Claudia Krenz, Ph.D. (datafriend @ gmail-.-com)

Alaska's Mount Saint Augustine: the January 2006 eruptions (virtual volcano voyeurism)

On New Year's Eve 2005, local journalists were unable to get local geologists, volcanologists, and other professionals to say that Mount Saint Augustine * was going to erupt: All the practitioners of these sound scientific disciplines would say was that all of Augustine's previous recorded eruptions were preceded by the kind of seismic activity they'd been observing since mid 2005. Here's what those data--number of quakes per day over time--looked like between June 22, 2005 and January 1, 2006:

Augustine quakes between 
mid 2005 and the beginning of 2006

My first step was to find URLs to pertinent scientific pages. Some pages I looked at and dismissed, like FEMA's advice to avoid volcanic ash by plugging all the holes in your indoor heater: since it was 20 below F., that sounded like a good way of inducing carbon monoxide poisoning--the opposite of virtual volcano voyeurism, part of whose charm is no contact with lahars and pyroclastic clouds being guaranteed. I bookmarked the useful pages--like those listed below--and saved them as a tab group, assuring a stable software observatory for my very own amusement.

different AK volcano observatory pages and webicorders  or seismograms 

NOAA  wind trajectories and tsunami warning pages

 and, of course, tabs to  

local weather data

My tab group focused on hard real-time data: although Lord Kelvin rightly said, "if you can't quantify, your knowledge is weak and humble," only qualitative data are shown below/ They were obtained from the web cam link on Augustine Island Volcano homepage (viewing pleasure was enhanced by knowing--with deductive certainty--that real lahars and pyroclastic mudflows would be empirically absent).

* --
Augustine is a volcanic island in Cook Inlet: it's shown on the lower left of the map below. The closest town to Augustine Island on the East side of the inlet is Homer; further North,h near the top of the inlet, is Los Anchorage; about half way up the East side is Nikiski (not labeled, on the little nubbin above the red line), from where I did my observing, from inside, for fun, with close to real time data.

tsunami alert

The red lines on the map indicate the boundaries of a tsunami alert NOAA had said it would issue given a shallow GE 4.5 quake anywhere near the volcano. There was such a quake--they're not uncommon in that region--and NOAA did issue an alert: people living in Los Anchorage heard the warning, a day after the shallow GE 4.5 quake (there had been no tsunami).

Since I don't want to proffer even the faintest whiff of skepticism about the role of subjectivity in this experience--it was for my personal amusement--I show myself and my "laboratory" below.

The observer outside and inside the volcano voyeurism "laboratory"

These qualitative data were downloaded in a separate experiment involving the characteristics of someone's new digital camera to the HDD shown to the right below. I did my volcano observing from inside, where it was usually 85 degrees warmer than outside (I liked keeping the cabin cool).

I am the Augustine watcher.

augustine observer Do I look cold? I was cold, trying to puff out my down parka to trap body heat. The data might offer clues about my being cold but nothing about them shows how excited I felt at the thought of a pending eruption

virtual augustine observatory

My observational hard- and software were housed inside my cabin near Nikiski: My experience of Augustine's January 2006 eruptions was entirely virtual (really). Being less than 200 miles Northeast of Augustine, I felt some of the larger quakes--and could then see their seismic recording on my monitor simply by refreshing the seismic page in my browser group (just that easy). Awesome.

My preparations were rewarded!

My Fair Captive

January 12, 2006--let it rock! Amazing data can be collected using ordinary screen capture software, a web browser, and the right URLs: the qualitative web cam data are shown below (I simply tabbed over to the volcano's home page and clicked the "enlarge" button under the thumbnail image).

Augustine's Jan. 12, 2006 eruption

In the image above, notice how the slopes of the Augustine Island volcano are grey: it could be fog--or indicative of an eruption in progress, all that grey volcanic ash blowing out the top of the crater. The NOAA weather trajectory of the time confirmed the height and direction of the ash plume.

 Augustine January 13, 2006

The image above, the second in this four-part series, shows Augustine from its web cam the next day, January 13th. The time is sunset; notice that Augustine's slopes appear brown. Could the eruption shown in the first picture have melted all the snow? Or did the appearance of brownness result from the growing nighttime shadows creeping up the flanks of the mountain?

 Augustine: 0101906-- snow

The next aesthetically pleasing image shown above is Augustine on January 18th around high noon. Notice that its slopes are--white again. Could it have snowed? Or was the whiteness a trick of the sun and surrounding ice, a reflection of one off the other?

 Augustine: 0101906--no snow

The image above, the fourth in this series, shows Augustine the next day, January 19th, mid afternoon on a clear day: I see neither snow nor vegetation. Could it be that the lahars and pyroclastic clouds got them? Support for the latter interpretation came in the form of marine hazard warnings about lava having repeatedly flowed off the side of the island and formed "boats" which could, predictably, be unexpectedly encountered anywhere in the inlet at any time).

In summary, indulging my volcano voyeurism was both amusing and informative: I observed multiple sources of data (although I show only the qualitative or pictorial here). Being a participant observer in this experience additionally gave me numerous opportunities to observe the roles inference--and additional or supplemental data--played in my interpretations of what I was seeing. I, for example, reasoned that the same storm system blowing in from the South that dumped 2 feet of snow on Nikiski also dumped on Augustine Island. And that, the lahars had scoured Augustine the mountain from tree line down to sea level. I also noticed that the same image can have multiple--and equally valid--interpretations--under drastically different circumstances. Inside the red box below, I show a screen dump of a thumbnail and a snippet of the text surrounding it from the volcano's home page--on a day when, as suggested by the text around the thumbnail, the cam was buried under snow. The data connoisseur will appreciate that exactly the same image can be obtained by looking at the web cam after nightfall as well as in the middle of eruptions: this same image was also observed on another occasion, after a particularly violent explosion had dislodged the cam from its mount on the island (later valiantly restored to its proper position using the true strong stuff, parachute cord and duct tape).

  Augustine: snow on the web cam

The screen dump shown above--of the thumb nail of an image from the snow covered Augustine Island cam--is also interesting compared to the screen dump images below:

 Augustine Island and Homer cams near noon

The source of the image on the right above is the same cam on Augustine Island that is source of all the images shown above. The source of the image on the left above is a newly online cam in Homer. Although there's no way you can tell from looking at the images above, I know it's not midnight in Homer, because I did screen dumps of the two cam pictures at the same time (did Homer's webcam tip over or was it buried in snow and/or Homer erupting?). Alternatively, a look at the NOAA wind trajectory and plume forecast web page suggested an another explanation--which was later confirmed by local observers: at the time I took the screen dumps, Homer was getting ashed and Augustine, which had just finished an eruptive sequence, was quiescent. In conclusion, I recommend volcano voyeurism as a completely safe form of entertainment (with possible pedagogical utility: volcano voyeurists needn't be weathermen to infer which way the winds blow).

Mount Saint Augustine: some seismic activity during the January 2006 eruptions


Tabbing back and forth between the qualitative--web cam--and quantitative--seismic readings--data was great fun. An ordinary seismic reading looks like a flat line (which signifies a lack of seismic activity (i.e., 0 is interpretable, which makes seismic data ratio level, the best of the best)).

0 = no seismicity, represented by flat line

Now look at the seismic data to your right: there doesn't appear to be an eruption in progress so why are the lines so abnormally thick? As suggested by the snippet of text beside the image, high winds were causing these readings (and "please" stop calling us is how I'd guess the webmaster concluded this message). H)
 seismic measurement error

Now look below: What are these funny blips interrupting the smooth continuous flow of the recording drums? mini eruptions ? Nope: the top of this screen dump shows what the seismogram reading looks like when ice crystals are forming near the cam itself housing (external temperature was -20 F.).

  Augustine seismicity differences: ice crystals and eruptions

What happened around 20:30 was though the real thing.