The unwitting community – 5 years of scientific lunacy

Eyjafjallajokull-April-17 Árni Friðriksson

Eyjafjallajökull on April the 17th 2010. Photograph by Árni Friðriksson

In the beginning – Or elderly ladies do not take no for an answer

A little bit more than five years ago I had it with the volcano blogs at the time. Either they where unscientific or was terrible to comment in. My exact plans back then were to leave the volcano blogs to go fish and do my actual daytime job. The last thing on my mind was to run a volcano community.

Instead a small army of elder ladies decided that they would have none of it and before I had any chance of protesting to much they had set up Volcanocafé and decided that they wanted me and GeoLurking as a staple diet of their scientific volcano curiosity.

Diana Barnes and our dearly departed Sissel Skramstad were very nice about it, but the word no was not in their vocabulary. My little revenge was to make them a permanent fixture in here and have them write pieces themselves.

So, with the general idea that this would be a scientific community of volcano exploration with a great deal of interaction with the readers we opened up with no clue of how to do it. The only idea of mine was that this would be a true community with several writers.

Another thing that was important was that we should not take ourselves too seriously, and that lead to a lot of odd quirks and traditions at the place. And that brings us to the sheep…

Volcanoes are Ewesome!

You knew there would be a cheesy picture of flying sheep didn't you? Artwork by Aimi-Ame.

You knew there would be a cheesy picture of flying sheep didn’t you? Artwork by Aimi-Ame.

Many new readers ask what the deal is with the sheep and Volcanocafé, and also about our slogan. There is though a good but nerdy reason for it. Back when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 quite a few of us oldtimers were sitting watching the eruption endlessly and one night there was a really bad storm in Iceland.

As we were sitting there watching the wind lofted a rather large woolly Icelandic sheep and it flew straight past the camera and disappeared down a crevasse. We thought that the poor flying sheep was lost for eternity, but it turned up again in an unexpected fashion.

At the time one of those strange television fads had cropped up, this time it was watching a strangely named person eat disgusting things in strange places until he vomited. So come next summer Bear Gryll invaded Iceland, climbed down the same crevasse and found the sheep. He then ate the poor sheep, hurled on cue and then turned the poor sheep into a sleeping bag. We felt that the poor sheep deserved a better afterlife.

As we opened up we decided to make the sheep into our little mascot, only problem was that we wanted it to be a scientific reason. So, our resident biologist Diana Barnes wrote a brilliant piece about sheep recolonizing volcanoes after eruptions and scientific reasoning was imbued into the sheep.

And then there was a Dalek

Alone, but never forgotten, the frozen Dalek stands vigil in the desolate mist. Photograph from the IMO webcam at Búrfell, captured by Carl Rehnberg.

Alone, but never forgotten, the frozen Dalek stands vigil in the desolate mist. Photograph from the IMO webcam at Búrfell, captured by Carl Rehnberg.

Now any sane new reader will groan and say that there is no such thing as a Dalek in real life. The old-timers will just go “Dalek my old friend”.

Iceland is a country with many weird things; one of them is that they have designed their monitoring equipment as Daleks. As new eruptions occur a Dalek will mysteriously materialize to monitor the event.

The most famous of the Daleks is the Búrfell Dalek that watches over Hekla, but there was also a Holuhráun Dalek monitoring that eruption. The Búrfell Dalek is though a threatened thing, since it is located close to the edge of a very steep volcano that suffers from yearly rockslides it will sooner or later fall down into oblivion. I think that in the end we will have to start a Dalek aid or something to save our old friend.

Let there be Volcanoes

Bob erupting at El Hierro, photograph from La Guardia Civil.

Bob erupting at El Hierro, photograph from La Guardia Civil.

Even though we spend most of our time writing about volcanoes that are not erupting it is when interesting volcanoes crop up that we really kick into high gear. An interesting volcano has a lot of webcams and equipment and it is doing something out of the ordinary. Most of them do it in a fashion that gives us opportunity to ponder its antics for weeks or months. And for me it is the time to try to accurately predict if it will erupt, how it will erupt and when it will erupt. So far my score is eight out of nine that I got correct.

Our first volcano was Tanganasoga at El Hierro in the Canary Islands. We spent months looking at webcams, interpreting plots and seismometers while reading scientific journals in Spanish. We even named the volcano Bob after a character from the television series Blackadder. The local scientists named it after a mythical fish, but that never caught on and even to this day you can see papers naming it Bob.

The next volcano was Kelud in Indonesia. I had followed that volcano for a while writing a couple of articles about it since I knew that it would do something out of the ordinary. It had by then pushed up an impressive lava dome and after almost two years seismic activity came to a head and I wrote that it would soon erupt.

Later that night it erupted in a very brief but highly brutal fashion in one of the two largest eruptions during this millennium. As morning came I had the idea of asking our local commentators to go out and measure ash depth where they lived. Out of those readings I made an ash depth isopak-map as a basis for how large the eruption had been. This turned out to be a scientific first that someone used the power of internet to accurately analyze the size of an eruption. Two weeks later our friends at Badan Geologi came to the same conclusion as we did by independently measuring ash depths.

In the summer of 2013 I started to track anomalous deep earthquakes under and near Vatnajökull in Iceland. After 3 months I had come to the conclusion that a rift eruption was about to occur, but since I could not pinpoint exactly where we decided against going public with it. The reason for this is that we did not wish to feed scaremongering tabloids with the opportunity to scream about a Lakí-event that would kill millions. Our discussions about it in the administrators back-channel just went on and on about it.

About 3 months prior to the onset of eruption I knew the eruption would occur along the Bárdarbunga fissure swarm on the northern side. But I could not yet predict exactly where and when. This is the time where I started to write about it publicly.

1 month prior to eruption it was clear that the eruption would emanate from a little known volcano named Kistufell. I also noted that it was highly unlikely that the eruption would start there. A couple of weeks later a series of events started that had never been monitored before and it was really fun to be able to predict every turn the events took.

After Holuhráun things have calmed down, and as the readers of Volcanocafé know, this has been a very calm volcanic decade indeed. But, sooner or later something noteworthy will happen and we will make sure to bring you the best information about it.

The Staff

Gunung Kelud during its spectacularly brutal eruption. Photograph by AlexMG.

Gunung Kelud during its spectacularly brutal eruption. Photograph by AlexMG.

As all of you know there are quite a few people who dedicate an almost insane amount of hours into making Volcanocafé what it is. We tend to come from all walks of life, but there are two things that connect us, our love for volcanoes and our love for science. Another thing is long rambling discussions about anything, but let us not get into that right now.

First of all I should mention The Original Conspirators: Sissel Skramstad & Diana Barnes, who did not take a no for an answer and grabbed me and GeoLurking in our collective ears and told us in no uncertain terms to go and do stuff for them to read. And let us not forget the Master of the Plot Himself in the guise of GeoLurking.

Then we have our technical wizards Tommy Wallace and Lughduniense who keep the place together since everyone else, except GeoLurking, are complete codiots. Then we also have Nick Small and GeoLoco who do things in here when needed and otherwise mainly work with spreading confusion in a lovely way.

The main writing staff is a real piece of work. Let me just start with my fellow crazy Swede, Henrik Lovén. His main goal in life is proving that all volcanoes are just expressions of energy and that Katla is not going to erupt (one day he will be surprised).

Then we come to the subject of Albert Zijlstra, and here I feel that I should divulge a dirty little secret. I normally read scientific papers and scientific books while being in the small boy’s room. It is a good place to read and contemplate; I even have a bookshelf in it.

Most of the things I read about whilst in the loo are about volcanoes and physics. And one of the people I had on my recurring reading list was a certain astrophysicist. If I had been a sports fan he would have been one of my idols. One day I helped one of our commentators out and edited a link for him, and recognized the email and became a little starstruck.

Later on Henrik coaxed Albert into writing for us and our little community became enriched by the Astrophysicist who Know Volcanoes.

Now for all the wonderful people who have written articles for us through the years, you are all wonderful and we the editors really love you. Keep ‘em coming, please!

The Dear Readers

And the eruption of the millenium so far. Holuhráun.

And the eruption of the millenium so far. Holuhráun.

Volcanocafé would not be anything without all the wonderful readers and commentators we have. First of all, we do this for you and second of all, you bring back so many things to this place with every comment every day.

And to be honest, most things we do write about are things that you have asked or talked about in the comments.

The Future

Right now we are happy with how things are, we have spread from our mainsite to form a vibrant Facebook community and we are also gaining followers on twitter. In the future we will most likely spread into more platforms, because Volcanocafé is not a site, instead it is the idea of spreading science and the love of the scientific process wherever we can.

In the five years we have also seen hardship, among us we have seen 3 strokes, 1 severe case of cancer and one of us has passed on far too soon. We know that we will have to evolve and grow new members, writers and administrators because one day it will be none of us who runs this place, instead it will be our younger readers or even their grand children. Because in the end the only true thing is that there is no end to knowledge and that means that there is no end to spreading science.

Thank you everyone for making it so much fun to be a candle of science in the darkness of unreason.

Happy anniversary from me to all of you!

Happy anniversary from me to all of you!


50 thoughts on “The unwitting community – 5 years of scientific lunacy

  1. Happy birthday VC!

    To this day I still can’t work out how I came from a silent lurker to systems admin in a very sorry time!!

    If someone had told me just a couple of years ago I would have contacts from astrophysicist professors, nuclear scientists and high priests in my email account, I’d have called them mad!!!

    I would like to also pay a small homage to our junior communities of Facebook (now approaching 2000 members) and Twitter (you wouldn’t believe the calibre of our following on twitter!). I spend the bulk of my VC time keeping the accounts clear of spam and generally playing peacemaker/enforcer.

    We have sneaky plans afoot for future doings, but these are at an early stage of planning and you’ll hear more about these in the coming months.

    Again, Happy Birthday to VC and here’s to many more!!!

    • And the man with the sneakiest plan is a certain mad Scot in a kilt. No names mentioned, but the idea is rather epic 😉

  2. Happy Anniversary everyone and Thank You!

    Wow! Time flies, does it not and we with it! But over the years there have been many more contributors than those specifically named by Carl. Who can forget the crazy Sharkanos and maps with little dragons of Mopshell’s that so angered Birgit? Or the illogically logical riddles of Alan C that took ages to unravel? Name That Lava, anyone? I’m sure all of you have your own memories, so please, share them with us!

    • Oh I think one of my favourites was the Yellowstone April fools article, you wouldn’t believe the hassle that caused.

      • Yes, we have had some good April Fool’s, have we not? Lake Dellen, Zuidvulkaan and Exxon buys Yellowstone.

    • I wish we could find Mopshell again.
      I miss the Sheepy Dalek to be honest.
      Last couple of days I have been thinking back and it was a very good idea actually, and the riddles was quite something. Regardless of who did those riddles it still ended up with Sissel and KarenZ duking it out for the win.

  3. I only ever posted a couple of live channels.I know now’t but luv the VC thanx and merry xmas

  4. As my inner London students would say; ‘keeping it real, innit!’ Happy Birthday VC.

  5. Hello all, I was slow to create an account on thi new sight, thus I lurked in the shadows, checking for updates 5 to 7 times a day 😛 I live in SoCal so I can grab photos of regional geography.

    On recent events, I read on the net that someone claiming to be a Geoscientist in New Zealand posted a claim that in the next few months, the major fault running on the south island has a 70% chance of unzipping, potentally leading to massive damage in Christchurch and Wellington.

    I take the anonymous source with a grain of salt but I wonder if this is even remotely possible?

    • I think the chance is 70% in the next century. Not quite as bad as stated by your source. It will be around M8, but the fault is on the other side of the South Island and that region is thinly populated. Christchurch and Wellington will be reasonably far from the epicentre.

      • The next century makes more sense than the time frame (months) that I read. From what I see via the USGS is the fault region between the 2 cities is having numerous aftershocks, if anything reducing the tension of that region that could directly affect them. Oh also a minor swarm is happening on the southern region of the Mammoth caldera.

        Also thanks Carl & folks for all the good info that I’ve read over the years

    • I have seen it mentioned elsewhere that there appears to be a progression of the larger quakes (I can’t remember in which direction unfortunately) so it’s at least being discussed.

    • I also live in SoCal. I’ve been thinking about a trip to Pinacate. Interested?

      • Interesting. I dont have a passport so no trip till I get 1. I have been meaning to go to Mammoth and take pics and look into the southern area of the caldera where all the minor quake activity has been occuring over the past few years

  6. Many happy returns to VC, Carl, and thank you for all the hard work that you and the rest of the team have put in. .But let’s also give name checks to some other folk who’ve made VC what it is today,in one way or another
    –Erik Klemetti, whose Eruptions blog kicked things off
    –Boris Behncke, the ‘go-to’ person for all matters Italian (and whose house has a view which is -almost- as impressive as yours, Carl)
    –Agimarc and Granyia, now doing their own thing over at VH
    -and to all the absent friends whose names no longer turn up among the posts: Renato Rio, motsfo up in Anchorage, Bruce Stout and more. Salut! to all.

  7. Happy returns and on for the next 5 million year! (In astrophysics, anything less than 1 million year is not worth bothering about). It has been great fun to write the occasional post here, even if most of mine only had a tentative connection to volcanoes. I liked writing the coffee post, enjoying the volcano produce as I was writing it. And of course Yellowstone – although right now selling Yellowstone doesn’t seem such a far fetched possibility anymore.

  8. happy 5 years! been reading this in one form or another all along, and have learned much. Keep it up!

  9. I’m continually amazed at all the talent that shares their knowledge and ideas with us. Thank you. Regarding old stuff, I liked the time you had a “call for brief papers” from us amateurs.

  10. New member here and long time lurker. I’ve been following this blog since bard starting acting up. I’m so glad I found this site! I have been interested in geology all my life. Where else can you find articles written in their own words from experts in the science. AMAZING!

    Anyway, Happy anniversary! You’ve enriched my life with everything this blog brings. It is one of my tabs I constantly keep open on my browser.

    Here’s too five more years!

    Edit: Rescued from the dungeons. /H

  11. Happy Anniversary all! Many a fond memory from Jon’s site and the adventurous journey leading us to this day. I blame the aliens! 😉

  12. Askja getting at it…

    Congratz on the 5 years btw!!! 🙂 🙂

  13. I have been here from the beginning and have learnt so much; I don’t have the knowledge to contribute much in the field of volcanoes but I am getting there slowly. Climbed Vesuvius this year and making a pilgrimage to Iceland next , both things I would not have done without VC so you have been life-changing! Happy Birthday one and all and may it long continue.

  14. Since our back-channel has broken down and refuses me to post there I will post this in here instead and one of my fellow admins can pick it up and send it to where it should be sent via our email.

    Dear Sir/Madam!

    As you may know Volcanocafé ( is the worlds largest site for publishing scientific news about volcanoes for the general population on Earth, and it is also a home for many leading volcanologists and geologists.
    We have recently been receiving news that there may be an ongoing extrusion of a rhyolite dome or a volcanic eruption in Injibara in the North of Ethiopia. Any information about this or confirmation of the event would be greatly appreciated.

    Kindest Regards!
    Carl Rehnberg, Ph.D., Owner of Volcanocafé

    • To the Admins that are not on Facebook.
      I can no longer post on our back channel, so I will have to resort to post messages for you in here instead for the time being until someone can beat the shit out of the offensive server. Grumble…

  15. A happy anniversary Volcanocafe 🎂, to all its members and contributors I salute you 💂, this site never ceases to amaze us not just for the obvious places of interest but also for the small and even large and unknown places. To the next 5years and beyond 🌋

  16. Wow, 5 years already! I first discovered the volcano blogosphere in 2008 via Dr. Ralph Harrington’s Volcanism Blog when trying to find out current information on the Chaiten eruption. A good friend of mine had recently married a wonderful gal from Chile, who was still living at home in Chaiten while waiting for a visa. When the eruption occurred, all contact was lost and it was through The Volcanism Blog that I was able to ferry some critical information to my friend about the town’s condition. It was then I first started to realize the incredible power of the internet to gather and disseminate first-hand information of life-threatening situations to those in harm’s way. The fact that I was also learning about Volcanology was a major bonus, since I had always been interested but poorly educated on the science of it all. From there, Eruptions (Dr. Klemetti) became part of the regular reading schedule…then Jon’s Frimann’s Iceland Geology page when Eyjafjallajökull went off. It was here that I first read the rantings of a guy called Carl leStrange and a band of other characters who sometimes liked to drift a tad off topic mixed in with data, insights and observations found nowhere else….and VC was then born. I indeed feel very fortunate to have been able to benefit from VC’s continuing efforts in providing a unique learning experience over a wide range of disciplines…plus sharing an occasional Friday night with Diana at The Cafe.

  17. Late happy birthday call! VC is realy an extraordinary place. Learnt so much, had so much interesting discussions both on geology but also other things. Looking forward to many more years of joy and excitement reading the post and thinking around them!!
    Now, as a result of VC induced volcano interest, on La Palma and sneaking around its chain of volcanoes. Wish I had much more knowledge in geoscience to help me understand what I am seeing.

  18. I’m a bit late to the party but happy birthday ! I have discovered the website not so long ago and have been following it ever since, often finding the time between posts too long for my taste ^^

    It made me learn a lot of things although I’m a simple amateur not really knowledgeable about volcanoes.
    I hadn’t realised you were professionals or had an important influence on the volcanologist sphere !
    In any case, I’m sad to learn all the hard times you had to go through and I hope you’ll be able to keep up the very good work for a long time !

  19. BTW I’m one of the people who followed all of the rest of you Volvanomaniacs here. Wouldn’t miss it for the world..

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