I think that everyone with a bit of knowledge about volcanoes and volcanism will agree with me that volcanoes are inherently dangerous and can be detrimental to human health in a myriad of ways. At the same time they are a fascinating expression of nature’s raw power and can be incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring to watch.
This has led to the development of volcano tourism where tour guide companies arranges trips for people interested to watch volcanoes first-hand. This can be a good thing if it helps to raise awareness and knowledge about volcanoes in the general population, I will return below to the good effects.
The problem is that this is rarely the case, instead an increasing number of people are taking ever more increasing risks on volcanoes, fuelled by incompetent tour guides and all the videos on the internet showing people taking huge risks around volcanoes.
There is a lot of stunning, scary and sometimes downright stupid volcano movies out there on the internet. I divide all volcano videos into two categories. One is the documentary movies made in what I call the “Ray Mears” style.
These movies are informative, explaining and educating. They are almost always filmed by professionals with great knowledge about volcanoes using tons of safety equipment. And the photographers shooting these movies are professionals that sometimes takes limited risks so that we can watch awesome details at volcanoes without risking our lives.
Here at Volcanocafé we are blessed with having two such movie-makers commenting, Michael Ross and Michael Dalton-Smith. I will leave it to them to explain further the steps and processes they go through in making their stunning award-making documentary movies.
The second category is done in what I have dubbed the “Bear Grylls” style. Here you will find no skills to teach, no real knowledge, instead there is just gung-ho idiocy and people running around taking useless risks to produce a pointless “wow” effect.
In this category we find people touching running lava, surfing down lava on surfboards, or even trying to run on lava in tennis-shoes.
The problem with these movies are that you get jackass-intellectuals sitting at home dreaming up ever more stupid stunts, and that in turn lead to the general population losing respect for how dangerous volcanoes can be.
Volcanoes and volcanologists
(Click on the link above to watch)
In a way, the problem started with pictures and movies-clips of volcanologists poking around in volcanoes and taking quite a lot of risks. If you take these images out of context it may seem appropriate to stick things into volcanoes, or going very close to advancing lava flow fronts.
But what people miss is that these are highly trained professionals that have a job to do. Nobody knows the dangers better than they do.
But, even with the knowledge and skill they possess, quite a few field volcanologists die as they study the volcanoes that they love. It is though good to remember that these volcanologists have a good reason for the risks that they have to take and that is to save lives amongst those who reside on our near volcanoes.
A few days ago our dear friend Boris Behncke ventured up Etna to do his job ensuring the safety of the Sicilian population. We all know that he is one of the best field-volcanologist on the planet and that he is a world leading authority on lava/snow interaction.
Boris is a very careful man and he does not take any unnecessary risks. But, even with all his knowledge and care it still almost ended badly as his volcano did the unexpected. We are of course eternally grateful that our friend came out of it with only a minor cut on his head.
In the end Boris and other volcanologists have to take measured risks to be able to study volcanoes and further science to save lives. Think of them as firefighters and whatever you do, do not think about them as happy-go-lucky adventurer’s. They do an important job, nothing more, nothing less.
First of all, going up alone on a volcano is never a good idea. I do not in any way recommend people to go up on a volcano without a guide. But, remember that there are tour guides and there are tour guides.
It is important to acknowledge that volcanoes are dangerous, and even the best tour guides in the world can’t guarantee your safety 100 percent. But a good tour guide will minimize the danger and maximize your experience of the volcano.
A real tour guide will be licensed, have knowledge about the volcano and be able to inform about it, and also have skills to save your butt if something goes wrong. Such a tour guide will tell you what the limits are while visiting the volcano, explain the dangers and follow the rules and regulations around the volcano.
Above is a good example of a great tour guide, the legend of Acatenango Victor Sis. Quite likely the best volcano tour guide on the planet.
The problem is just that the volcano tour business is filled with daredevils with a Bear Grylls complex and lack in knowledge. Or people who doesn’t give jack about their customers safety and only care about maximizing their profit.
These scoundrels operate outside of the law and repeatedly break the rules and regulations around volcanoes. These guides can’t teach you anything, will risk your life, and are quite frankly not skilled enough to give you that maximized experience that you deserve for your hard-earned cash.
I think their problem is mainly that they misunderstand their customers completely. In their testosterone fuelled gryllsianism they think that the customers want danger, but most volcano tourists want to experience the volcano in a safe, picturesque and informative way.
Or, perhaps the problem is that it is quite easy to dunk tourists in lava and quite hard to give an impromptu correct mini-lecture on top of a volcano that is scientifically correct.
The authorities in many places do their best to curb the activity of these illegal gryllsians. Keeping with the Hawaiian theme of this article I will use Adventure et Volcans as a warning example. It is a French volcano tour company that operates outside the law.
In the dead of night this so-called volcano tour guide company tried to sneak down into the caldera of Kilauea to look down into the lava lake from the rim. The 13 tourists that the company brought in where fined 100$ each, the illegal tour guide company are facing trial and may be sentenced to 6 months in prison and heavy fines for, and this is not a short list of criminal conduct: “Reckless endangering in the 2nd degree; conducting illegal commercial activities within a forest reserve; entering a closed area within a natural area reserve; conducting illegal commercial activities within a natural area reserve, trespassing in the 2nd degree; and entering a closed area in a forest reserve”.
A word to the wise here, your insurance will not be valid under these circumstances and any injury will not be covered by your insurance company.
If we now look at the dangers that the French gryllsians put the tourists in, we first of all find the obvious part that traipsing about in the dark on a mountain is pretty dangerous. But, the caldera has its own particular dangers in the form of fissures, fumaroles that can cook you and hair-thin threads of lava that will destroy your lungs. There is also the risk that the lava lake rim will crumble when you stand on it, or that the caldera wall break into a rock-slide into the lava lake that causes lava waves to cover you from tip to toe. There is also the risk that gas explosions in the lava lake will hurl lava on you and lastly the not so insignificant risk of you suffocating on various deadly gasses that the volcano produces.
The ban on entering the caldera is there for very good reasons to say the least. Breaking authority bans are just stupid, they are there for very good reasons.
First of all, I must admit that I myself might be a part of the problem. After all I traipse about on erupting volcanoes. I do though have reasons for my volcano galumphing, the first is to study them and take samples, and the second reason is to be able to better inform our readers about them.
I also possess knowledge about volcanoes and how to read the relevant equipment so that I can make my own judgement calls on how to maximize my own safety. And lastly, for the more dangerous volcanoes on the planet I employ local guides, like the famed Sis-brothers in Guatemala, that has the necessary experience and knowledge to save my ass when things go pear-shaped (as it often does).
I also bring all the relevant safety equipment for the volcano in question.
I also hope that people will recommend good tour companies and post warnings about bad ones so that we can give good advice to our readers in the future on where to find them.
In the end the solution would be to set a standard for how it should be done. And in a way, I have the irking feeling that if you see a problem and solution you should do the job yourself.
Now to the surprising part, I do recommend everyone to at least once in life climb a volcano. It is a life altering experience. Just do it safely will you?
99 thoughts on “The dangers of volcano tourism”
Inspite of the diminishing trend in the recent Herðubreið swarm it appears to be getting alot closer to the surface.> Saturday
25.03.2017 07:45:13 65.172 -16.361 1.8 km 1.1 99.0 0.6 km WSW of Herðubreið
25.03.2017 07:41:26 65.159 -16.374 1.0 km 1.1 99.0 2.0 km SW of Herðubreið
I’ll give a little safety advice… my ‘gear list’ for fieldwork – may be added to or subtracted from depending on the volcano – and the rationale…
– Hard hat. Should go without saying! When to wear it at all times and when to merely carry it ready for instant use in case things go pear-shaped is left to the judgement of the individual.
– Satellite phone. Bit pricey but no excuse for not having one if you’re serious about this.
– Radio receiver/scanner. Can be useful to tune in to emergency service broadcasts etc. as well as normal broadcast news and weather.
– Gas meter. Doesn’t need to be precisely calibrated at vast expense so long as you’re sure it work. I recommend MultiRAE meters; they can be found on eBay and are good reliable instruments – we used them in hazmat work at the fire department. The ideal sensor combination for volcanology would be H2S, SO2, and O2. CO is not a significant volcanic hazard. CO2 is – but your alarm sensor for that gas is the O2 sensor as CO2 is an O2-displacing asphyxiant. The meter should always be worn on the waist belt in case you blunder into a CO2 pocket; it’s heavier than air!
– Thermal Imager of some kind. It’s good to know when something is hot! It can be hard to tell fresh and still very hot lava flows from old cold ones – until you get uncomfortably close! These days I would suggest the CAT S60 phone which has a built in TIC. It’s also a very rugged phone; important on volcanoes!
– Gas masks (plural). You need a range – different masks for different conditions. If there’s just a little ash blowing around a nuisance dust mask may suffice. If there’s significant SO2 around you may want to break out the proper respirator style make fitted with the correct ‘acid gas’ filters. And if things get really nasty you may need a firefighter-style full-face mask equipped with the same filters; it covers your eyes too – there’s no point in being able to breath if your eyes are so irritated you can’t *see*!
These are the more volcano-specific add-ons to the general outdoors/mountain gear you’ll need anyway – which is very dependent on location and season of course. A particular eruption may be almost a ‘drive-in’ eruption with a 4×4 vehicle so you won’t need to be equipped as for a month in the high Andes – but you’ll *still* need the appropriate volcano safety gear if you plan to get anything like up close and personal with it!
Here’s a pic of some of the kit I packed for the Holuhraun:
(The silver suit bits are for hardcore pros only; if you’re not one don’t use one; it will tempt you too close and get you in trouble)
I am curious. What do you use for footwear?
Depends on the job. If just general shooting the usual stout hiking boots. If getting up close to the hot stuff my firefighting boots.
Thank you Mike for your input.
For the casual passer by, Mike is the guy that was hanging upside down over Ambrym shoting the photage in Mackley and Ambroses Movie above.
And in reference to SDs question. I bet he did not wear flipflops 🙂
Negative on that. I was on Ambrym with those guys in… 2014 I think. But the 2012 legendary footage was shot by Bradley Ambrose.
Mea culpa… I see photage like that and I assume that you are involved 🙂
Note one of the most important cautionary statements above ref the exposure suit. ” it will tempt you too close and get you in trouble”
In the past, I did volunteer work as a fire fighter. When fully decked out in nomex and bunker gear, you loose touch with the immediate environment. That’s the part that will get you in trouble fast. It is very easy to loose track that things are changing around you until it’s too late to do anything about it. I had one incident when a group of us were on the 2nd floor of a house thinking we had knocked the fire down. What we didn’t catch was that the fire had traversed the length of the house through the floor joists and was re strengthening in the room behind us. From the time that we were ordered out until we got back to the stairs, the whole second floor reached ignition temperature and flashed over. Had it not been for the fact that we had observers watching our progress (and our backs) we probably would not have made it out of there with few injuries. As it was, the guy in front of me wound up bouncing down the stairs, air pack and all. I didn’t find him until we were out by a tree sheding our gear.
Those silver exposure suits were designed specifically for extreme rescue operations… like giving the fire crew a chance at getting a pilot out of a burning cockpit.
Sakurajima awoke this evening for the first time since July last year:
25 Mar 09:03 (explosion) 6.000 ft (1.8 km) VAAC
And be it noted that it was from Minami-dake – not the usual Showa crater:
(reposted in case people missed it at the end of the last blog post!)
With the gap since the last explosion being so long, should this be considered as a continuation of the eruption that started in 1955 or a new one (…1955-2017 or …1955-2016, 2017)?
Now showing a second and more powerful explosion:
25 Mar 13:28 (explosion) 9.000 ft (2.7 km) VAAC
To Mike Ross:
Your materiel is perfect for volcanologist.
In my opinion (of physician) , you forget the essential: medication, O2, water and maby a defibrillator.
For a volcano-addicted tourist like me, it’s just unusefull
Interesting that you would write that.
Next friday (or saturday) my next piece will sort of be about volcanoes and medicine.
It will also be about how usefull it is to have a medical doctor around when you plan to go galumphing up a volcano.
I will though save all the disgusting details for the upcoming article.
1) About the equipment:
depends on the purpose of the tour and the type of transportation. If it is by 4×4 or helicopter, no problem. If it’s 4 hours of walking, that’s another story. The photographic material weighs heavily. Take a hard hat, ok. But if I have to take 3 kinds of masks, etc. It begins to be heavy.
2) A doctor without a kit, I do not know what he can do …
She is not known for ever being without a kit… 😉
Oh damn, so I can’t swim in a lava lake?! You could’ve told me earlier! Thanks to you I’m dead! 😀
And since it is saturday…
As some of you know our good friend Igan S. Sutawijaya has picked up the mantle of Surono in Indonesia.
He is also the most fashion-sensitive of volcanologists.
I dub this Gunung Gangstah Style.
Normal volcanologists ask volcanoes if they will erupt, volcanoes instead ask Igan for permission to erupt.
Well I’ve Climbed Hood. Totally quiet that day. But Hood is famous for turning on you weather wise.. I did that in early April on a low snowpack year…
Agree with Carl and Mike 100% . My dear Auntie was on Kilauea when it erupted rather violently in I believe, ’58.
she and the other tourists in the group almost didn’t make it..
She Climbed Fuji in ’64. I was doing a USGS/Army Corps
flight just before it erupted in May, 1980 and it burped ash and rock. Believe me I was happy that we were flying a hottrod
Cessna 320 when it happened. St Helens was a sobering
reminder of Volcanic action….
Ask Harry Truman of Spirit Lake…
Harry Truman didn’t quite make it.
Even geologist David A. Johnston who was in a perceived safe observation area 6 miles away, died when St Helens went off.
Exactly. I have told this before but my Idiot
ex Brother in Law AND HIS WIFE AND DAUGHTERS!! were on the south side of St
Helens when it went off-they were inside the
red zone (“accidentally”) they came very close to not making it..
I warned them, too..
But what do I know..
I flew by Goat Rocks on May15…
“I think this will be educational for the
Anyone who has had a job that entails a certain
amount of risk, knows it and goes into it with
caution and planning. Skill and ability come into the picture too…
Not “National Lampoon’s Vacation goes to
I can relate to the risk v reward. Although I have not (yet) gone up a dormant or active volcano, I did spend 11 years in the Navy as an Aviation Electronics Tech – I worked radios, nav, and radar/weapons guidance on S-3B’s and F-14A/B’s – and spent a lot of my time on the Flight Deck of aircraft carriers. It is a stupidly dangerous place to work; noisy, hot, chaotic, and at night, very dark; it is jammed-packed with planes, helos, fuel hoses, bombs, missiles, bullets and trip hazards innumerable.
Yes, it can be fun, yes it is exciting a great deal of the time, but just like everyone has stated about volcanoes here, if you are going up there, you better have a reason to (beyond wanting a cool selfie), are dressed for the part, and you had better have someone who knows what they are doing and what to look out for. Otherwise, you can be blown over the side (an 80 foot drop with about 20 kts of forward momentum – you may actually skip when you hit the water…), sucked into an intake (not a pleasant experience, I hear), get blended through a prop arc of an E-2 or C-2, or just simply run over by a 47,000 lb aircraft (which equates to more than 15,600 lbs per tire, each inflated to around 250-300 psi – the plane actually rolls THROUGH you as opposed to OVER you…).
It is not for everyone and certainly not for spectators. If you want to watch, you can via CCTV (called the PLAT) or you can go up to Vulture’s Row – both allow you to observe at a safe distance, while VR lets you appreciate the dangers inherent to working there.
Moral of the story: If you are not a professional, keep your distance or hire a true professional to allow you to experience the sites, teach you the dangers, point out the warning signs, and maximize the enjoyment of your limited time topside. But above all, respect the environment – to do otherwise is nothing short of suicide.
I was just having a discussion now in human risk perception.
The conclusion we got is that humans are usually pretty bad in risk perception.
I give an example. Most humans, at least in the western world, are afraid of quitting their job (even when they are debt free) but then are much quicker to commit to marry someone and get a morgage with that person. The risk of the latter two is very high, about a third of marriages end up badly and the risk of dealing with a morgage is that you end up financially badly. The risk of quitting your job when you are debt free is actually very low. At same time, we are often afraid when we are young of kissing someone (risk is very low) but then we commit quite quickly (and the risk is much higher).
This also applies to volcanoes. Most people actually travel to countries to Indonesia assuming its safe because everyone else does, but the risk of travelling to some third world countries is actually higher than we are aware. Plus the risk of visiting an active volcano, which is usually very very high. Volcano hiking is usually risky, and hiking near the crater of an erupting volcano has high risk and the risk of the most extreme consequence: death or serious injury. Even I have engaged in extreme risky situations such as hiking active volcanoes in Iceland in wintertime (!) or travelling by the cheapest bus in certain third world countries.
Our life is full of examples of situations where people jump right on, without much thought, into very high risk activities (such as volcano hiking, mortgage or doing drugs and driving), but then we are afraid of engaging in activities of which risk is low (like moving residence, city or job). We humans are actually pretty illogical in risk perception. Risk would relate to health, financial and emotional consequences.
Another two examples is illogical engagement in high risk activities: war (or if I am allowed to go political, voting for war-promoting or unstable politicians), and our negligence to climate change. In both the risk, to our civilization (and hence our life) is quite high. One last example: many people are afraid of speaking to a large audience, the risk is next to none, but we actually feel deep fear for it. This all shows are innaccurate our risk perception truly is!
Other examples of deep fears for very low-risk activities. Fear of dental checkups! Fear of mice or spiders! Fear of flying an airplane (actually one of the safest ways of transportation). Another comparison: most people have some fear of eating an expired yogurt, when actually the risk is quite low (at worst you get some intestinal upset), but will risk going mushroom hunting (risk can be much higher).
hi everyone . I found this report today https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/kambalny/news/62182/Kambalny-volcano-southern-Kamchatka-Russia-first-historic-eruption.html . sorry already reported. It might look like our first vei 6 of the 21 century coming soon ?
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What makes you think VEI-6?! Kambalny isn’t known for significantly large eruptions. Besides we haven’t even had our first VEI-5 of the century yet! (I doubt it will be much longer to wait!)
At it’s reported rate, it would have to maintain that level of eruption at a minimum for 529 days non-stop to reach VEI-4.
For that volcano, with a FL150 plume, it’s only erupting about 2.19 m³/s DRE.
Derived from VAAC Tokyo reports, using formulas from “A multidisciplinary effort to assign realistic source parameters to models of volcanic ash-cloud transport and dispersion during eruptions” Mastin et al (2009) Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Definitely not going to be a VEI-6. I would be surprised if this got above a VEI-3. This volcano probably has never gone VEI-6 before, and considering the eruption is already ongoing and isn’t particularly violent, its not super likely that it would suddenly shoot up to a VEI-6. Not saying it’s 100% impossible, but it is extremely unlikely.
hi . I was only guessing lol beside the eruption dates are confusing one say 250 years ago while another say 1350AD. please if anyone could find out more , it might helpful
Ah the Bad Boyz of Kamchatka.
I’m prepared! new Green House!
Tomatoes already in pots..
Give me your best shot, Kambalny ..
It’s been said that tomatoes are a leading cause of sandwiches in the United States….
3 lateral flank collapses in the last 6400 years, five major eruptions in the range of VEI-5 with one of the flank collapses suspected as a VEI-6.
It is a bad boy…
hi Carl . thank you for finding the information we might need if it goes bad . I was a bit concern given the time it last erupt .
So far it is though a VEI-3 and there are no signs of it growing in strength.
hi carl . Do you or anyone else might think this might be be a precursor of a bigger eruption ie throat clearing then clams down then goes off in 6 months time
Its a good candidate for a VEI4 or VEI5. A quite tall and young stratovolcano in a region which vigorous volcanic activity, in the ring of fire, Eruptions between long periods of rest, meaning evolved magmas. History of very large flank landslides. So its possible but nothing garanteed. A VEI6 is within the realms of possibility, being a tall stratovolcano in the ring of fire. But most such eruptions will usually end up as strong VEI4 or VEI5 ones.
I’ve seen a few videos of tourists climbing up the lava dome of Santiaguito and half the time it was erupting. They’re lucky that they weren’t strong eruptions or that they were hit by ballistics. Some of the guides were irresponsible.
I also seen a video of a group of men climbing Popocatepetl when it erupts and rains rocks around them, and another of a crazy American guy who climbed the then active Arenal in 2006 and said he went back at night in the way of the rockfalls and described how he dodged them and one exploded near him and his backpack took the brunt of it.
And, not forgetting Canadian adventurer Greg Wade who climbed Tungurahua while it was in a state of eruption and you can see his video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SeT7C-xkUQ
I myself have hiked on 13 volcanoes and while they weren’t exploding the only problems I had was hiking on the jagged active lava fields on Pacaya in 2006. I also almost got scalded by a fumarole by a lagoon in Rincon de la Vieja National Park forcing me to move quick.
Ouch. Were you aware of the fumarole or was it one of those surprises? I once lost the path while hiking near Kilauea. Nothing active in that area but the old lava flows are not good to walk on: the patches over the hollows can’t carry your weight and the ragged edges can play havoc with your legs or shoes (my shoes were adequate for the path but not for off-roading). Lesson: when losing the path, retrace your steps. Don’t try to find it again by random search.
Yeah I knew the fumarole was there but there was no way of avoiding it as it was on the path I took.
I haven’t finished reading the article yet. It’s been very good so far. We took our daughter to the airport today and she’s currently flying to Dublin, Ireland. I thought I still had weather site bookmarked someone on here gave me last year. I must have deleted it. Can anyone tell me a good weather site for that area. It would be very much appreciated. Thanks 🙂
Not really what your looking for, but I use this to access a lot of other weather sites.
And flight aware usually has a link to the conditions at specific airports if you have the feild identifier.
Irish weather forecaster is Met Eireann. Website is http://www.met.ie. Dublin is currently warm and sunny (by our standards)!
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The basic forecast can be found here
It’ll be raining, or if not now then raining soon.
With rain to follow,
that’s why its green….
Just like the St. Helens webcam page used to state about the current conditions: (paraphrasing) “We are located in the United States Pacific Northwest, where at any time it is either raining, getting ready to rain, or has just finished raining…”
Did anyone notice the activity north of Iceland? Quite a decent sized swarm with the largest being an M4 and a few other M3+.
Will be interesting to see if it extends southwards..
I go to weather channel, but was hoping for more & a local area. Thanks for the weather sites.
Kambalny rapidly tottering away towards a VEI-4 (if it has not already achieved it.
“It is a pure surprise for us. We continue the monitoring and will analyze possible threats as data come in,” Olga Girina, the head of the special Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team (KVERT), told TASS news agency. The volcano started spewing ash on Friday evening, and the ash could potentially cover the city of Severo-Kurilsk, located on the island of Paramushir.
Experts believe that the threat has already passed, though the orange code for aviation danger was assigned. The Kambalny volcano is 2,156 meter high and is located in southern Kamchatka. The last time it erupted was during the reign of the Russian empress Catherine the Great, in 1769.
The Kamchatka Peninsula has around 300 volcanoes on its territory, with 29 of them active. In December, the Shiveluch volcano – in the northern part of Kamchatka – erupted and spewed ash to a height of 11,000 meters above sea level.
always impressed how somes found easy to judge peoples around them, the rate of accidents on active volcanoes is much lower than on many other natural areas where peoples enjoy the nature (if you consider that it is a good thing to make laws to close the access to most of the active areas then you should consider to close the acces to shorelines wich kills thousands of peoples in your country every years (you can’t imagine all the dangers you have to face in the water: drawning, heavy waves, strong currents, storms, ugly sea life waiting for you in the dark!) and you should consider every peoples who practice mountainering as totally crazy when you see the chance of surviving at a day outthere (even for those uncounscious who think that they gonna be safe by staying on that disneyland-like areas that are the ski station ( where again thousand of lifes are lost every year). I don’t know this guide from “aventure et volcan” but i think you should support this guide. on one side you have a BIG company call volcano national park who drive millions of peoples to the volcano who absolutelly don’t care about it , who consider it as an attraction are here just for fun and think they are safe because somebody else put a rope for them, if you look at sthe statistic most of them will stay only few hours (during this time they will have a lunch, drink few beers buy some souvenirs and they will be on time to enjoy their swimming pool like they do year-long in this fantastic consumer society . And on an other side you have a guide (who is also here for bennefit i agree) who drive small group of volcano lovers ( because most part of this clients are really volcano lovers who try to have better knowledge of our world and environment, most of them are not rich and work year long to pay a trip to the other side of the planet to stay a week or two close to a volcano trying to learn about it and are truly aware of the dangers involved) to a place that i am sure he know well and practice a lot . And know this guide risk a lot from the same peoples that have built snacks and restaurants and hotels in the heart of this natural area ! and you support them! you describe the dangers of the caldeira, almost all of them can be minimize (i mean not at the point to be as low as in your kitchen, but as if you are flying a light aircaft in the mountains or in the middle of the ocean). anyway, thank you for your job on this blog and sorry for my bad english
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Regarding the tone of your presentation I had some discomfort reading your article.
My English is not very good, so do not pick the individual term used but only the general meaning.
I am a tourist loving volcanology. I always carry my old nikon d300 to take a maximum of pretty photos. My first volcanoes were solfatara, vesuvius and etna (I was 16 years old). At the etna, I met H. Tazieff who also did not have 1/3 of the equipment presented above. But it was a long time ago (perhaps some of the readers were not even born?).
Volcanology is a science at early stage and no one knows exactly when eruption begin and what happens next .
In the event of a disaster, when no economic interest is at stake, the government over-react. When there are economic interest to be taken into account, the authorities under-react (see Fukushima). When a disaster occurs (New Orleans for instance), the authorities are unable to face about that.
When Tchernobyl occurs French government says : « No radioactive clouds above France ». By now no one trust french authorities in charge of radiation protection.
I can give you a long list of irresponsible decisions made by many governments in any part of the world.
I know there are variations of perception between volcanologists and sometimes confrontation (I remember Haroun Tazieff against Michel Feuillard). Therefore, the scientific data must be made public (remember: taxes paid researchers) and volcanologists have to give objective information to government and people.
Sometimes the volcanologists are also unwise (by respect I would not give any name but I have in mind a few examples …)
I have traveled all over the world to know that there are jealousies between local volcano guides and foreign travel agencies. I do not know the circumstances of the incident that you talked about in your presentation. I think this agency have been organizing excursions on volcanoes since a long time. We have seen on French TV many films of Guy de Saint-Cyr from Hawai. I do not know whether there was recklessness or change in regulations.
To read your article the governments will make mandatory the use of a guide. To read your article, people will believe that they should take. If you go diving in Indonesia or climbing on the volcanoes, I can give you a long list of guides who have graduated (PADI or tourism state) to blacklist…
For a volcano like Piton de la Fournaise (La Réunion), I do not think there is any need for a guide to move around « L’enclos ». Given the distances you have to leave at 4am and depending on where you want to go, there is a 4-6h walk. Then even if you take a look on internet, something can happen. Two years ago an eruption was not foreseen by the observatory (OVFP) and the tourists in « l’enclos » were evacuated by helicopter. I don’t know if authority has over-react or no. Whatever, when you climb a volcano, there is always a risk (see also volcanologic disaster in japan). That’s life.
Finally, in Iceland, regarding the tourists, are there more accidents due to volcanic eruptions or to hiking / alpinism?
“When there are economic interest to be taken into account, the authorities under-react (see Fukushima).”
Fukushima especially – and radiation accidents generally – are situations where authorities tend to grossly ludicrously catastrophically OVER-react. I suggest you give this chap (Oxford professor of medical physics and nuclear physics) a seriously good read:
Second that, Mike…
The japan government did under-react (or delay in reacting) because they had too much confidence in TEPCO and TEPCO did not give them the information.
As this is a web site of volcanology I would not comment more on the benignity of radiation
Sometimes you should read scientific paper, newspaper, web site and look at TV with criticism.
I remember about a swedish guy that wrote many «scientific papers» denying the harmful effects of tobacco and passive smoking. This guy was Professor at the University of Genevea in medicine. In 2001 It was discovered that this professor was receiving money from philips morris. This professor was convicted of scientific fraud in the field of passive smoking” and lost his case at the Court of Justice of Geneva.
First of all, as a long time reader, a great thank you to all the contributors here at VC, which has been my favorite volcano-themed website for many years!
On this topic, just a few things:
Yes, from a purely technological point of view, fission-based nuclear power generation is a relatively safe and clean technology. Alas, there’s a HUGE but:
The above disregards any political, economical and human factors contributing to the safety of these plants, which is a kind of ignorance that is very very dangerous.
Yes, so far fewer people have died from accidents related to nuclear power generation than from coal or water-based energy sources. But the potential for disaster, if the above mentioned non-technological factors are considered, is much greater.
Even in a highly developed country like Germany, where I come from, potentially disastrous mistakes have been made. For example, there are numerous nuclear power plants in the rhine graben. Those power plants have been designed to withstand earthquakes up to 5.6 on the old richter scale and are situated in highly populated areas.
Yet today we know of earthquakes that have happened in the rhine graben which were much more powerful.
The nuclear power plant of Mülheim-Kärlich was even built directly on a known fault prone to frequent earthquakes. Thanks to resistance by the “fearmongering” inhabitants of the area that power plant never went online. The reason to disregard all warnings by independent scientists was purely political prestige.
The long-time effects of exposure to additional (to the natural rate, that is) low level ionizing radiation is yet unknown and subject to research. But there are indications that even moderate levels greatly increase the risk of cancer for the population.
Most nuclear power plants are run by private profit oriented companies, who disregard safety precautions for maximizing profit. For example, the emergency generators at Fukushima were mounted too low although it was known that much higher floods have happened in that area. The nuclear power plant of Fessenheim (also in the rhine graben) has faked numerous safety inspections (because of, you know it, money) over the years. Last year it became known that the steel of the reactor containment was showing degeneration and possible microfissures.
Another case: For 17 years, the Philippsburg nuclear power plant had been started up without sufficient boron concentration in the emergency tanks whose content should flood the reactor core in the event of an accident. If the water to be used for emergency flooding lacks boron, core flooding has the same effect as pouring fuel into the fire.
The operators did not care at all. Instead, they wilfully violated the procedures set forth in the operating manual. According to investigations, the emergency cooling systems of other nuclear power plants had not been fully functional for several years either due to insufficient boron concentration.
Take into account, that nuclear power generation is not CO2-neutral at all and uranium mines are responsible for some of the worst damages to the environment and you simply can’t make a case in favor of fission based nuclear power plants.
This has nothing to do with irrational fears of “the nuclear” or radiation, but is solely based on facts.
Just my 2 cents, back to volcanoes 😉
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@Mike: Websites full of rubbish like that always let me question, who is paying his retirement…
As an example in the death toll he is calculating, there are only the deaths of radiation illness, not one death due to cancer. And around Chernobyl the probability of dying of cancer are much higher.
And the liquidators suffered severly:
So in my opinion, saying that there have only been 50 deaths is an insult to everyone who is still suffering from that catastrophe.
I don’t want to argue the goods and bads of fission power and all of your points are solid and I understand the point you are trying to make. I do however have a small tweak with your point #3:
Any company (public or private) that is “for-profit” tries everything in its power to NOT kill their customers. Dead customers pay nothing. If all your customers die, you go out of business and make no profit. Being for-profit does not make a company bad, nor does it mean that they will cut corners.
Government owned and facilitated services can be far worse than any private one (see the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs for an excellent example of this) – first off, they are funded by the government and therefore all budgets are subject to political whim. Secondly, they are run by bureaucrats and unions that are usually above criminal accountability. Being government owned and facilitated means that there is little (if any) incentive to “do the right thing” for the average joe-worker – it is not like there are bonuses available or promotions above someone that has more tenure than you…
I agree…I did not want to present a profit-oriented business as inherently bad…being a “capitalist sellout” myself 😉
I also agree that it’s bad to kill your customers. However, many companies are focused on short-term profit with no reliability.
I have no reliable information regarding the situation outside the EU, but european nuclear power plants are massively subsidized while having neither insurance nor accountability to pay for damages should an accident occur. This makes the profit impact of the individual customers very small and because of that risks are taken.
Problem is, that no insurance company will insure nuclear power plants and without subsidies and with accountability to pay for damages, no nuclear power plant would be able be profitable at all.
I completely agree that government services are sometimes far worse than private ones. See #1 in my comment above. But that doesn’t mean private ones are generally better.
Government rarely provides good service, but many government employees do, in my experience. A good example of both sides of this statement is found in the UK NHS. Private monopolies never give service. Private competition can become a race to the bottom where the good ones lose out against the cost cutters. The best role of the government is in setting the rules for the private companies.
Regarding fission plants, not all are equal. Some do have unsafe features, but others are more secure than people perhaps give them credit for.
Nuclear power plants are extremely safe and a major accident is an impossible event from the point of view of statistics P (accident) = 0.0000000000000001 (dixit the nuclear experts).
The first nuclear accident took place in Switzerland and no one remembers it. It was at Lucens (Vaud): the reactor was completely destroyed. As this reactor was in the mountains, there was no contamination in the neighboring village (we were lucky !!!!!!!).
After that we saw: three mile island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.
During my life, I saw 4 major nuclear accidents.
Therefore, from a mathematical point of view, the probability of a nuclear accident is no longer unlikely, impossible.
Typo = inside a mountain
@Albert: Everything that needs energy to stay save is inherently insave. Cut the power supply -> Fukushima.
Given the “right” circumstances this would happen in every fission plant in the world, be it modern and well governed or not.
@Leonard of Quirm: You’re right, this subsidization and the not-accountability is the only reason, why nuclear fission is called “cheap”.
A “nice” example from germany of what problems we are going to have with the already generated waste:
…have a look at the half-life…
But with the dose of 100mSv/month proposed by Prof. Allison we should just spread it evenly around the country… (and die fast because of the toxicity of this waste…). Although one could argue if that’s better, than a slow death due to cancer…
Sorry this topic always makes me sarcastic…
Regarding Iceland, Irpsit will know more than me since he has lived there for a number of years, but here’s some observations of my own, based on several trips there and on reading the local media (in English):
– Many recent tourist accidents / deaths have happened on a beach near Vík that has a dangerous undertow.
– There have been some recent accidents and fatalities scuba diving or snorkelling in the canyons at Thingvallavatn.
– Some people have died or had accidents on hiking trips. In some cases it is not clear what has happened to the person, but there was a recent fatality near Landmannalaugar when someone fell into a ravine when a snow bridge collapsed. This could have been owing to bad luck or to inexperience.
– I am not aware of any fatalities recently owing directly to volcanic activity.
My own sense is that people (for which read “tourists”) sometimes undertake more than their judgement and experience ought to allow them – which is Carl’s principal point. And they get into difficulties owing to a combination of being ill-equipped and underestimating their ability, the terrain, and the highly changeable conditions.
Walking up Hekla would be an extreme example of this, especially if there are fatalities if its next eruption is as unpredictable as previous ones. A more “normal” example would be the man who was found by an ICE-SAR patrol walking with his young children in the hills NW of Langisjór wearing only summer clothes and light waterproofs, and carrying no other equipment. The fatality on the Laugarvegur one summer a decade or so back seems to have been a particularly tragic example of the factors I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Similar things happen in the British hills – where conditions are not dissimilar to Iceland’s – every year, especially in winter. If you know what you are doing and are properly equipped, Iceland need be no more or less dangerous than walking in the UK in summer, climbing in Scotland in winter, or mountaineering in the Alps and (what we Brits call) the Greater Ranges.
I have a problem here. More specifically, I have a problem reading this., when people seem to struggle with what seems to be basic, common sense safety advice.
Now I have never climbed a volcano, but I do have a parallel. I surf (or used to surf) a rather special wave. It’s the tidal bore of the River Severn in Britain.
For half a century, the local crew have managed the flow of information about the wave.
It is, as I say, special…different. It doesn’t usually generate much by way of vertical height on the face of the wave. But in many ways it behaves more like a tsunami than a beach wave.
This is where we have a problem , and why we managed the flow of information for all those years. There are some very good surfers who have come to tick this wave off their bucket list. And when I say “Very good”, I mean up to and including World Tour surfers, and big wave specialists of high repute. And hordes of others who live on the coast and have never surfed a tidal bore before.
We, the regulars, members of the Bore Riders Club, make ourselves available to advise where required, to give a word of warning where appropriate, and yes, we have carried out fast water rescues, and many of us have recovered human remains from the water… Fortunately, so far in 50+ years, no surfer has lost their lives surfing the bore.
But stll we see people turning up as if it’s something like a drunken party on a stag night. We’ve seen people riding..attempting to ride.. inflatable chairs, an inflatable elephant (!), we’ve seen people in the river who can barely swim, can’t control their boards or kayaks, and people who get get panicked being in a rip current… on a wave that is very similar to a tsunami. The current after the wave is extreme.
So we controlled the flow of information such that visitors would easily find good and very complete advice on how to launch, how to ride, what to expect, and how to exit safely at 3 particular sections of this wave, which would allow visitors to experience most of what the bore had to offer in relative safety.
There are much more extreme sections, some of which I have never personally surfed, and never would… They require extreme and specialised skills, not just with surfing, but also such things as handling large and intense whirlpools, and vast areas of quicksand/sinking sand.
There are no lifeguards. Just us.
If someone gets into difficulty here, and the emergency services get called, they call us. We have the knowledge, they know that they don’t..
And everything worked well for 50 years.
Then .. I will be frank.. some absolute bunch of idiots comes along and sets up a website.. heavy on the merchandising of tee shirts and the like.. Their canny with the local press, and they steal a march on us. Soon they are the “go to” people for the local press when a big tide is due, and even the local tourist information sets up with them. And they publish a guide to every single spot on the whole 23 mile run of the wave.
It turns out they have been reading messages on various surfing sites, and carefully putting this guide together for a year or more… In some cases, they are quoting us, and claiming the knowledge as their own.
Some of their published information was not just wrong, it was extremely dangerous.
But we were bypassed.
I stopped surfing the river.
Because I don’t want to be either killed by some clueless idiot on a board they can’t handle, and neither do I want to be the one who fishes the remains of some idiot on an inflatable, or some kid who tried to launch off a sandbank which is mostly quicksand.
Please… Just for the sake of common sense, DO NOT support people who make money out of putting their customers’ lives at undue risk.This is foolhardy and irresponsible beyond all decency and absolutely cannot.. should not, be supported.
As an example of danger-tourism, Everest comes to mind. People are taking extreme risks to climb it. I do not know what the local regulations are like and expect that the guides are top-notch. Still, underprepared tourists puts not only themselves at risk, but also the guide, and even the rescuers. You need a guide strong enough to say no to a client, and a company that will back the guide over the customer. Not all customers are going to like that. On the other side, the guide may be tempted to try to impress the group, especially if the bonus depends on the feedback the give the company.
A guide taking a group at night into a closed area (and closed for a reason) is a disaster waiting to happen. The very worst PR for a park is a dead tourist. Worse, in the US the park rangers could expect years of litigation, having to proof they did everything possible to stop stupid people entering closed areas. ~F`or each individual tourist the risk is minor, but for the area, it is Russian roulette – eventually someone will take the bullet and the locals are left with the bill.
(I don’t know the French company but noticed that its name is misspelled both in the press stories and in this blog. So it is not clear whether the company you name was involved.)
The majority of major skiing accidents (i.e. not the usual broken bones) happen to people going off-path. As for the coasts, there are beach guards for a reason. I like sailing – but I know the sea will turn against you at a moments notice. When there is any doubt, you don’t go off-shore. When the waves are high, you don’t swim or paddle. A wave knee-high will knock you over.
Now I know that scientists can also take insane risks.Their curiosity gets the better of them. Rutherford split the atom on a bench in the tea room. When someone took a geiger counter into the departmental tea (it was probably Geiger), it reportedly went off the scale. If you would only risk your own life, that is your problem. But the inevitable outcome affects many more, innocent people.
A knee high wave did more than knock me over back in 2009. It broke my arm, permanently damaged both wrists, and launched me ( weighed around 235 pounds at the time ) around 3 metres into the air.
It was only knee high, but 12 miles thick.
If people won’t respect advice, you would at least hope they would respect basic physics.
Been in Aviation for 40 years and have seen it all. I was in a
Civil Air Patrol sqdn. also working for a company as a Pilot/Instructor When a fellow who was flying a Piper
Cheyenne Turboprop! Pulled up to the office, ordered fuel,
and proceeded to explain that he needed to get “over the pass”
between Seattle and Yakima -before the weather closed in.!
He was a non-instrument rated private pilot.. Yikes! I offered to
fly with him to Seattle. He said-“Plane hasn’t had a IFR check in
a couple of years.” (That meaning a Pitot/Static check -altimeter and other instruments- and radios.) Turned out the
Aircraft was out of annual inspection by two years. Fueled,
he and his wife climbed aboard -and disappeared into the
Cascades.. Never found. Things have changed insurance and
rules would not allow him to fly this aircraft like a Cessna putt-putt. A month or so later someone found a landing gear
door in a Sitka Spruce way north of Glacier peak.
This is something I’ve had to live with- did call the CAP commander and the FAA . I really had no authority to stop
… but, you did advise against it and offered a solution. The circumstances were beyond your control.
Years ago, I had a Jeep next to me on the interstate, loaded with people. Their acquaintances in a 4 x 4 behind them were playing around with bumping the spare tire on the back of the jeep. They were all laughing and waving back and forth at each other. On one of the “taps” I could see the inherent instability in the Jeep from the impact. I panicked and floored the throttle get the @#$@ away from them. Sure enough, in the rear view mirror I saw the Jeep take a hard left and drive off the road in a roll.
If I remember the news reports correctly, they did survive.
And to shit to the hilarious. I used to saltwater fish… a lot. Mostly pier side or jetty fishing. At one semi-favorite spot, nest to the Bob-Sikes bridge, I saw a Jeep struggling to stay in control as the large concession trailer he was towing was pushing him from side to side down the bridge. Scary as hell to see, but I imagine the drive was @$@$ing bricks. He made it without hitting anything or rolling it.
(Bob-Sikes is the bridge going to Pensacola Beach from Gulf Breeze. Next to it was the old bridge which was retained as an ad-hoc fishing pier.)
“Over the pass” … White or Snoqualmie? SE to NW and against the wind? And they ended up somewhere between Baker and Glacier? I’d say he was more than just a little off course, he was damned near to Canada.
That is some advanced-level stupid, there. Close to Darwin Award worthy. You cannot be responsible for the idiocy of others. Both he and his wife were aware of the risks and both knew that they were negligent in their checks and maintenance. They were consenting adults – if they had minors along, that would have been something else entirely.
Sadly, not everyone realizes Common Sense isn’t.
Snoqualme-there were reports of a low
flying twin heading north. BTW his wife did not
want to go. she wanted to stay in the Richland,
area. A motel room is cheaper than a funeral..
No ELT signal either…
That is sad.
I have family in the Tri-Cities. There are some great wineries and the stark basaltic scablands to the north have a beauty about them that is rather difficult to describe.
Now, if y’all would just do something about the mosquitoes….
Surprisingly they do have
a mosquito control agency…
You wouldn’t know it, however…
KAMBALNY’s mass ejection rate has increased to 16.67 m³/s DRE. Based on data from the latest VAAC report.
Even at 45 tonnes per second its still a fairly sedate eruption as eruptions go.
Accurate? No, not really. If I remember correctly, Mastin et al indicated that the formula could yield results that were off by a factor of four.
Beautiful to watch however 🙂
The eruption style actually seems very similar to Pavlof, which erupted earlier in 2016.
indicates that KLYUCHEVSKOY might be in eruption.
DETAILS: POSS ERUPTION OBS AT 20170327/1750Z FL200 EXTD NE
OBS VA DTG: 27/1820Z
Yeah, I know I biffed the alignment, I was in a hurry and I don’t have my glasses on.
Nothing to see on the webcams (so far)
When New Horizons sailed past Pluto, it took pictures mainly of the sun-facing (day) side of the dwarf planet. Now it has released an image of the other side, taken shortly after closest approach, showing everything that was hidden. To do even better, we will need to go back!
Click on the small image to get full resolution – it is worth it (well – depending on your data limits)
Large enough to be round, has an atmosphere, and is NOT a planet?
… yeah, riiiight.
It is an alternative planet..
:o))))) …new planet class: “alternative planet”
BTW: Thank you very much for writing the “lift-off” articles, Pluto is now my background-picture on the PC…
Clyde Tombaugh is one of my heroes of Astronomy. He deserves to have Pluto
restored to planethood…
I agree. From a planet to a dwarf planet & now an alternate planet. Judge me by my size, do you? Even Yoda was small, but he was still a Jedi. 🙂 At least Pluto’s got a moon. Mercury doesn’t. Is he going to be demoted too? 😛
I say if Pluto can’t be a planet, then it should be it’s own category of planet…. say, “Plutino” (yeah, the term is already in use, but it refers to objects. I say it should be a Plutino class planet, not object. That upsets the apple cart of numbered planets, but I think you’ll run out of planets before you run out of numbers.)
I think that an unknown submarine volcano is erupting in Mar Tirreno, between Isola D’Elba and Isola di Montecristo. That area is now closed to navigation.
There are witnesses of explosions and black water fountains.
That would be highly interesting to Watch.
I love Island formations, and the area has had a few ephemeral ones in the past.
And if an Island pokes up I vote for naming it Dumas after the author Alexandre Dumas who wrote a book about the nearby Island.
Ya got my vote!
The Civil Protection Department has instructed the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) to carry out investigations to understand the magnitude and characteristics of the phenomenon. The overflights, carried out by the Harbor with detections with thermal camera, have shown that the gaseous emissions are not associated with localized temperature variations. The chemical analysis of sea water, carried out by INGV Geochemical Group of Naples, showed a significant increase in methane concentration. The inspection by remotely operated underwater vehicles, led by INGV staff of Portovenere, has not identified localized thermal anomalies. From the results it is thus able to rule out that the degassing had volcanic origin. The set of elements allows to narrow the field of hypothesis, indicating that it is a type of mud “volcano phenomenon” in which large amounts of methane escaping in vigorous manner.
Well, crap. There goes the planet. The IPCC said once the methane hydrates start to go, that’s it for our coastal cities and half our agricultural areas…
Or methane gas has been emitted from a volcanic source but accumulated underground far enough / long enough from the source to have cooled?
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Toss a match out there and you can reduce the impact by a factor of about 35. 😀
On a more serious note… wasn’t it not too long ago that they had a mud volcano in a roundabout near the airport at Rome? (August 24, 2013)
In one of the linked papers from the Fiumicino mud volcano site, (Bigi et alii, 2015) gas migration along existing fault systems is blamed. The region of the current activity is made up of “slices of rocks which once formed part of the ancient Tethyan seafloor.”
My opinion of that is that the area is probably an old Accretionary wedge made up of heavily faulted strata and likely subject to a similar process.
Now for my moon-bat theory; The Phlegraean Fields and other fairly large volcanic features in Italy are dated to around 40,000 ybp. The Laschamp event is thought to be about the same age (41,000 +- 2000 ybp). I have a feeling that this volcanism and geomagnetic escursion were probably a manifestation of a slab detachment event of the old Tethys ocean crust, similar to what probably happened with the Farallon plate 20 myr ago. (The Columbia Flood Basalt event followed that).
The Geomagnetic escursion would have been due to magma upwelling behind the detached slab. No proof, just conjecture. Thoughts?
Video of the Fiumicino mud volcano
It is still bloorping and farting about.
Mud volcanoes are quite natural, and sometimes they even create islands.
Old post is up! A cbus special – very special.
I guess this belongs here: the eruption of Mt Ontake was completely unexpected as far as the tourists could know, however this paper gives the extent of knowledge and observations in the lead up to the event
I’m a little late to the party, but I do have a bit to contribute since I have engaged in volcano tourism on three continents, plus Iceland and Hawaii. As has already been mentioned here, people are very poor at comprehending risk. The most dangerous thing that happened on a trip of mine was a car crash in Costa Rica (on the way to Arenal volcano when it was still erupting). I walked away with almost no injuries, so I was lucky, but it’s still sobering.
My volcano addiction began in Hawaii, where I volunteered for the HVO for 4 months, sampling gases and measuring gas emission rates on Kilauea (before the summit eruption started). I learned how to safely operate on a shield volcano, and had quite a few very memorable experiences with lava flows on the pali. Over the next few years, I expanded my knowledge and took risks, yes, but they were calculated risks. For example, I climbed to within about 50 vertical metres of the summit of Fuego volcano in Guatemala, just lower than the fumaroles. But I had been observing the volcano for a couple of days, wore a hard hat, and timed my trip just after a very large exhalation of ash and rock; I spent a few minutes there and left, and Fuego didn’t erupt again until I was already back on Acatenango. On a second trip to Guatemala, I camped out on the inactive lava dome adjacent to Caliente, on Santiaguito. I was with experienced guides, we had hardhats on at all times, and the worst we got was a bit of ashfall a couple times. The views of the eruption though, visible if you walk to the edge of the dome and peak around the massive lava spine wall (you can climb it too, but I didn’t do that because it appeared to be pretty dangerous) were incredible, and we even saw some minor pyroclastic flows going down the dome. And I had great experiences on Pacaya both trips. If I had to guess, I’d say Pacaya is probably the most dangerous volcano to tourists in Guatemala because it is so popular. I doubt very much the majority of the guides know how to keep their charges safe, and with the large numbers of people going to the active lava flows there, injuries are very likely. As for me though, I picked a good company, used the knowledge I have accrued since Hawaii, and the worst thing that happened to me was lighting a glove on fire as I gathered a lava sample (it was thick enough that I didn’t even feel the heat). I still have the glove, and the sample, both great souvenirs.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that visiting volcanoes is dangerous. Sometimes the volcano isn’t even the main danger (like in Tanzania, where people used to get attacked by Somalian bandits on the “road” to Ol Doinyo Lengai, or with respect to car accidents like mine). If you take all sensible precautions, the danger is still there, just slightly lower, but for me, I still want to do it. I wouldn’t have missed Lengai for anything, it was an incredible trip, and there is nothing I have ever experienced that is cooler than a natrocarbonatite lava flow. And hiking to the andesitic lava flows on El Reventador was also mind-blowing, though it was a much more difficult trek than the Lengai climb (such an underrated volcano, if you’re in Ecuador you have to see it!). We go because we want the unique experience, because we know it’s a bit dangerous. We love volcanoes because they are a vivid example of the power of the Earth. But it is also not sensible to throw your life away when you can have an almost equal experience safely as the experience that risks your life. I know more about volcanoes than ALL of the guides I have employed (having studied and then taught geology), but I employ them because they know more about THAT SPECIFIC volcano than I do. They know it’s moods and cycles, they know the risks, they know where it’s safe. I would say hiring (and listening to) an experienced guide is the key element to volcano safety. No amount of safety equipment will protect you if you’re in the blast zone (like those people who got killed at Galeras tragically found out), but a good guide will minimize the chance you enter such a dangerous area in the first place.
Everyone should experience an erupting volcano at least once. It changes you. There is no better way to understand your place on the planet than to see the power of Nature in action.
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