic, the impact force easily exceeding the strength of the concrete and shattering it, thus providing no support for the steel elements.

    It is incredibly rare for cranes to drop anything as this is a known cause of fatalities and strict regulations and training are enforced.

  27. Interesting little gurgle in a spot that has been relatively quiet since pre-BB eruption

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