Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

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Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Fishnut » Mon Dec 09, 2019 9:59 am

Whakaari has had an eruption. Five people are confirmed dead and more are expected. There are still people trapped on the island as it's too dangerous for rescuers. The Guardian has a live blog as does the New Zealand Herald.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Herainestold » Mon Dec 09, 2019 4:56 pm

Wow. Despite all our technology the earth can be a dangerous entity.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Gfamily » Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:16 pm

Herainestold wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 4:56 pm
Wow. Despite all our technology the earth can be a dangerous entity.
Although the risk status of the volcano had been known to be higher (tremors & SO2 both increased) since October), it's not clear to what extent the company arranging tours to the island took note
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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Fishnut » Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:26 pm

As more information comes out I find myself increasingly surprised that people were allowed on the island. Its threat level had been raised to 4 (out of a total of 5) and given its small size there's nowhere to safely retreat if an eruption does exist. I'm not saying they should stop tourists from visiting entirely, just maybe when the threat levels is raised to "it's probably going to do something soon".

The Guardian live blog has some helpful expert opinions. Dr Johnson from the university of East Anglia pointed out that “It is very difficult to say whether tourism should be allowed there. The volcano has displayed similar unrest in the past with no major eruptions." I suspect that has made people fairly complacent about the increased threat levels. I can see why tours companies would be loathe to cancel tours based purely on the small chance of an eruption and it's easy to say they shouldn't have gone in hindsight but I won't be surprised if this leads to some changes in access.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by jimbob » Mon Dec 09, 2019 6:22 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:26 pm
As more information comes out I find myself increasingly surprised that people were allowed on the island. Its threat level had been raised to 4 (out of a total of 5) and given its small size there's nowhere to safely retreat if an eruption does exist. I'm not saying they should stop tourists from visiting entirely, just maybe when the threat levels is raised to "it's probably going to do something soon".

The Guardian live blog has some helpful expert opinions. Dr Johnson from the university of East Anglia pointed out that “It is very difficult to say whether tourism should be allowed there. The volcano has displayed similar unrest in the past with no major eruptions." I suspect that has made people fairly complacent about the increased threat levels. I can see why tours companies would be loathe to cancel tours based purely on the small chance of an eruption and it's easy to say they shouldn't have gone in hindsight but I won't be surprised if this leads to some changes in access.
There have been fatalities before on White Island when it was a sulphur mine (IIRC). I'm sure the bolded will happen
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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by basementer » Mon Dec 09, 2019 6:35 pm

Reports on the six o'clock news yesterday gave me to understand that the threat level was only raised to 4 when the eruption happened, and that it was already revised down to 3.

Jimbob recalls correctly. About a hundred years ago people were actually living on the island mining sulphur and an overnight eruption buried their living quarters. Ten or eleven deaths, no survivors.
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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Herainestold » Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:27 am

White tourists die on White Island. I suppose you can rationalize that they knew the risks, but did they really?
They were there voluntarily but what about the staff who are just doing their jobs, should they be forced to take those kinds of risks?

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by basementer » Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:22 am

basementer wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 6:35 pm
Reports on the six o'clock news yesterday gave me to understand that the threat level was only raised to 4 when the eruption happened, and that it was already revised down to 3.
Here are links to the relevant Geonet bulletins. The alert level was raised from level 1 to level 2 on November 18 and remained at that level last week, was raised to 4 when the eruption occurred and lowered to 3 two hours later.
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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by basementer » Tue Dec 10, 2019 8:34 am

Herainestold wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:27 am
White tourists die on White Island. I suppose you can rationalize that they knew the risks, but did they really?
They were there voluntarily but what about the staff who are just doing their jobs, should they be forced to take those kinds of risks?
The company won an award for their commitment to staff safety https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/n ... months-ago, but do feel free to keep mouthing off.
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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Chris Preston » Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:02 am

Fishnut wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:26 pm
As more information comes out I find myself increasingly surprised that people were allowed on the island. Its threat level had been raised to 4 (out of a total of 5) and given its small size there's nowhere to safely retreat if an eruption does exist. I'm not saying they should stop tourists from visiting entirely, just maybe when the threat levels is raised to "it's probably going to do something soon".
Reports here have stated that the volcano was at Alert Level 2 prior to the eruption and that this was the first time the volcano had gone from Alert Level 2 to an eruption, although it had once previously erupted from an Alert Level 1.

The reports I have heard state that this is an unusual volcano and eruptions are hard to predict as they are often caused by water breaking into the magma chamber, rather than the magma bursting through the rock surface.
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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Fishnut » Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:45 am

Chris Preston wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:02 am
Fishnut wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:26 pm
As more information comes out I find myself increasingly surprised that people were allowed on the island. Its threat level had been raised to 4 (out of a total of 5) and given its small size there's nowhere to safely retreat if an eruption does exist. I'm not saying they should stop tourists from visiting entirely, just maybe when the threat levels is raised to "it's probably going to do something soon".
Reports here have stated that the volcano was at Alert Level 2 prior to the eruption and that this was the first time the volcano had gone from Alert Level 2 to an eruption, although it had once previously erupted from an Alert Level 1.

The reports I have heard state that this is an unusual volcano and eruptions are hard to predict as they are often caused by water breaking into the magma chamber, rather than the magma bursting through the rock surface.
That's interesting. Thanks :)

The fact it's an unusual and unpredictable volcano makes me more dubious about it being a tourist attraction. I know that this is an extremely rare event and even rarer for there to be fatalities, and hindsight is a wonderful thing but it does, in retrospect, seem like maybe not the best setting for a nice day out.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Gentleman Jim » Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:54 am

Fishnut wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:45 am
That's interesting. Thanks :)

The fact it's an unusual and unpredictable volcano makes me more dubious about it being a tourist attraction. I know that this is an extremely rare event and even rarer for there to be fatalities, and hindsight is a wonderful thing but it does, in retrospect, seem like maybe not the best setting for a nice day out.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Fishnut » Tue Dec 10, 2019 11:04 am

Oh, I'd definitely go visit if I could afford it and was in the area. But I'd be doing so on the assumption that as it was open to tourists it was safe to visit.

There is a part of me that is, however, starting to wonder if I'm overreacting and the dramatic nature of the incident is obscuring the fact that tens of thousands of people have visited without incident. I wasn't calling for people to reconsider whale watching after the Leviathan II caught on fire and sank, killing 6 people (interesting the same number as the current death toll for Whakaari). Unpredictable things are by definition unpredictable and if the boat taking them to the island had sunk and they'd drowned I don't think it would have captured public attention in the same way, or have me questioning the sense of having the island as a tourist attraction.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by science_fox » Tue Dec 10, 2019 12:14 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 11:04 am
Oh, I'd definitely go visit if I could afford it and was in the area. But I'd be doing so on the assumption that as it was open to tourists it was safe to visit.

There is a part of me that is, however, starting to wonder if I'm overreacting and the dramatic nature of the incident is obscuring the fact that tens of thousands of people have visited without incident. I wasn't calling for people to reconsider whale watching after the Leviathan II caught on fire and sank, killing 6 people (interesting the same number as the current death toll for Whakaari). Unpredictable things are by definition unpredictable and if the boat taking them to the island had sunk and they'd drowned I don't think it would have captured public attention in the same way, or have me questioning the sense of having the island as a tourist attraction.
Agree - it's called news for a reason, because it's not something we expect. It's the same principle why few people do anything about deaths in cars, which could save far more lives. It's just something we're accustomed to, unlike volcanoes which generally don't kill people, but have the very occasional potential to kill lots all at one time. Humans are bad at assessing risks.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by OneOffDave » Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:36 pm

A colleague of mine was an emergency planner in NZ and they were looking at this risk to tourists before he left there last year. He wasn't surprised in the slightest that this had happened. The island is privately owned so difficult to enforce access restrictions on it

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by veravista » Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:12 pm

Veravistina was there a couple of years ago with her boyfriend. Apart from the fact it was hideously expensive to actually land on the island she thought that the provision of the safety equipment was a triumph of optimism over practicality. A pair of insulated boots and a hard hat? The boots I can see, but a hard hat?

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Herainestold » Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:16 pm

basementer wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 8:34 am
Herainestold wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 1:27 am
White tourists die on White Island. I suppose you can rationalize that they knew the risks, but did they really?
They were there voluntarily but what about the staff who are just doing their jobs, should they be forced to take those kinds of risks?
The company won an award for their commitment to staff safety https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/n ... months-ago, but do feel free to keep mouthing off.
Okay, thanks, but I think the island should be open to tourists who know the risks but closed to locals who have no choice to go there as it is part of their jobs. A contradiction to be sure.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by lpm » Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:28 pm

veravista wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:12 pm
Veravistina was there a couple of years ago with her boyfriend. Apart from the fact it was hideously expensive to actually land on the island she thought that the provision of the safety equipment was a triumph of optimism over practicality. A pair of insulated boots and a hard hat? The boots I can see, but a hard hat?
She sure knows how to piss off mountain gods. Causes seismic events wherever she goes.
I'll miss him after he's died in the pandemic

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by dyqik » Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:42 pm

veravista wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:12 pm
Veravistina was there a couple of years ago with her boyfriend. Apart from the fact it was hideously expensive to actually land on the island she thought that the provision of the safety equipment was a triumph of optimism over practicality. A pair of insulated boots and a hard hat? The boots I can see, but a hard hat?
A hard hat is fairly sensible if there's recently material around stacked up that might fall, or the possibility of light ejecta from a small steam eruption or similar. Like all natural things, the size of lumps flying from a volcano probably follow some kind of power law, meaning you are much more likely to get hit by small light projectiles than by large heavy ones.

And small light projectiles can easily be protected against, while protecting against heavy projectiles is impractical.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by veravista » Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:06 pm

lpm wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:28 pm
veravista wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:12 pm
Veravistina was there a couple of years ago with her boyfriend. Apart from the fact it was hideously expensive to actually land on the island she thought that the provision of the safety equipment was a triumph of optimism over practicality. A pair of insulated boots and a hard hat? The boots I can see, but a hard hat?
She sure knows how to piss off mountain gods. Causes seismic events wherever she goes.
She causes one earthquake and you can't let it go can you? Well and the eruption one in Bali in 2017. And the other ones in NZ where she was living.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Martin Y » Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:58 pm

veravista wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:06 pm
She causes one earthquake and you can't let it go can you? Well and the eruption one in Bali in 2017. And the other ones in NZ where she was living.
She's like that Douglas Adams character who didn't know he was a rain god. (All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him and water him. And all he knew was that it was always bl..dy raining.)

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by nefibach » Tue Dec 10, 2019 7:08 pm

Chris Preston wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:02 am
Fishnut wrote:
Mon Dec 09, 2019 5:26 pm
As more information comes out I find myself increasingly surprised that people were allowed on the island. Its threat level had been raised to 4 (out of a total of 5) and given its small size there's nowhere to safely retreat if an eruption does exist. I'm not saying they should stop tourists from visiting entirely, just maybe when the threat levels is raised to "it's probably going to do something soon".
Reports here have stated that the volcano was at Alert Level 2 prior to the eruption and that this was the first time the volcano had gone from Alert Level 2 to an eruption, although it had once previously erupted from an Alert Level 1.

The reports I have heard state that this is an unusual volcano and eruptions are hard to predict as they are often caused by water breaking into the magma chamber, rather than the magma bursting through the rock surface.
This volcano is not in the least bit unusual in terms of how hard it is to predict its eruptions, because volcanic eruptions are impossible to predict. There is no methodology that provides a dependable and specific forecast for when a volcano might erupt. No one can say that a given volcano will erupt on a given day, or in a given week, or even in a given year or decade.

Some volcanos give hints that they might be up to something, so you may see an increase in certain gasses being emitted, or some seismic activity, or inflation of a lava dome or of the volcano itself, or you might see something called 'harmonic tremor' which is indicative of magma moving through the system. But none of these indicators has sufficient predictive power to be in any way useful on a human time scale. All they show is that a volcano might do something, but not what or when or how, or even if.

As you mention, a phreatomagmatic eruption where water comes into contact with magma and explodes is even less predictable than a magmatic eruption, in that there can be few to no indicators at all ahead of the eruption. But that doesn't make them less predictable because predicting any eruption is impossible.

I was in Tauranga in October, and I looked at going on the White Island tour because I'm a lapsed geologist with a pretty robust interest in volcanology. Nothing I read on the White Island Tours website, or any of the marketing literature about it, indicated to me that the tour might be dangerous. Indeed, going back through Google's cache, it said:
Whakaari/White Island is one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes and home to unmatched geothermal activity. Experience roaring steam vents, bubbling pits of mud and hot volcanic streams – as you witness first-hand the powerful forces that have shaped the earth and painted a dramatic landscape in spectacular hues of yellow and orange.
Steam vents, bubbling mud and hot streams is what you expect to see at somewhere like Rotorua, which last erupted around 25,000 years ago and has a town built in the middle of it. It's not how I'd expect anyone to describe an active volcano that has had 5 eruptions in the last 20 years, one a VEI 3 – that's 3 on a scale of 0 to 8, where 3 is "moderate to large" https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vsc/glossary/vei.html

I have a fairly clear understanding of the dangers of going into a volcano, and even I didn't read between the marketing lines sufficiently to realise that going to White Island could be potentially fatal.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Matatouille » Tue Dec 10, 2019 10:26 pm

dyqik wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:42 pm
veravista wrote:
Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:12 pm
Veravistina was there a couple of years ago with her boyfriend. Apart from the fact it was hideously expensive to actually land on the island she thought that the provision of the safety equipment was a triumph of optimism over practicality. A pair of insulated boots and a hard hat? The boots I can see, but a hard hat?
A hard hat is fairly sensible if there's recently material around stacked up that might fall, or the possibility of light ejecta from a small steam eruption or similar. Like all natural things, the size of lumps flying from a volcano probably follow some kind of power law, meaning you are much more likely to get hit by small light projectiles than by large heavy ones.

And small light projectiles can easily be protected against, while protecting against heavy projectiles is impractical.
This, and I'd add that with falling projectiles a hard hat would convert a fatal head injury into a non-fatal kneck injury much of the time.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by Fishnut » Wed Dec 11, 2019 10:28 pm

The death toll is up to 8 and a further 8 are presumed dead. 120 square metres of skin is being imported from the US and Australia to help treat the burns. Two patients have 90% burns and all have more than 30% burns. There's also a lot of damage to airways and 22 people are still on airway support.

Burns are the thing that terrify me most (well, and drowning). I got a bad scald that required a trip to the burns unit (freshly made cup of black tea spilled over my thigh and stomach) and while I healed brilliantly (thanks to the excellent care from the NHS) it was the most painful thing I've ever experienced. I can't imagine how much pain these people are in.

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Re: Whakaari/White Island volcanic explosion

Post by nefibach » Wed Dec 11, 2019 10:38 pm

Fishnut wrote:
Wed Dec 11, 2019 10:28 pm
The death toll is up to 8 and a further 8 are presumed dead. 120 square metres of skin is being imported from the US and Australia to help treat the burns. Two patients have 90% burns and all have more than 30% burns. There's also a lot of damage to airways and 22 people are still on airway support.

Burns are the thing that terrify me most (well, and drowning). I got a bad scald that required a trip to the burns unit (freshly made cup of black tea spilled over my thigh and stomach) and while I healed brilliantly (thanks to the excellent care from the NHS) it was the most painful thing I've ever experienced. I can't imagine how much pain these people are in.
It's the lung damage that gives me the fear. Volcanic gases can get up to 1000C, and ash is essentially tiny shards of glass. The damage that breathing in hot gases and ash shards could do, and will have done, doesn't bear thinking about.

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