Bogoslof Volcano

Bogsolof Volcano, off the coast of Alaska, has been erupting for the past several weeks. The ash cloud is impacting nearby aviation, and currently the FAA has issued a temporary ban on flight.  The ash has also frozen into ice crystals due to the temperature, which makes it mostly undetectable. However, after the largest Wednesday eruption the volcano has been relatively quiet and the warning has been downgraded from red to orange.A National Weather Service graphic shows the location of an ash cloud (in black) from an eruption of Bogoslof volcano in the Aleutians as of 1:34 a.m. Alaska time on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.

Photos from Alaska Dispatch News

Comparison of Bogoslof Island, 1998 to 2017, showing changes in the configuration of the island as a result of the ongoing 2016-17 eruption. Points A-D are the same in both photos. Direction of view is toward the north-northwest. Distance from A-C about 820 m (0.51 mi). Zone of upwelling and likely location of the active vent in center left of open embayment. (1998 photo courtesy of John Seese, National Marine Fisheries/NOAA. 2017 photo courtesy of Dan Leary, Maritime Helicopters)

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New South Wales Bush fires

A blaze in New South Wales is continuing to grow to over 3290 hectares in size and currently there are more than 250 firefighters involved in trying to control the blaze. The blaze started on Tuesday in the grasslands and has been burning since. As a result of the growing Bush fire, a nearby recycling plant had to be shut down as there are fears of a possible explosion, furthermore, local roads were closed. There was also a helicopter rescue of two people located in the area.



Michael Mumenthaler.

Preventing Evaporation in California


In an effort to fight the continuing drought in California, black plastic balls have been released to cover water reservoirs to prevent evaporation and preserve water.  After a series of complex and expensive ideas, these balls were manufactured and released, costing taxpayers little. The balls can stay for ten years before being collected and replaced.

Large Earthquake in Italy Causes Avalanche 

After four separate magnitude five earthquakes in the space of four hours in Italy, a large avalanche was triggered in Apennines region covering the Rigopiano hotel as well, killing many of its occupants. These earthquakes occurred Wednesday January 18th, with the avalanche following hours later.

Italy has, in the last few years, become very prone to earthquakes as the Tyrrhenian Basin is opening up, pulling the Apennines region apart by about 3mm each year.


‘Atmospheric Rivers’ in California

Atmospheric Rivers are narrow corridors of moisture that flow through the air, usually along the jet stream, and can bring massive amounts of rain. When the moisture reaches dew point, as they usually do on their way up the mountains in California, they cause storms that can erode the vulnerable soil in places like San Diego. An oncoming storm threatens the city this week, and the director of the center for Western Weather and Water extremes said that  “the coming series of storms could be the largest San Diego has experienced in at least six years.”


5.3 Earthquake Hits Central Italy

Central Italy was hit by an earthquake classified as a 5.3 on the Richter Magnitude scale. The subway in Rome, as well as many schools in the area were evacuated. The age of the city and many of its structures was of particular concern, since prior earthquakes over the years have caused cracks in the buildings, making them more vulnerable. Fortunately, there have been no casualties reported since the earthquake struck several hours ago during the initial 5.3 earthquake, nor any of the nine aftershocks.

The same area is also currently receiving a considerable amount of snow, which is affecting the Italian authorities’ abilities to assess the situation. The earthquake has come off as especially unnerving due to the location of the earthquake. The town of Amatrice, which experienced a devastating earthquake that killed 300 and destroyed the town center last August, and was struck by a small earthquake in October, has felt all of the tremors today.



On March 11, 2011, the magnitude 9.0 Great Tōhoku Earthquake struck Honshu, the main island of Japan at 2:46 pm local time. The epicenter was 30 km deep, located off of the coast. It was the largest earthquake ever to hit Japan and the fourth largest earthquake on record. a rupture occurred at the convergent fault boundary in the Japan Trench and a 300 km long by 150 km wide section of the subduction zone slipped as much as 50 meters, the largest fault slip ever recorded. The Tōhoku region in northeast Honshu experienced violent shaking for six minutes and was shifted east by 2.4 meters. Scientists believe that clay helped lubricate the fault to create such extreme movement because it holds water and becomes slick, removing friction from the plate collision. There is a deep layer of clay on the Pacific plate and as it subducts beneath the North American plate a thin layer is scraped off, leaving an accretionary wedge of clay coating the boundary. Low-frequency infrasound waves generated by the earthquake were even detected 255 km above the earth in space by a satellite.

A colossal tsunami followed the quake caused by a combination of upward thrusting of the seafloor from the earthquake and a submarine mass movement event. Remnants of a 40 km by 20 km rotational slump were observed on the slope of the Japan Trench. Waves as high as 38 meters moved as fast as a jet plane, 700 km/hr and flooded the island up to 10 km inland. The tsunami had record run-up recordings at 38.8 meters above sea level. Abnormally large waved were documented all across the Pacific from the west coast of North America and South America to Russia. Also satellite imagery showed that the waves contributed to Antarctic glacier calving. YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Japan is no stranger to earthquakes and tsunamis because it is located near multiple late boundaries on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The nation experiences one fifth of the world’s powerful quakes and the word tsunami itself is Japanese. Japan is extremely prepared for these hazards and has heavily invested in preparedness and mitigation plans. Over 1000 seismographs and hundreds of tide sensors are scattered around the islands comprising the world’s most advanced early-warning system. Alerts are sent out automatically over every medium of communication including personal cell phones and loudspeaker systems. Japan has built many hard structures along the coasts such as tsunami walls, flood gates and breakwaters. Building codes are strict and constantly updated with continuous research and assessment on building safety and design. Tall buildings are designed to sway and are set on deep foundations, many supported with shock absorbers. Concrete structures are built with a steel frame to give them ductility to be more resilient to a lateral load. Disaster shelters are prepared in case of emergency and some public spaces in cities are constructed with a secondary purpose as refuge zones. These spaces are cleverly designed as permanent installations ready to house and sustain people at a moment’s notice with underground food and water reserves and innovations such as solar-powered charging stations and benches that turn into stoves for cooking. Disaster preparedness is deeply ingrained into society and has become part of Japanese culture. People constantly practice intensive drills and receive briefings on potential hazards from the time they begin school.

Japan is one of, if not the most prepared nation in the world for these types of hazards. The population is also not considered vulnerable in a country with the third largest GDP in the world that is known for its technological innovation and advancements. Japan can handle earthquakes that would cause considerable damage elsewhere and regularly experiences quakes with a magnitude between 4.0 – 5.0. However, the 2011 “trifecta of tragedy”, earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear accident was the perfect storm. Like the swiss cheese activity in class, everything lined up perfectly to make this one of the worst disasters in history. The death toll as of April 2015 is 15,890, another 2,590 people were reported as missing and presumed dead and 6,152 injuries were recorded. An overwhelming majority of the deaths and injuries were due to the tsunami. Hundreds of thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed, over 25 million tons of debris was generated in the 3 worst affected prefectures and hundreds of fires were started from broken electric and gas lines. The damage has cost Japan $300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history. Considerable economic losses were suffered by other countries around the pacific as well. Response efforts were divided among all departments of the Japanese government who were immediately mobilized and dispatched. Despite their organization, no amount of preparation and prior planning could have anticipated the 2011 catastrophe. Transporting supplies was impeded by the damage to roads and infrastructure and contributed to the physical and psychological distress of refugees. Flooded areas did not drain naturally due to subsidence of the land from the quake. Floodwall failure and standing water further hindered supply distribution and posed an obstacle for search and rescue. Certain areas were only accessible by helicopter for 2 weeks. The combined loss of power from the Fukushima coast, one of Japan’s largest single electric source regions and the shut off of the island’s other reactors caused additional setbacks to emergency response efforts.


A “state of nuclear emergency” was declared because the tsunami also caused the world’s first triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency gave the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster a 7 rating on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the highest rating and the same as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. 140,000 people who lived within 20 km of the Fukushima reactors were evacuated and many are still displaced. Radiation continues to leak from the reactors and irradiated water is still being released into the ocean. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) has been unable to remove hundreds of dangerous fuel rods as the clean up process moves into its fourth year. Japan had relied on nuclear power for 30% of its electricity supply prior to the Fukushima accident but most of the 54 reactors in the country have not been reopened. The loss of this power source has contributed to a national energy crisis as Japan has little fossil fuel reserves and now depends on imports for 80-90% of its energy. The psychological effects of the disaster have had a large burden on Japanese society, with a spike in PTSD, depression and suicide rates among people living in the most impacted regions.

I chose this disaster because I find it incredibly fascinating and it has had such monumental consequences that are still being felt and dealt with today. The earthquake and tsunami struck when I was finishing up my senior year of high school so I remember how much it was covered by the news. I am also very interested in the Fukushima nuclear disaster and I have done a lot of research on it but not so much into the actual natural disaster that caused it.


February 7th 2009 marked one of the worst days for fire in Victorian history. It was also the hottest day in Victorian history. The highest temperature recorded in the normally temperate zone was around 48 degrees Celsius. The winds were clocked at a sustained 50mph. There was a zone of high pressure stalled over the commonwealth that would eventually start to move on the 7th. The commonwealth had been facing record high temperatures for the past week and was in a period of sustained drought. All of these factors would come together on what would soon be known as Black Saturday. Fires started before dawn on Saturday and would ultimately scorch more than 450,000 hecta-acres of land some 2,000 homes and kill 173 people. With temperatures reaching over 300 degrees Fahrenheit within the fires, many of the remains took days to recover and months to identify. These fires burned so quickly and with such intensity that even homes with the most ardent preparations failed and the people perished. However there were major failures on the day as well.

The fire plan for the state was poorly structured and lazily educated. The plans hinted that people should have fire plans but never offered concrete advice on what the best kinds of plans were or even gave a lot of information on what had working in the past. Much of what people knew about fire preparation and safety come from within the communities and was passed down between neighbors. There was also a lack of necessary emphasis on evacuation, both in what situations evacuation was necessary, as well as who needed to be evacuated earliest. Firefighters were well prepared and did what they could given everything that was working against them. The intensity of the blaze and the wind made it nearly impossible for air support to help firefighters contain the blaze.

The other major failure of the day came from the communication systems. Many different stations were meant to report to one central headquarters which was then meant to disseminate that information to those on the front lines as well as those issuing evacuation orders and other information to the public. This system completely failed due to a lack of training and all around failure to deliver necessary information at every level. A failure that would ultimately cause a majority of the deaths. When the fire rapidly switched directions and burned back up a hill taking out an entire community who had thought the danger was passed. The final failure that lead to much confusion after the fact was the lack of information about designated refugee spots. There was little to no information widely circulated about where people should evacuate to, and even then the information often came to little to late. People had actually evacuated to the area called Kinglake, which saw the most deaths. 

All in all there were over 15 individual fires that day. The large fire pictured in the above photograph caused a majority of the deaths. In the months following the fires the communities attempted to rebuild but many families did not return. There was simply not enough incentive to rebuild. The communities that did rebuild continue to feel the psychological effects of such a devastating disaster. A commission was set up by the government to investigate the failures of that day. Several long awaited changes were implemented including a more effective and prepared system of evacuation. The community was also more willing to accept this type of fire as a possibility, which is to say they now understood not all fires can be defended against.


I chose to do my case study on Cyclone Bhola. I did so mostly due to my interest in the subcontinent’s political and social history. I recently wrote my senior thesis paper on child trauma narrative that manifested in the face of India’s decolonization and simultaneous partition by the United Kingdom in 1947.

It was a tropical storm that made landfall over the course of two days. It’s effects and recovery process was a strenuous, highly politicized one that last for the next two years and became the first natural disaster that led to civil war. It happened in the southeast asian subcontinent, specifically the nations of Pakistan, India and East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). Cyclone Bhola made landfall in the Delta Ganges area effecting India but more catastrophically, Bangladesh. With little to no previous means of mitigation, neither  human nor natural, the nation of Bangladesh and the outlying islands within the Bay of Bengal were horribly devastated.


Bhola cyclone track. Retrieved from

The devastation caused by Bhola were mostly due to the massive storm surge and its accompanied flooding, reaching up to estimates of 20-30 feet. Though most of the population was aware of the impending cyclone, very few evacuated because of indifference towards cyclones that often happened during the yearly harvest season. This disconcern combined with the utter lack of means to evacuate ( as the area had no stable transportation system or other means of emergency preparedness) and a fiscal attachment to their farmlands led to a high death toll. Though the death toll ranges greatly (anywhere from 300,000 to 1 million) it is generally agreed upon that there was 500,000 deaths and $84.6 million worth of damage done.

Pakistani domestic relief response was incredibly belaboured and minimal due to political tensions. Following the partition of India, Pakistan and East Pakistan international relations had been strained, especially due to the immense violence that followed. Though India did offer aid to East Pakistan almost immediately after Bhola, West Pakistan was hesitant to accept due largely in part to pride. But this hesitation was understandable especially given that India had known about the impending cyclone but had failed to relay the information to West Pakistan. But political games did not stop here, in fact West Pakistan became aware of Bhola  Not only did West Pakistani government hinder immediate international aid, but President Yahya Khan continued to provide subpar aid and deny the horrific nature of their distant nation because of  amongst all three areas, which eventually led to a civil war between Pakistan and East Pakistan that later materialized to the establishment of Bangladesh as an independent nation.


[Map of Bangladesh]. Oxford Cartographers. Retrived from

Arguably, Bhola itself is was what caused the massive catastrophe and even with previous mitigation there still would have been no stopping such destruction. That is, the population of the Delta Ganges were aware of a threat of tropical storms and flooding, as they had previously occurred and the crops depended on the deposition left by such flooding. The fertile soil then led to a dense population (one of the largest in the world) and regular seasonal workers. Such a dense population that even if there had been adequate emergency preparedness, evacuation would have been a nearly impossible task.  But at the same time, some mitigation and emergency planning by the community would have prevented such a high death toll. There had been a promise by West Pakistan government to install levees and seawalls following a relatively destructive storm a decade earlier but failed to do so. Further the residents of the Bhola stricken area lived in such immense poverty that the only connection with the outside world was through the hard to come by radio or word of mouth. A lack of resources such as a warning system and a coherent education on dangers of cyclones was largely due to the continuous lack of funding East Pakistan was given by their distant and detached government. So it was really environmental and human factors that led to the calamity that ensued following Bhola.

But the recovery process did spawn some interesting social phenomena and fun facts. For example following a recovery plan made by the World Bank, International Development Association for the first time   provided credit for reconstruction. Also this was the first time in history a natural disaster became a catalyst for civil war and later the establishment of a nation. In the following year ex-beatle, George Harrison, held a benefit concert entitled The Concert for Bangladesh, which not only raised awareness but also $250,000!



My case study was on the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The volcano killed 57 people and was the biggest volcanic eruption in US History.  Because it had been over 100 years since its last eruption, the population was not expecting a major disaster. However, the signs of eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 began several weeks before that date. The main explosion was preceded by several events including slow magma build up in a bulge on the side of Mount St. Helens and hundreds of small earthquakes as early as March 16, 1980. Following the earthquakes, steam eruptions began to occur on March 27 resulting in a 200 ft crater being formed atop the volcano. This activity of small eruptions continued for several weeks which expanded the crater to 1,300 ft. The bulge had grown about 6.5 ft per day ending with it being a 450 ft growth. In fact, this formation was quite visible on the side of the volcano and indicated that magma had risen and become pressurized within it.

On May 18, an earthquake led to the bulge being dislodged from the volcano and sliding down the slope. Because of this, the pressure that had been contained within burst as hydrothermal steam out from the side of Mount St. Helens as a lateral blast. The avalanche that resulted covered a distance of roughly 230 square miles. The release of all the pressure that was previously contained inside the volcano led to a Plinian column of rapidly de-gassing magma which rose to a height of 12 miles and lasted for 9 hours. Winds carried the ash as far as the east coast of North America.

After the eruption, events progressed quickly with several secondary effects. For example, mudflows, avalanches, and flooding all occurred in the area. Lahars, mudflows that mix ash and water, forming a concrete-like substance ravaged the area immediately after eruption. The lahars blocked waterways and flooded the local area. One of the lahars traveled 120 kilometers from the volcano causing extensive damage over a wide area. Pyroclastic flows also occurred after the initial eruption resulting ins toxic gases being thrust down the side of the volcano

The State of Washington Department of Emergency Services was responsible for warning the public, but because of lack of funding and experience the eruption sent the office into chaos and a warning to local communities was two hours behind. The majority of the 57 deaths were from asphyxiation from the gases and ash. It was recorded that about 200 homes were buried and destroyed by the eruption and aftereffects of Mount St. Helens. Though only 57 were killed as a direct result, many more people were left homeless and disrupted.

A great amount of the recovery and restoration after Mount St. Helens was the removal of ash. An estimated 900,000 tons of ash was removed from just highways and airports in the state of Washington. Disaster relief was supplemented by the United States Federal government with funds of $951 million appropriated to the US Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Following the Mount St. Helens eruption on May 18 1980, awareness of volcanic eruptions increased significantly. Funding for the USGS Volcano Hazards Program also increased, creating more research through monitoring. Since the disaster the natural environment has restored itself since the catastrophic eruption becoming green and fertile once more and attracting many tourists to the two Mount St. Helens visitors centers.

Simple graphic map show where Mount St. Helens is located in the Pacific Northwestern United States.         Mt. St. Helens erupts with a lateral blast.