Why were tourists allowed on White Island?



The volcanic alert level on Whakaari/White Island remains at three, one rung higher than it was when the eruption took place.
AAP/GNS Science, CC BY-ND

Michael Lueck, Auckland University of Technology

Emergency crews have retrieved six bodies on Friday and continue to search for two further victims of Monday’s volcanic eruption at Whakaari/White Island.

The people on the island were tourists and tour guides, including visitors from Australia, the UK, China and Malaysia, along with New Zealanders. Several of the tourists were passengers from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

There is a 50% chance the volcano will erupt again in the next 24 hours.
Michael Schade, CC BY-ND

GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, says there is still a 50-60% chance of an eruption occurring that could impact outside of the vent area within the next 24 hours.

But the question being asked now is why tourists were allowed on such a dangerous island. This will probably feature prominently in investigations – both by police and WorkSafe.




Read more:
Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning


Safety guidelines for volcano tours

White Island is privately owned, and only permitted operators are allowed to take tourists on guided tours. White Island Tours is one of the main operators in Whakatane, a township on the east coast of the North Island, and they had people on the island yesterday.

This operator has stringent safety checks and was even named New Zealand’s safest place to work in a workplace safety award last year.

But earlier this month, GeoNet had raised the alert level to two (out of five), due to “moderate and heightened volcanic unrest”. Should that have caused enough concern to discontinue tours to the island?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but any visit to an active volcano, or volcanic field bears a certain amount of risk, and usually it is managed by governmental bodies generally, and the tourism industry in particular.

The management, or lack thereof, varies by country and jurisdiction. Commonly, organisations such as GeoNet provide real time updates on volcanic activities and issue warnings of potential hazards. In the case of White Island, it falls ultimately to the operators to decide whether or not to send tours to the island on any given day.

Leading geo-tourism researcher Patricia Erfurt-Cooper notes there is a “distinct lack of safety guidelines for volcano tours at most sites, which is compounded by language problems”.

Management strategies include multi-lingual signage, such as in Japan, and the closure of active sites, such as in Hawaii.




Read more:
Trouble in paradise: eruptions from Kīlauea volcano place the Hawaiian island on red alert


Often, volcanic geologists are able to read early signs of activity, and predict eruptions hours, if not days in advance. But this is not always the case, as we saw yesterday and in the 2007 eruption of Mount Ruapehu.

History of accidents in adventure tourism

Volcano tourism is a subset of adventure tourism, and New Zealand has had its fair share of incidents in this sector. Many will remember the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek in 1995, where 14 people died. After the collapse, the Department of Conservation (DOC) inspected more than 500 structures, resulting in the closure of 65.

A commission of inquiry found a number of shortcomings in the building of the platform and DOC took responsibility for the accident. Since then, New Zealand law has changed so government departments can be held responsible and liable for negligence in offences under the Building Act.

Worldwide, there have been several deadly volcanic eruptions, including Japan’s Mount Ontake in 2014. This steam-driven eruption occurred without clear warning and killed 63 people hiking the mountain, in what became the country’s most deadly eruption in nearly 90 years.

In 2013, the eruption of Mayon volcano in the Philippines killed five climbers. Last year, one tourist died in an eruption of Italy’s Stromboli volcano, which has become a resort island.

Assessing risks

New Zealand promotes itself as the adventure capital of the world, and it is a fine balance for an operator to provide the (often advertised) excitement the thrill-seeking tourists are looking for, and the safety of everybody involved.

Research shows the majority of thrill-seekers are looking for risk, but in a controlled way. The adrenaline rush is paramount, but they don’t seriously want to be at risk of injury or loss of life.

The tragic events of White Island reiterate that we must be vigilant, and have excellent risk management strategies in place. Perhaps it is time for the tourism industry, government and volcanic experts to review current rules. We can minimise the risk, but we can never totally rule it out.

Any adventure tourist must be aware of the potential risk they are taking and should check the tour operator’s website for information about the risk they’d be undertaking, and how the tour operator plans to manage it. If the operator doesn’t have this information available – choose another one.The Conversation

Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning



The sudden eruption at White Island was short-lived but produced an ash plume that rose several kilometres above the vent.
GNZ Science, CC BY-ND

Shane Cronin, University of Auckland

Five days after a sudden volcanic eruptions on Whakaari/White Island, off the east coast of New Zealand, on Monday, emergency crews have retrieved six bodies and continue to search for two further victims.

The island is a tourist destination and 47 people were on it when it erupted on Monday afternoon.

Volcanologists at GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, described the eruption as impulsive and short-lived, with an ash plume that rose to more than three kilometres above the vent.

This footage was taken by Michael Schade whose family got off Whakaari/White Island 20 minutes before it erupted.

Volcanic hazards

White Island is one of several volcanoes in New Zealand that can produce sudden explosive eruptions at any time. In this case, magma is shallow, and the heat and gases affect surface and ground water to form vigorous hydrothermal systems.

In these, water is trapped in pores of rocks in a super-heated state. Any external process, such as an earthquake, gas input from below, or even a change in the lake water level can tip this delicate balance and release the pressure on the hot and trapped water.

The resulting steam-driven eruption, also called a hydrothermal or phreatic eruption, can happen suddenly and with little to no warning. The expansion of water into steam is supersonic in speed and the liquid can expand to 1,700 times its original volume. This produces catastrophic impacts.

The expansion energy is enough to shatter solid rock, excavate craters and eject rock fragments and ash out to hundreds of metres away from the vent. We know of sites in New Zealand where material has been blasted out over three kilometres from the vent by such eruptions.

The eruption on White Island sent sent huge amounts of steam and ash into the air in the blast.
GeoNet, CC BY-ND

Potential for further eruptions

The hazards expected from steam-driven eruptions are violent ejections of hot blocks and ash, and the formation of “hurricane-like” currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent. These can be deadly in terms of impact trauma, burns and respiratory injuries.

The eruptions are short-lived, but once one happens, there is a high chance for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates. White Island is an acute location for such activity, but it is not the only location in New Zealand where this can happen.

Mount Ruapehu (crater lake), Mount Tongariro (Te Maari and Ketetahi) and geothermal areas of the central North Island all have the potential to cause such events. We know there have been more than 60 hydrothermal eruptions in the last 100 years in New Zealand. Some of these have caused loss of life.




Read more:
Each volcano has unique warning signs that eruption is imminent


No warning

Monitoring and warning for hydrothermal eruptions is a huge challenge. We don’t normally see these eruptions coming, no matter how much we would like to. Many systems are already “primed” for such events, but the triggers are poorly understood.

The warning periods, once an event gets underway, are likely in the order of seconds to minutes. Our only hope for anticipating these events is to track potential vapour and liquid pressure in hydrothermal systems and to learn from their long-term behaviour when they are at a super-critical state. Unfortunately there are no simple rules that can be followed and each hydrothermal system is different.

In this age of technology and instrumental monitoring, it seems irrational that there should be little or no warning for such eruptions. The eruption is not caused by magma, but by steam, and this is much harder to track in our current monitoring systems.




Read more:
Why Japan’s deadly Ontake eruption could not be predicted


We have seen several other fatal hydrothermal catastrophies unfold in other parts of the world, such as the 2014 eruption of Mount Ontake in Japan. New Zealand has been luckier than many other parts of the world, until now.The Conversation

Shane Cronin, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Call for clearer risk information for tourists following Whakaari/White Island tragedy



The Royal New Zealand Navy during a recovery operation on Whakaari/White Island, on December 13. Rescue and recovery efforts have been hampered by hazardous conditions on the island, and the danger of another eruption.
EPA/Royal NZ Navy, CC BY-ND

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia and James Higham, University of Otago

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Whakaari/White Island on December 9, many are analysing the risks of adventure tourism, particularly volcano tourism, and asking pointed questions.

It is a sensitive time, with 15 people now confirmed dead, many hospitalised in critical condition, and two bodies yet to be retrieved from the disaster zone.

We question whether the tourists caught up in the events actually knew the risks they faced, and whether other tourist groups may be unaware of the potential risks that their travel decisions may carry.

Although geologists are monitoring Whakaari/White Island, some volcanic activity cannot be predicted.



Read more:
Why were tourists allowed on White Island?


Risk assessment and visitor safety

The websites for White Island Tours and the promotion pages on the Bay of Plenty website are currently not viewable. But the Trip Advisor site for Whakaari calls it “New Zealand’s most active volcano”. It mentions the need for gas masks and hard hats and describes conditions of a still active volcano, including steam vents and sulphurous fumes.

But it is doubtful that cruise ship passengers, such as those from the Ovation of the Seas, would have done such research. Cruises offer a variety of shore excursions when in port, ranging from passive sightseeing to adventure activities.

Many tourists will assume endorsed excursions have been properly vetted by their cruise company and assume there is negligible risk to personal safety. But this may not be the case.

Major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean visit multiple destinations with very different regulatory environments. The assumption that shore excursions will be safe may be misplaced, both by the cruise line and the visitors they book on such excursions. This is now clear from the events at Whakaari but also in previous incidents, such as last year’s fatal bus crash in Mexico.

Local supporters gather on the quayside as a boat that carried families for a morning blessing at White Island returns during a recovery operation to retrieve the remaining bodies.
AAP/David Rowland, CC BY-ND

Adventure capital

New Zealand is known as an adventure tourism destination, but its regulatory systems have undergone recent change. After 37 deaths over four years, then prime minister John Key ordered an urgent safety audit in 2009.

This resulted in a shift, from 2013, from a voluntary system under Outdoors New Zealand and the regulatory system under Worksafe NZ to the New Zealand adventure activity certification scheme. Some tour operators have found this audit system too onerous. Striking the right balance between risk management while allowing the adventure tourism sector to thrive has proved difficult.

But the case of Whakaari/White Island is unique in many ways. The island is privately owned. GeoNet monitors volcanic activity and rates the threat level. The tour companies then assess the risk and determine if visits can proceed or should be temporarily suspended.

Three companies have operated tours to Whakaari/White Island, including the Māori-owned White Island Tours (owned by Ngāti Awa). The other two are helicopter companies Kahu and Volcanic Air Safaris. White Island Tours was accredited under AdventureMark, which is a Worksafe NZ approved certification body.

We must await the Worksafe investigation to know whether it was reasonable to allow the tours to go ahead when volcanic risk rating had risen from level 1 to level 2. We also still await the full human toll, knowing that recovery for survivors may take years. It is also clear that the impact on Ngāti Awa and the Whakatāne community has been profound.

Inherent risk in active environments

In laying out these complexities in which small private tour companies and large internationally owned cruise ships took thousands of visitors to Whakaari each year, we underscore how difficult an assessment of risk might be for some visitors.

Adventure tourists typically make an assessment weighing up risks against the thrills they seek to achieve. New Zealand’s reputation for adventure tourism is built in part on well developed policy settings and regulatory regimes, and an expectation among visitors of high adventure safety standards.

Risk – both perceived and actual – is carefully managed to ensure that perceived risk is high but actual risk is as low as humanly possible. The reputation of the sector and, indeed, the interests of the wider New Zealand tourism industry hinge on high safety standards. For example, bungy jumping appears to be very high risk, but its commercial viability comes from the highly controlled operation, which means actual risk is in fact very low.

Set against this are longstanding activities that take visitors into spectacular settings to experience firsthand the wonders of nature. Such environments do present inherent risk even if many decades may pass between natural events.

The Pink and White Terraces – the largest silica sinter deposit on earth – were a spectacular visitor attraction in the mid-19th century, and the centrepiece of Māori tourism development. That was until they were completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.

New Zealand’s most stunning natural vistas – Aoraki/Mount Cook, the fjords of Te Wahipounamu world heritage area, towering glaciers and raging rivers – are the result of millions of years of seismic activity on the Pacific and Australian tectonic plate boundary. These environments are dynamic and, at times, very destructive.

These settings contrast adventure tourism activities. Risk may be perceived as low or non-existent given that these environments may be largely inactive for years.




Read more:
Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning


Informed consent

In a complex international environment, the ultimate decision to participate in activities in dynamic and potentially destructive environments rests with the visitors.

Ultimately, visitor welfare depends on informed visitor choice. This case highlights the need for consent forms to be signed in many more cases, beyond those already used in adventure tourism and medical tourism.

Such documents should make clear the nature of the possible risks. Elevated risk levels on the day of the visit as well as changing risk levels in the days prior to the scheduled visit should be clearly communicated. Participation should only proceed after informed consent is secured.

Such an approach does not obviate the need for accreditation, audits, regulations and strict oversight by relevant authorities. But it does ensure that tourists play their part in deciding what risks are worth taking on their holidays.

We cannot undo the events that unfolded at Whakaari/ White Island, but we can honour lives lost by making absolutely sure that we learn from this tragedy.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia and James Higham, Professor of Tourism, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Eruptions and lava flows on Kilauea: but what’s going on beneath Hawai’i’s volcano?


Chris Firth, Macquarie University

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen increasingly spectacular images reported in the news of the ongoing eruption at Kilauea volcano, on the Pacific island of Hawai’i.

These have been tempered by reports of growing destruction, with houses and infrastructure bulldozed, buried or burned by lava flows.




Read more:
Trouble in paradise: eruptions from Kīlauea volcano place the Hawaiian island on red alert


Yet Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and has been erupting continually since 1983. So what has triggered this sudden change in activity, threatening homes and livelihoods? The answer relates to what is happening beneath the volcano.

Kilauea volcano

Activity at Kilauea is driven by the buoyant upwelling of a plume of hot mantle, which provides the heat to generate magma beneath the volcano. This magma has the potential to erupt from several different locations, or vents, on the volcano.

Click on the three blue markers to reveal more.
Google Maps/The Conversation

Typically, the crater at the summit of the volcano is where eruptions are expected to occur, but the geology of Kilauea is complex and a rift on the eastern side of the volcano also allows magma to erupt from its flanks.

Over the past decade both the summit crater and a vent on the eastern rift, called Pu’u O’o, have been continually active. The summit crater has hosted a lava lake since March 2008.

Lava lakes are relatively rare features seen at only a handful of volcanoes around the world. The fact that they do not cool and solidify tells us that lava lakes are regularly replenished by fresh magma from below.

In contrast, Pu’u O’o, 18km east of the summit crater, has been pouring out lava flows since 1983. In the first 20 years of this eruption, 2.1km³ of lava flows were produced, equivalent in volume to 840,000 Olympic swimming pools. All of this tells us that Kilauea volcano regularly receives lots of magma to erupt.

Current eruptions

Over the past three weeks activity at Pu’u O’o has stopped, while a series of fissures has opened roughly 20km further east in a subdivision known as Leilani Estates.

This area was previously affected by lava flows in 1955.

To date, 23 fissures have opened, starting off simply as cracks in the ground, with some developing into highly active vents from which significant lava flows are forming.

At the moment, the longest flows are about 6km long, having reached the ocean. This is a further cause for concern, as the lava reacts with seawater to form a corrosive mist.

Meanwhile, at the summit of the volcano, the lava lake has drained from the crater, sparking fears of more explosive eruptions, as draining magma interacts with groundwater.

Satellite instruments and high-resolution GPS are being used to monitor changes in the shape of the volcano and have found that the summit region is deflating, while the lower east rift zone, where new fissures have opened in recent days, is inflating.

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The magma reservoirs that feed eruptions on Kilauea can be imagined as balloons, which grow when they are filled and shrink when they are emptied. Deflation at the summit, combined with observations that the lava lake has drained (at a rate of up to 100m over two days!), suggest that the magma reservoir feeding the summit is emptying.

Where is the magma going? Observations of ground inflation around the newly opened fissures to the east indicate that the magma is being diverted down the east rift and accumulating and erupting there instead.

Exactly what has caused this rerouting of the magma is still not clear. A magnitude 6.9 earthquake occurred in the area on May 4 and this may have opened a new pathway for magma to erupt, influencing the geometry of the lower east rift zone.

A Landsat8 image (top) of Kilauea volcano taken on March 15, 2018. The relative location of the various vents are marked, and a red, glowing lava flow can just be seen in the north-east of the image. The graphic (bottom) shows an inferred magma pathway below the volcano.
NASA/Chris Firth, Author provided

Lessons for the future

By combining measurements from Kilauea of ground deformation, earthquake patterns and gas emissions during the current eruption, with observations of the lava that is erupted, volcanologists will be able to piece together a much clearer picture of what triggered this significant change in eruption over the past few weeks.

This knowledge will be crucial in planning for future eruptions, both at Kilauea and at other volcanoes.




Read more:
Lava in Hawai’i is reaching the ocean, creating new land but also corrosive acid mist


Eruptions from the flanks of a volcano can pose a much more significant hazard for the local population than those from a volcano’s summit, as many more people live in the areas that are directly affected.

This has been amply displayed over the past few weeks on Kilauea by the fissures opening in people’s gardens and lava flows destroying homes and infrastructure.

But Kilauea is not the only volcano to have flank eruptions. For example, lava flows famously emerged from the lower slopes of Mt Etna in 1669, destroying villages and partially surrounding the regional centre of Catania, on the east coast of Sicily, Italy.

The ConversationLessons learned from the current eruption of Kilauea can equally be applied to other volcanoes, like Etna, where more densely populated surroundings mean that the hazards posed by such an eruption would be even greater.

Lava fountains form fissure 22 on the lower east rift zone of Kīlauea volcano, in Hawai’i.
USGS

Chris Firth, Lecturer in Geology, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trouble in paradise: eruptions from Kīlauea volcano place the Hawaiian island on red alert


Rebecca Carey, University of Tasmania

A code red alert level for aviation has been issued this week on Hawai’i’s big island, as Kīlauea volcano continues its explosive activity at the summit.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s warning for Kīlauea said:

At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent.

But Kīlauea has erupted before, and just as today its violent activity attracted the crowds. The challenge for authorities is to balance that curiosity with the safety of people on the island.

The observatory warning said there were reports of an ash cloud reaching heights of up to 3.5km above sea level. Ashfall and vog (volcanic air pollution) have been reported almost 29km downwind of the summit.




Read more:
Curious Kids: why doesn’t lava melt the side of the volcano?


There were also reports of new fissures erupting lava into new areas furthering the extent of the damage.

A lava flow from one of the fissures moves on Makamae Street in Leilani Estates on May 6.
USGS

Respect for Kīlauea

Kīlauea is a majestic and beautiful volcano. Native Hawaiians and Hawai’i residents who live on her flanks speak of her beauty with a healthy dose of respect and awareness of the constant threat of eruptive activity and destruction.

Kīlauea’s eruptive activity this year began in early May in residential areas on its east flank, about 35km from the summit.

A new fissure erupting from Luana Street, Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone near Pahoa, Hawai’i, May 5, 2018.
USGS

The eruptive activity has captivated us for days. Spectacular fountains and rivers of lava have been emanating from volcanic vents, together with the tragic destruction of property and livelihoods.

This devastation led to President Donald Trump’s declaration of a “major disaster” on the island.

Crucially, residents are safe, but those who have visited Hawai’i or with similar experiences of destructive natural hazard events will be sad to see pictures of this devastation.

At the same time, and away from the current eruption on the flank of Kīlauea, another crisis is unfolding at the volcano’s summit. Kīlauea Volcano hosts the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at its summit, which is now closed to all visitors because of the hazard.

It may seem odd that at a distance of more than 35km from the active spattering and lava effusion on the eastern flank of the volcano, volcanic hazards pose such a significant risk to warrant the closure.

But Kīlauea is up to its old tricks again, possibly replicating activity seen last in 1924 which led to a variety of violent and sporadic explosions, dispersing volcanic ejecta around the summit and killing one visitor.

A crowd of visitors view the eruption plume from the front of the Volcano House hotel. They were subsequently warned by Ruy H Finch, acting director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, that it was unwise to remain there.
USGS

The decision to close access to the summit is driven by current monitoring data, and crucial past experience and knowledge of Kīlauea’s violent behaviour.

Over the past week the mesmerising convecting lava lake that has resided at the summit for a decade is no longer. Magma has evacuated to depths greater than 285m into the deeper magma plumbing system.

The summit lava lake has dropped significantly over the past few days, and on May 6 was roughly 220m below the crater rim.
USGS

The last time that happened – in 1924 – it explosively interacted with groundwater at depth, producing violent, sporadic eruptions and a visitor fatality.

This block was thrown out during an explosion at Halema‘uma‘u crater on Kīlauea on May 18, 1924, and landed about 600 meters from today’s rim.
USGS/HVO photo courtesy of Bishop Museum

Volcanic hazards at Kīlauea and the ‘ash problem’

Hazards from violent explosive activity at Kīlauea’s summit are substantial. Magma and water interactions are highly intense and violent – think hot oil in a frying pan mixing with cold water.

Eruptions are likely to have very little or no warning, and the “how big” and “how long” are impossible to predict.

Civil Air Patrol flight CAP20 reported plume tops at about 2.9km with the dispersed plume rising as high as 3.5km.
USGS

Residents on the fringe of the national park are not in life-threatening hazardous conditions. But they are susceptible to the annoying “ash problem” where ash accumulation on electricity infrastructure interrupts supply, contaminates water, causes health hazards such as throat and lung irritation, and damages crops.

This will have complex social, health and economic impacts, further devastating communities if the summit activity does begin and is long-lived.

Society’s fascination of volcanic phenomena and the curiosity-driven need of people to know more, see more and experience more will make the safe management of the millions of tourists each year in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a significant challenge.

Nearly 50km of bumper-to-bumper traffic to view the 1959 eruption of Kilauea testifies to the impending management issues.

Bumper to bumper traffic on the way to see the eruption in 1959.
YouTube/Centre for Study of Active Volcanoes/Screengrab

Exclusion and access will be an important and potentially long-lived management issue as the geological rock record at the summit tells a story of violent, centuries-long explosive activity.

Reading the rock record

Kīlauea is not a gentle giant of a volcano. It has a long-lived and violent explosive history as determined from detailed geological investigations of volcanic rocks and ash layers in the rock record.

The last period of violent explosive activity was between the years 1500 and 1800, when magma frequently interacted with the groundwater table deep within the volcano.

During those three centuries of activity, Kīlauea’s summit produced around 10km high columns and umbrella clouds of volcanic ash, short-lived violent explosions and ballistic ejecta, and ground-hugging high-velocity currents called pyroclastic density currents, which destroyed everything in their path.

This period is not without observation. Native Hawaiians were within the summit area and in 1790 at least 80 Hawaiian warriors were killed in a devastating hot, high velocity explosion that seared their lungs.




Read more:
Lava, ash flows, mudslides and nasty gases: Good reasons to respect volcanoes


Back to basics: the geological rock record as a prediction tool

Kīlauea is one of Earth’s most well studied volcanoes. It has been the site of an active volcano observatory since 1912, and current monitoring technologies are state-of-the-art.

Always a crowd pleaser: Visitors observing the Halemaʻumaʻu eruption in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 2017.
Bruce Houghton, University of Hawaii at Manoa, US, Author provided

Volcanic behaviour is by its nature complex. Prediction of the exact when, duration and how big is riddled with uncertainty despite sophisticated monitoring technologies.

The ConversationAs such, disaster management challenges are numerous, but observational records in 1924 and the geological rock record have certainly provided early warning of the timing, type and duration of possible violent activity at the summit, and therefore the protection of people within the national park.

Rebecca Carey, Senior Lecturer in Earth Sciences, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New Zealand: Volcano Eruprion