CAVW: Why these initials are so important

CAWV, or to give it its full name Catalog of the Active Volcanoes of the World is (I believe) one of the most important series of Volcanological book’s ever published.


Well many volcanologists believe that in order to protect the public from future volcanic eruptions they need to learn about a volcanoes past. One of these ways is looking back at the Historical records.

I guess this was a problem in the early 20th Century because the idea to have a book describing historical volcanic activity was discussed as early as 1922, at a meeting of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics in Rome. Then in 1947 the IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior) published in their Journal ‘Bulletin Volcanologique’ (Known as Bulletin of Volcanology since 1986) that they were going to make a Catalog that documented all of earth’s known Historic eruptions.

This work started in 1951 in volcano – packed Indonesia. This series would run non-stop until 1975 and would be revived twice in 1998 and 2002.


Now I’m not having a go at volcanologists. But now volcanologists have it easier than ever before. The wonders of the Internet make it much easier to find information than ever before. And observatories all around the world post their Bulletin’s on volcanic activity that can be viewed by anyone that has an internet connection.

Of course it was much harder 50 years ago. No Internet could have meant volcanologists and geologists working tirelessly through the night, looking through archives and (in the case of Italy and parts of Europe) classical texts.

But their work created by far the most complete document of their time, with insights into eruptions ranging from 300 years to almost 3000 years.

Of course, determining if an account was an accurate description of a volcanic eruption was almost as hard as finding the documents in the first place:

Example of a ‘real’ volcanic eruption from 300 years ago
“the low peak in the interior of Unimak Island, near its south end, burned until the upheaval of the southwest range”

The above account described an eruption of Fisher volcano, Alaska in 1795.

Image showing the Caldera of fisher volcano and originates from

As demonstrated above, early accounts were often very vague, lacked description on the type of eruption or where the eruption took place and most were probably third –hand account’s told by Fishermen, etc. In many accounts volcanoes were described as ‘smoking’ which could refer to either ash columns or passive steaming.


As I said above, work on these books began in Indonesia; the original set of books ran until 1975 in New Zealand after an intense century of volcanic activity at Ruapehu, Tongariro (including Ngauruhoe), Okataina and White Island volcanoes.

View of Tarawera from the summit. Photograph courtesy of and copyrighted by Paul J. Buklarewicz.
Found on

The series came back in 1998. It covered Alaska and was published as a US open-file report.

Finally in 2002, Icelandic Volcanologist Sigurour Steinthorsson made a draft CAVW Iceland containing historical eruptions of Iceland.

The books often range in sizes to regions like Italy, where eruptions have been documented since 1500 BC (Where large eruptions of Etna forced Sicilians to emigrate), so that book is 72 pages long. But some regions have a short Volcanological record, like Iran, whose CAWV book is only 20 pages long.


No series of books will ever touch the CAVW, yes they got it wrong sometimes, but mainly they were excellent.

However after 1975, new volcanic eruptions were making the books out of date. It was time for a new type of volcano reporting to step in…

For a table on all books, e-mail me at:

To order some of the 1951 – 1975 books visit:


For the 1998 Alaska report visit:

For the first section of the 2002 Iceland publication visit:

Also the new issue of my Bulletin of World Volcanism is out now. To obtain the Bulletin, please send an e-mail to: and put the Special Code: SER390 into the title box.
Lucas Wilson

Images added by Spica

43 thoughts on “CAVW: Why these initials are so important

  1. Interesting to hear of a book on volcanoes. How does this compare to “Volcanoes of the World” Third edition, Lee Siebert, Tom Simkin and Paul Kimberly, Smithsonian Institution, University of California Press.?

    • Thanks Lucas,
      JC Carracedo stated that he wishes he’d started his classic series: Los Volcanes de las Islas Canarias, with El Hierro/ La Palma rather than the eastern islands; the reason being that “recent” activity actually gives “cheap” insight into “ancient” activity in a volcanic system… btw he started with the more (economically) developed eastern islands ‘cos the infrastructure was there.
      However as you rightly say; “ancient” can give insight into “recent.”
      Interestingly,the CAVW guys started in the right place (if you agree with Carracedo.) When your (ambitious) plan is to catalogue the active volcanoes of the world (using analogue techniques!!) then where better to start than the ROF. You could get them out of the way, and update when the rest of the world went quiet…
      I’m awed by the scale of the task; even with the benefits of the modern interweb, Talla’s post on the mecca eruption took some digging…

  2. Thank you Lucas for the references. Wish they were all online, searchable and free!

    Meanwhile I have improved the 3D plot from the Tjörnes fracture zone. Lat-Lon-depth should be true to scale now and I interpolated a surface from the GEODAS design-a-grid topology data. All events from January 2010 until today are included now with date in color and ML in size (todays earthquakes are enlarged).
    Earthquake columns in the northern fault look peculiarly twisted.

  3. Thank you Lucas. Your post not only alerts us to important records within books but also highlights how very lucky we are to have the internet. Mere amateurs like myself have methods of access to current information that scientists only 30 years ago could only dream about.
    You are another VC member who is working hard to produce even more educational material.

    Has anyone noticed the activity on the Reykjanes peninsular today? All very small and shallow tremors but most interesting.
    Is this purely tectonic? All so near to Hellisheiðarvirkjun.

    • The swarm at Hengill seems pretty normal.

      However you did point in the last post, that we are seeing an increased tremor in stations close to Vatnajokull, I do agree with this! The graphs look more shaking and it seems due to minor quakes rather than noise. Especially towards the highlands in Vatnajokull.

      Probably linked to something happening quite deep from the hotspot, mostly near to Bardabunga and Hamarinn. Alternatively it could be also due to soil freezing, which is happening now. But I tend to think this is more volcanic than anything else.

      • Thank you irpsit. It is always good when someone comments on my thoughts . I often hesitate about making a comment about activity I have noticed as most of the time, as at Hengil, it is normal. I have not been volcano watching long enough to really “know” the many volcanoes in Iceland or the effects of weather on land that experiences deep freezes each year.
        However I will continue to question even if I appear very dumb at times as how else will I learn?
        A little OT my husband and I were discussing Iceland’s geothermal power yesterday as our Gas and electricity prices are rising yet again.
        @ Irpsit & islander. Are your heating bill expensive? I can’t actually ever really understand exactly how much we are paying here, as every company seems to measure amounts in different units and different tariffs and I have found it almost impossible to compare different fuel companies’ prices. (I rue the day that Margaret Thatcher privatised every essential commodity here, as now transport, water and fuel systems are slowly becoming more expensive and inefficient and having to be bailed out by the tax payers!) I am seriously worried about keeping warm if we have a bad winter this year. I wish we still had a solid fuel fire, at least I could burn the tables and chairs if things got really bad , but our local authority got heavy on chimney emissions and smokeless fuel became too expensive 😀
        <<<<<<<<<< Is looking around for a nice isolated cave to live in. Maybe a warm lava tube somewhere . 😀

        • Hengill: looks a normal tectonic-volcanic swarm. Probably nothing to expect in soon.

          Elsewhere in Iceland: yes, it seems there is increased magma movements, probably at great depth near the hotspot center. The SILs there show a little bit more of earthquakes than usual. This spells the possibility of activity around the Vatnajokull volcanoes in soon. Or might be business as usual. Let’s see what can we see in the next days.

          Heating bills: I don’t pay heating bills, as I live in a village where we have a common hot spring. The hot water is for free and it is plentiful.

          Also Iceland produces its own methane as fuel for future cars, from trash landfills, which is a plus for the future.

          Otherwise villages in Iceland have cheap hydroelectricity and geothemal hot water to heat their houses. Energy is cheap in Iceland.

          I am sorry you pay a lot of your own bills. Sadly, I think its like this everywhere in Europe. Greed from certain energy corporations. We complain about oil prices in Europe, but oil prices are very cheap in the Middle East. That shows is pure greed. But its the populations that vote for governments that support these policies. So they only have what they voted for.

          If we privatize the energy resources, what else can we expect? Unless the governments control the prices, or the corpotations are humble, we cannot expect otherwise.

          I think down the road we will experience a huge amount of civil unrest within the next few years in Europe. I think it is going to be a shity time, but also in the political chaos, there is an opportunity to change. Consequences are always paid, sooner or later. But almost everyone burries their own heads and votes and supports the status quo. Then, we things go wrong they go to the extremes. This is a really sad pattern, that doesn’t seem to end, historically speaking.

          • Irpsit, you are lucky to live in a country where something as important as hot water is free. Your country has morality. I’m sure my gouvernment considers putting taxes on breathing the air. Not a tax in percent of your income, nono, but a fixed amount for every adult person per time unit breathing. And the fixed amount will of course increase every year. It is similar to what what they did to health insurance: making it ridiculous cheap for the rich and unaffordable for the poor.

      • Oh! Thank you. Interesting one. Can you explain why ai would be tectonic is slanted? Does that show the actual movement direction of the rift?

          • All earthquakes in Iceland (in the rift zone) are tectonic and volcanic at same time. The earth splits apart and magma pushes upward. This is the everlasting dynamics.

            But 99% of the times the magma never reaches the surface, it only fills in the spaces.
            From the geological point of view, it will eventually reach the surface at nearly all locations, sooner or later, as we see from the many shield volcanoes, ridges, cones and tuyas surrounding Hengill as well as many other volcanoes in Iceland.

            Now; the question is not: “are these earthquakes volcanic?”, but rather “how much nearer an eruption are we?”

            In case of Hengill, it has been sleeping for 2000 years, so it is rather likely it will not erupt unless you experience a heavy swarm with gradually more shallow quakes and lots of harmonic tremor. But Iceland is always a surprise when we try to guess where will be the next eruption. Definitively the area between Hengill and Krisuvik is becoming more and more restless.

  4. Interesting that things were kept going for documenting in that fashion worldwide for so many years and covering such a span of years! Imagine digging up papers/diaries from a variety of faraway locations and reading firsthand accounts in some dusty, musty, moldy old library basement or a museum’s forgotten storage room. I could dig in boxes all day and be as happy as a mouse—forget the internet! Ha!

    • I too Maggiemom. I wonder if, in the future, ancient CDs will have the same smell, feel and satisfaction as old paper and parchment!

    • @maggimom: If a Museum had left a load of old papers in a basement you probably would find a mouse! I love digging around in old stuff (which is probably why I became an archaeologist!) and even working in a new scientific (e.g. boring) archive hasn’t put me off. 😀

      • Wish I had felt way back when how I feel now—I know in my heart I would have made one knock out archaeologist and been very happy with my work. Lucky you, Talla!

  5. Thank you everyone for your comments. As you may have guessed there well be a follow-up post of how Volcano reporting came into the modern age. Its not been written down yet, but there are a few ideas fermenting in my head.

  6. An post has been scheduled to publish itself at 6pm (4pm blog time). You will recieve your normal friday riddles. But there wont be a “New post is up warning right away because i will not be home then. I ll join the crowd a little later. I got the riddles sent but dont know the answers myself so i may join in. Happy riddling.

    • Thanks Spica. I have the evening meal already in the oven to give me time to peruse and start riddling! 😀

  7. Please for pity’s sake someone copyedit these posts before they go up and teach Lucas how to use apostrophes properly.

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