In his 2010 space policy speech, President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation Program and touted the rise of private companies to sell their transportation services to space. He also put the kibosh on the Bush Administration’s plan to send astronauts back to the moon: “But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.” That’s true, of course, and some say that there’s no real reason to go back to the moon. But others say that we haven’t explored the moon to any real extent at all, and in addition to preparing for longer-term space missions, we just might find something interesting on our favorite hunk of space rock — something such as evidence of volcanic activity.
I am no kind of daredevil, not by any stretch of the imagination. When I think back to all the stuff I did without thinking as a kid, a little touch of nausea hits my stomach and my knees hurt as I imagine all of the various ways things can go horribly wrong. (I used to regularly huck myself off 30 or 40-foot cliffs without a second thought with nothing but skis strapped to my feet, and now that thought terrifies me.) But you have to be thankful for the more adrenaline-fueled among us, because without them we’d never get videos like this one of people climbing down into the frothing mouth of an active volcano.
Sam Cossman and George Kourounis, with a sizeable assist from volcanic exploration pioneers Geoff Mackely and Brad Ambrose, recently became some of the first people to ever set foot inside one of the planet’s least accessible, most dangerous volcanoes. I feel like just a normal, everyday, right around the corner volcano would be more than enough for me, no need to go searching for something out of the ordinary.
Remember four years ago when the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull wreaked havoc on flights around the world, ultimately causing more than 100,000 cancelations and loses upwards of $2 billion? (You can see a video of what the area looks like now.) A year later, Iceland’s Grímsvötn volcano erupted, causing more of the same. Now, the small contry’s Meteorological Office has announced that they are is bracing for another major eruption, this time the Bardarbunga volcano is set to blow.
Over the past week, the region under and around Bardarbunga has experienced roughly 1,000 small earthquakes, which is usually a sign that a major geological event is about to happen. In fact, 568 of those earthquakes were recorded in a single day.
When I first saw this story come up in my news feed, I automatically assumed it was a headline from the Onion or some other parody source. Outside of the descriptions for late night on Syfy, most of us don’t come across the term “supervolcano” all that often in our daily life. The next thing that came to mind was a scene in Roland Emmerich’s 2012, another thing that doesn’t come up with a great frequency for most people. Regardless of how sci-fi this sounds, the situation is very real, as tourists are being barred from parts of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park because an underground supervolcano has grown so hot it is melting asphalt roads.
Park spokesman Dan Hottle says, “It basically turned the asphalt into soup. It turned the gravel road into oatmeal.” The road to Old Faithful, the park’s most popular attraction is especially dangerous at this point. Officials are also warning hikers not to venture into certain areas, because their outings could take a drastic turn into realms usually reserved for horror movies. While you’re walking along there is apparently a “high” level of danger that what you think is solid ground may actually turn out to be boiling hot water. That sounds terrible, strolling through the wilderness, basking in the glory of nature, only to submerge your leg up to the knee in scalding liquid.
Well this is certainly one way to increase your land base, though it isn’t anywhere near the fastest. As the result of an underwater volcano, Japan now has a brand new island to call its very own. There’s definitely less bloodshed involved in this than in your traditional land grabbing war, though this sounds like a difficult, painstaking way to expand the reach of your empire.
Located 620 miles South of Tokyo, the eruption went down a mere 500 meters away from Nishinoshima Island, an uninhabited subtropical landmass that is part of the Bonin Islands. You’d be correct if you assumed that this bit of geological action took place on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” as the archipelago does sit on the border of the Pacific tectonic plate. The string of islands number in the thousands, and ownership of them has come in handy in previous years to bolster claims to large areas of the ocean, as well as the energy and mineral resources those waters contain, which could potentially be very lucrative. In the past, Japan has used some of these islands to back territorial disputes with China.
I’ll bow down to Mother Nature’s forces when it’s called for. I won’t drive far in a hurricane. I won’t camp in the snow. And I definitely won’t ever again creative miniature tornadoes just because the blender is broken. Considering I never even considered a combination of lightning and an erupting volcano before, please pardon me for barking in fear at random intervals.
If German photographer Martin Rietze intended to make Hollywood and Photoshop look like amateur hacks, he’s done it. Japan’s Sakurajima Volcano, in southern Kyushu, was a hot spot of beautiful disasters from February 21-26, and Rietze made the most of his skills, capturing some of the most amazing natural images from this planet I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen like seven pictures in my life.