27 comments on “Volcanoes of Io – Part 2 – The Volcanoes

    • Got a rebuke from GVP for tweeting the eruption seismogram and saying that the tour operators, even though they are not experts, still could have seen the sharp changes in restlessness of the volcano and decide for themselves not to ship people over.

      Was told, I am cherry-picking on one set of data and, as a non-expert, I should leave the analysis to experts.

      Have I done an analysis? I have been seeing these seismograms almost daily for the last ten years, and so probably have the tour operators. That’s what I think, and probably not just me.


      • I would think the experts in the field are in much the same position as Boeing engineers are with the 737 Max, having to address what they have done (or didn’t do) in the aftermath of a tragedy that at some level involved their expertise.

        Very easy to tell people to butt out of the discussion. Not nearly as easy to do a data dump and let others make up their own minds. When you tell your fans and supporters to sit down and shut up, it is difficult for them to help you get a good picture of what actually took place out there in public. Remember that you and I both caught the satellite vent that shortly preceded the Krakatau flank collapse.

        Even harder when lawyers and lawsuits are going to be involved. As there are multiple dead people and a few dozen more with terrible burns and medical care necessary to treat them for a years to come, there are going to be a LOT of lawyers shortly involved. And the bureaucratic response to that is generally to hunker down in the bunker and hope to weather the impending storm.

        There was at least one news report yesterday that described the volcano as too dangerous for volcanologists to visit. I have not verified that either way, and ascribe it as a wild haired claim that is not uncommon in the Fog of War following a tragedy when the wildest rumors are flying early and often.

        We are fans and amateurs, trying to learn this subject to the best of our ability. We generally stay in our selected lane. We address our deficiencies early, often, and most importantly publicly, posting corrections and explanations when necessary, bringing our readership thru our learning journey with us. We are trying to get better at what we do without being inflammatory. In short, we are trying to help. Cheers –


        • Hi guys, am in NZ at the moment and visited White Island about ten years ago. First thing to remember is that everyone who goes on a tour there is informed of the risk that an eruption could happen at any time. You also have to sign a paper saying you are willing to take the risk. Secondly, we all know that in the majority of cases of heightened activity nothing happens and the volcano goes back to sleep. IMO geonet did well to raise the alert level to 2 several weeks beforehand. Tour operators have still been taking trips there at Level 2 for years. They also know that volcanos are by nature fickle and that something could happen at any time with little or no warning.
          It’s a difficult thing to weigh up. I feel very sorry for those that lost their life.. and even more sorry for those now critically burnt and recovering.
          When it comes down to it, something like this was very likely to happen sooner or later. But does that justify making the volcano off limits? It’s a hard call. People will always take risks. Main thing is keeping them informed and let them decide for themselves.
          In my view there are good arguments for banning children from the trips and perhaps limiting the number of people on the volcano at any one time to 20 or so. But I wouldn’t ban it completely unless unrest was very significant.
          At the time of writing, it looks like the phreatomagmatic burp that turned out so tragic might just be the first stage of a larger eruptive phase as tremor is now as high as it has been since 2016, so talks of future tours may anyway be redundant. And yes, the volcano is off limits to anyone at the moment, including volcanologists. They have enough remote sensors that are still working.


          • >Main thing is keeping them informed and let them decide for themselves.<

            That's what I was aiming at, in regard of the tour operators. They have all information they need. They can decide ad hoc to suspend tours if the situation has changed (and it HAD changed, already on Saturday).

            Of course visitors can take it or leave it, but they know still less about the risk than the company. And what about the tour guides? I believe they can not just refuse to go.

            Wish you a great time there anyway!


            • good article and interesting commentary. The only problem I have is that there are potentially far far worse volcano-related dangers out there. Taal, Campi Flegrii, etc. where it is also only a matter of time before a major event happens. Where do you draw the line for an “acceptable” level of risk? I am currently in Auckland. Out the window I have a direct line of sight to Rangitoto, 4 km away to the crater. A maar crater is just up the road. Sooner or later there will be another event in Auckland and by the latest accounts, the city might only get 5 days warning or even less before an eruption. But even that risk pales compared to a major earthquake, which gives you no warning at all.
              Like White Island, Ruapehu is also known for its phreatic explosions. I doubt many people are in favor of making the mountain out of bounds, though, like White Island, a case could be made for a permanent exclusion zone in direct proximity of the crater.
              In retrospect, and something I also wondered at the time when I visited White Island, was if it would not be wiser to view the crater from its western wall. The problem with that option is that the wall is also instable, hard to access and offers no sheltered bay for disembarking. It would however, protect most tourists from a sudden phreatic blast, which all get directed eastwards due to the topography.
              Again, this disaster was just waiting to happen to somebody, sooner or later.. But, from an individual’s perspective it is still a case of massive bad luck. In the vast majority of visits you would come away unscathed. Sorry if that sounds callous. But I don’t buy the argument that the tourists were not suitably informed. The very attraction of the place is that it is the jaws of hell and such things can happen at no warning.


              • Thanks Bruce. Great perspective. I can’t recall of a maar formation near anything inhabited in recent memory. Auckland might just (sadly) demonstrate that happening.

                We are a year out from our M7.1. I understand the lack of earthquake warning completely.

                Like you, I appreciate risk taking. If we can’t have choices, even to do dangerous stuff that we know is dangerous, what good are we? Adopt your previous suggestions for no kids and to limit the overall number of island visitors so as not to overwhelm the rescue people for a nice opening bid.

                Would be interested in your suggested approach to the crater from the western slope. Given the unexpected eruption, that solution might be more desirable in the not so distant future.

                Your comments aren’t callous at all. Rather, they are guts ball, suggested best ways to address a dangerous system by people ready, willing and able to enter a physically dangerous locale. Cheers –


  1. Starting from the left edge again.
    The thing that bothers me about W.I. is NOT that it is open to the public. It is that people are taken there by a booked trip.

    Everyone who books a trip, a cruise, a flight etc. trusts the company that it takes care of the safety of their passengers. They trust the company to cancel the journey/flight if something is amiss. They will still trust when they have had to sign a waiver. As the company is sending their own guides with them, what could go wrong?

    If visitors were to organise their own boat ride, offered perhaps by local boat owners, the majority would think twice or three times before they go. They would have to take responsibility for themselves, their family. Not trust a company that things will be fine as long as the scheduled boats are going out.

    I mean, all dangerous volcanoes in the world are open for everybody to go whenever they feel adventurous. It’s a great difference though if a company says, everything is great, we are going as planned.


    • Hi Granyia,
      I understand what you mean and there is an uncomfortable marriage here of people running a business and putting their customers at risk in doing so. A conflict of interest appears hard to avoid. That said, like in any business, the operators don’t actually want anything to go wrong to anyone. The feeling I had when I visited it was that the guides were very familiar with the place and also aware of the risks. They of all people have the highest exposure as they are frequently at the crater, yet all of them were passionate about their job. The tourists are there for a maximum of about an hour, if I recall correctly. If a tourist operation were to go for a zero risk approach, you would have to limit it to helicopter flights (also not without a certain risk). The fact of the matter is that there is always some kind of risk involved, even when you get in a taxi or on a cruise ship. It might be negligible in the grand scheme of things, but there is no such thing as a risk-free tour.
      The other issue is, given the rise to Alert level 2 and the signals documented by Geonet, shouldn’t some kind of threshold have been passed? Well, sure, somewhere there has to be a threshold. But a phreatic eruption of this nature can also occur without any warning even at level 1 – witness the Te Mari eruption at Tongariro a couple of years ago. Geonet also states this explicitly on its website. And White Island has frequently been at level 2 and simmered down again. I don’t think the question here is one of principle, but one of degree. Given that you can’t rule out the risk and informed tourists are willing to take the risk, when do you say, sorry, the risk level is too high? I imagine this would be when the guides themselves don’t have a good feeling. Unfortunately, this stage hadn’t been reached before it erupted. The scale could also have been quite different. A small steam explosion in the crater might have occurred without injuring anyone.
      Finally, the response by the operators including helicopter operators who were off duty and had no tourists on the island was nothing short of heroic, flying out immediately after the eruption and rescuing all they could. A cynic might say that is the least they could do, after earning their living from the place. I don’t think that is warranted. Of the operators I met, all were genuine people, aware of the risks, but still willing to take it for an experience of a lifetime. And that is also how they approached their clients.


    • Think of it in terms of booked fishing trips. The good news is that there are LOT of guides and boats that have been doing this for a long time, carrying everyone from infants to 90-year olds all with varying levels of experience. The bad news is that the water is for the most part, very cold, with times of useful consciousness measured in minutes (around 0+30 at 4 C), as a result we lose people every summer, particularly those not wearing life jackets. Boats burn. Some sink. Sometimes people go for swims in the Big Water of the North Pacific and have to wait a while. Not intended to be a life threatening activity. Unfortunately sometimes it is. It is all about acceptable risk.

      Another story: When I was in the flying business, we buried someone I knew and went out drinking with at least once a year. Did that all 13 years I flew. Came to hate funerals. Tried to do it to myself 3 times I knew of, mostly due to inattention. God had other plans for me. I knew and accepted the risk. My folks, not so much, and didn’t like me in that business at all.

      We take risk. Some more than others. Sometimes we get unlucky. The trick is never to get yourself in the position of needing good luck to come back from your outing. Still very, very sad. Cheers –


  2. I’m a bit worried about the police now talking of doing a quick mission to collect the bodies. The problem is primarily the dithering. The helicopter pilots from the tour operators who flew out on instinct after the first blast probably had the best chance to do it, acting on the premise, that the system had blown and would need a little while to recharge. Unfortunately, they were prohibited from finishing the job in this little window of opportunity. Now, after all the dithering and red tape, the system is getting increasingly fragile, particularly if you see the RSAM chart. My feeling is that the police have missed their slot. Going now could lead to another tragedy.


    • Aww, this explains a lot, and actually is a terribly dangerous thing. So, any tour operators, or any company at all, can give a darn f$§k for safety measures and get officially away with it, covered by the state? Who would agree to a law like that? I mean, it costs the state… perhaps millions in treatment costs, and supports unsafe work environments, apart from tourists.


      • Well, on the one hand sure. But that was not the intention behind ACC when it was first drafted into law. The main intention was to sideline the legal industry and avoid the inflated liability settlements common in the United States. At this it is effective.
        Yet operators do have to meet safety standards or they will lose their license. They can also be found criminally liable and end up in jail. Also it’s not too good for business when you kill off your customers, so they have a vested interest in keeping things operating at a high safety level.
        There will no doubt be a reassessment of White Island. Possibly even the ACC will tell the government the cost of this rescue mission and hospital treatment was so astronomically high, the island will have to be ruled out of bounds.


  3. Pingback: The White Island Phreatic Eruption of Dec 9, 2019 |

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