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!
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.