A Volcanic ‘Grand Tour’ Part 1

Today I am proud to present part 1 of UKViggens Volcanic ‘Grand Tour’ to you, but as long as it is Friday… you are expecting some riddles!

RIDDLE – Name that volcano! By Suzie.

Once upon a time K met A.
They kissed, married, argued and had a baby!
But did they live happily ever after?

And another evil riddle!!

We are as peas in a pod, head to tail, but to see us we need to be extinct!

1) What feature am I/we?
2) Where will you see me and what is extinct?
3) In what are we commonly found?

Happy hunting! AlanC

Part 2 will be published once you solved the riddles and Suzie and Alan did the Dinging. Expect part 3 on Monday.
The bar is open, have a nice weekend, happy reading and riddling!

Etna’s blackened top towers over the arid yet productive lands beyond.

“The Prologue” *
* with thanks to Frankie Howerd in the British late-60s/early-70s sitcom ‘Up Pompeii!’

In days gone by, it was considered an essential element of a young gentleman’s education to undertake a ‘Grand Tour’. While such journeys might have taken in the works of the Flemish masters, or some botanical study in the Swiss Alps, the focus of the ‘Grand Tour’ was to bathe in the sumptuous delights of the antiquities of Italy. Florence, Rome and, of course, Venice were the signature destinations of such a journey of enlightenment and education.

In the 21st Century such places can be visited virtually from one’s armchair, without the need to hire mountain guides to cross the Alps in safety, or tutors trained in the Classics to provide insight as one travels. The same can also be said of volcanoes: with near real-time seismometers, webcams, blogs and page-upon-page of internet information, why bother going to look at them at all?

True up to a point, but for any young gentleman (or lady) who may wish to further their studies in this fascinating field, is there any substitute for feeling the rough crunch of scoria underfoot? Or, maybe, even witnessing a volcanic eruption at first hand? Of course there isn’t!
So, while the Viggen womenfolk indulged their own peculiar desires to cook themselves slowly around a hotel pool, this humble correspondent and his volcanoholic 14-year old son embarked on a ‘Grand Tour’ of their own. All for the boy’s education, you understand.

And, just as the young English gentlemen of the past sought their enlightenment among the art and artefacts of the Renaissance and Roman Empire, so budding volcanoholics must also journey to Italy, and more specifically the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, for a true educational grounding in the marvels of the magmatic world.

There, within a few short hours of each other, lie the most impressive (Etna), the most active (Stromboli) and the most famous (Vesuvius) volcanoes in the continent, if not the world.

The notion of a ‘Grand Tour’ was obviously still alive and well in 1950s Cumbria: some while ago ‘Fru Viggen’ unearthed the scrapbook compiled by her parents of their honeymoon. Como, Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome were visited, along with the customary excursion to Pompeii, as evidenced by this ancient relic that dates from 1945.

Vesuvius: meet the world, his wife and their kids!

Vesuvius seems like a good place to start. Wake up nice and early to beat the tourists (we, you understand, are not mere sightseers – we are engaged on scientific studies to seek out and attain higher levels of volcanological understanding!). Nice drive up to the car park to find 20 coaches already there. Oh well, the best laid plans …
So, here we are standing on the rim of the crater of the world’s most famous volcano, surrounded by a mass of people from Texas, Tokyo, Tyneside, Timbuktu … and Esbjerg (a very pleasant couple!). Despite the throng, my first glimpse of the crater as I scrambled to beat the fat bloke to a gap in the crowd by the fence will stay with me forever.

People or no people, it’s a pretty impressive hole in the ground, but I just couldn’t help thinking how even more amazing that crater must have been before the 1906 eruption, when the giant hole was 250 metres DEEP!

Faced with the crowds my mind starts to wander, and I find myself getting fascinated by the array of sensors around that hole in the ground. What do they all do? Which is the spectral gas emission sensor? Is that a differential GPS antenna I can see there? Do they work?

Some of the many sensors that surround the crater of Vesuvius, linked to the observatory located on the mountain’s lower slopes.

In any case, I can’t help thinking there’s not enough of them. Look away from the crater and laid out before you is a smog-diffused vista of packed urban sprawl. From the top the houses, offices and shops appear so small that they meld into a solid mass of … what?

Humanity! Yes, that’s it. There’s one hell of a lot of people down there. Maybe a few thousand fewer than before the government sponsored a campaign for families to move away from the Red Zone (only to create a vacuum of empty buildings into which the Camorra swiftly moved their illegal immigrants, brothels and drug factories), but there are still several millions. Evacuate that lot? Not a chance. Re-read Carl’s posts on the matter. It’s a sobering subject.

Having left the hordes behind at the top, we descended to lower levels and found ourselves eating a slice of pizza at the quiet former base station of the funicular railway.

A railway up Vesuvius? Yes, there was one, and once back home I have become more side-tracked by that than the volcano itself. In 1891 the famed travel company Thomas Cook Ltd claimed to be able to arrange tickets on 555030 km of the world’s 580397 km of railway line, but the only railway that the company actually owned was the 806 metres of funicular line that climbed 391 metres in elevation to the top of Vesuvius. The steepest incline was 63°.

Named ‘Etna’, this is one of the two original cars on the Vesuvius funicular railway, which had two tracks with a continuous-cable mechanism driven by steam engines. The other car was named ‘Vesuvio’. One of them was destroyed in 1887 when mountain guides broke up the line and set fire to the engine house as part of a dispute with the owner. The railway was back in business by 1889.

The opening of the funicular in 1880 inspired the song ‘Funiculì, Funiculà!’ (all of you will know the tune very well, even if you were previously unaware of what it’s all about). Here’s much-missed Luciano singing about a volcanic railway, together with the lyrics in the Neapolitan dialect:


By 1903 Thomas Cook had opened up an 8-km stretch of line that took passengers from Pugliano in Ercolano (Herculaneum) to the base station of the funicular. The 1906 eruption caused major disruption and a halt to the funicular for a few years, and finally the eruption of 1944 put an end to all that nonsense. The post-war chairlift that replaced the funicular came to an unprofitable end in 1984.

Work fleetingly began on reinstating the rail line in the early 1990s, and then again in the late ‘Noughties’, but today such frivolity seems out of place, especially in a city where the council is forbidden to support organised crime, yet the Camorra own everything – not just the construction companies, but those that sell the materials to the construction companies.

So, now you walk – that’s progress for you!

Seems like a nice place to build a town…

I will freely admit that the ‘Lill-Viggen’ and I are not great ancient history buffs. In fact, one of my most precious possessions is a note that was surreptitiously passed to me by my late, great mentor during a long-winded RAeS historical lecture that states simply: “Old stuff is rubbish”. Despite our general antipathy, it would be rude of us to ignore the most famous volcanic tragedy of all time when in the vicinity, and so on to the Roman ruins of Pompeii (one of the genuine glories of southern Italy is that it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain where the ‘modern world’ ends and the ‘ruins’ begin).

Now, I’m sorry, but the fact that Romans lived in houses (Gosh!), cooked in kitchens (No!), ate food (Really?), slept in beds (Amazing!), bathed, shat, fought and f***ed doesn’t really excite me that much. I was surprised, however, to see that they had developed such good scaffolding. And they had Fanta, too!

Never underestimate the ability of dogs to sleep through anything. It’s difficult to tell if this mutt had died and been perfectly preserved by the layers of ash and pyroclastic flows that entombed Pompeii in 79 AD, or whether it was still just sleeping off the whole ham it had stolen and consumed a few days before the eruption. Interesting to note that, even by the first century, the Romans had obviously mastered the dark art of manhole covers.

In all seriousness, Pompeii is incredible on any level, and even I was reluctantly fascinated to see glimpses of how the inhabitants lived (especially following a recent excellent BBC documentary about the place).

Most of the time, though, I looked up at the omnipresent Vesuvius and just tried to imagine what it must have been like exactly 1,933 years previous (by happenstance we were there on 24 August, the anniversary of the eruption) as the flakes of ash began to fall.


216 thoughts on “A Volcanic ‘Grand Tour’ Part 1

  1. Time for a final clue to the Name that Volcano Riddle!
    Clue 1 The riddle may sound like a fairy tale but it was NEVER meant for children.
    Clue 2 The Riddle is fiction – the eruption was fact.
    Clue 3 Karin and Antonio were the ill fated couple.

  2. Never mind the glories of internet – the glories of inter-rail were the grand tour of my generation – the Oo-(ew)-Feetsie museum with the glories of Art; the train up to Pompeii, which was shut that day, and the little train across Sicily with its wooden seats, past Etna.

    Never to be forgotten!

    Okay clever guys and gals – over to you for the riddle!

  3. The baby in the riddle might be child of Ingred Bergman & Roberto Rosselini who had an affair at that time, the child was born out of wedlock and caused a huge scandal at the time.

  4. Explanation for Name that Volcano Riddle:
    I wrote the riddle as a fairy story, ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’, to hint at a solution that would be associated with a literary/drama reference. Karin and Antonio are the main protagonists in the 1950s Rossellini film STROMBOLI starring Ingrid Bergman. The second line of the riddle is a synopsis of the plot! And as a note of interest – during filming on the island there was an eruption – negating the need for any special effects and saving the producers a huge amount of time and money! Every cloud ……

    • Excellent riddle Suzie…but I can hardly take the credit for working it out as you practically gave us the answer in your last clue 🙂

      • I kinda ran out of ideas – whatever clue I considered would have given it away – I will be better prepared next week!

        • @ suzie
          That is the problem.
          With riddles, pick your target, then the clues, sort the questions at the end to fit the two before!!
          If you can prepare 2/3/4 ahead the clues/questions ‘develop’ to make ’em better!!

          • @ alan (Naiadites)
            Next weeks riddle is devised – but I’ve never needed clues before as Kelda has solved ’em in quick time – lesson learnt lol!

    • Nice riddle!
      And I was googling volcano legends and came up with many stories of marriages of gods or jealousy in a couple that led to volcanoes volcanic eruptions (in New Zealand, Indonesia, Fiji, Mt St Helens etc. etc. etc.). Except I couldn’t find a K+A combination of the gods in question. 🙂

    • well i knew about the rosselini affair, but the connection did not sparkout ( probably missing some major neuronal links) . So go on.

      • Thanks Spica, but I’m not sure what Suzie means when she says ‘Kelda solves her riddles in quick time’? This is the first one of hers that I attempted, and only got it right after a huge clue. Must be my lucky day..was out earlier with friends and we decided to have a flutter on the horse racing just for a laugh. I pick them by the name I like, or colour of the jockeys silks (pink or purple) that’s how serious it is..anyway I started with a £1.00 bet and came home with £25 in my pocket after 3 races. Hope I dont get an addiction to horse racing the same as the addiction to Volcano cafe riddles!! I would be broke within a month 🙂

          • Yes I did get Boomerang Seamount, forgot about that one, but I dont think guessing Katla was me, not that I remember anyway? Your riddles are good though, so keep them coming 🙂

  5. 1 minRyan Maue‏@RyanMaue

    ECMWF 12z into S. New Jersey, then fairly far inland. Landfall in 54-60 hours, then trop storm winds to Michigan pic.twitter.com/yBCMNv91

  6. Blast dynamics is a field of study that can range from the study of weapons to volcanoes. Anything that explodes, or releases great energy still follows the laws of physics.

    One thing that I remember from training, (again, not my specialty, just something I picked up) is that during the the initial nuclear tests, one thing that perplexed the scientists was the observation that the precursor wave of the blast… exceeded the speed of sound. You can see this precursor wave on many videos of the ground effects of nuclear blasts.

    It turned out.. on further analysis, that the precursor wave wasn’t actually exceeding the speed of sound, the flash heating of the air was raising the speed of sound, and the percursor wave was just moving through that at normal propagation speed. I found that to be pretty wild.

    Pressure waves can cause condensation of the water vapor in the air, and show up in a fleeting glimpse when you see them. One place where you can see them are on photographs of supersonic aircraft as they do flybys.

    This isn’t my photo, but on my last ship our Capitan was on the promotion path to be take command of a carrier, and two of the requirements are that you have to have been a pilot, and that you drive a deep draft vessel. He had been a pilot, and were the deep draft vessel… an AOE. His old squadron was operating in the area and they delighted in doing a few passes as we motored by. (Just below supersonic, we were still inside the “no boom” range of the coast) That was a hoot. Nothing impresses me like the F-14 Tomcat… not even the newer F-22s or Migs. However the Tornado elicits the same amount of awe. I’ve seen them low and fast. Impressive.

    Anyway, back to my topic.

    If you pay attention to video clips, you can catch the leading pressure wave in some interesting places.

    Here is the one in from of the Pyroclastic flow from a dome collapse at Unzen (1991) that killed Katia and Maurice Krafft from Uzen.

    It’s a frame grab from this video clip.

    Now… an interesting thing that I read a while back. Remember the World Trade Center event? The building collapses followed the same dynamics of a column collapse from an eruptive plume… but not at searing temperatures.

  7. Just looking back at Sandy’s progress – if the experience of Cuba is anything to go by – there was a 2 meter storm surge, with 9 meter waves as the eye passed over the city of Santiago de Cuba:


    And looking back to 1991:


    However for now I must just look out of the window at the most stunningly beautiful fireworks display – the village has done itself proud this year – time to go out for a black coffee with Irish cream liqueur and a mulled wine… mmmm….

    • “Lechatelierite is an isotropic substance, so when this mineral is exposed to polarized light, the direction through which the light passes through Lechatelierite does not change; thus it is easily identifiable compared to other grains.”
      “The quartz crystal with regular extinction under polarised light changes to a similar image in Cristobalite, but with “bag-like” disturbances all over the crystal (PICHLER & SCHMITT-RIEHGRAF 1987). The most important part of the fulgurites, however, is composed of Lechatelierit. This mineral does not show any organised crystallographic structure under polarized light, but it looks exactly like the sample bearing glass slide, i.e. a perfect isotropic substance (Fig. 5). This makes the Lechatelierit clearly different from the original quartz sands.”

    • I did in fact subject this to giggle translate and indeed am still giggling:
      ” Recently the fork, which usually has slipped butt, sliding in Hverfisfljot.”
      A sliding slipped butt of a fork!! How do you posisbly picture that? 😀

      • lol! I ll try the german version, this should be as funny. ( I dont know if this event was a serious one, if so i am sorry for being inappropriate.)

      • Beats me how the Fork enters the translation, seems giggle might face trial, sued by Hverfisfljót-river and Skaftárkatlar-kettles, if this goes into wide circulation, Italian style. OK, they expect glacial flood from the “east kettles”, anytime soon, from the Ketill that did not flow from last time (late this summer) and all expected an eruption from, that did not come, and not from the Hamarinn area.
        Still quet on North-of-Iceland eq front. No news good news.
        *finished cooking, feeding and now to webbing, find that better word than surfing, sigh*

  8. 153. PoetSirrah 07:40 PM GMT em 27 de Outubro de 2012
    Nam model http://wxcaster.com/gis-snow-overlays.php3?STATIONID=LWX showing snowfall accumulations across the DC metro. The snowfall forecasts have been all over the place – a few days ago the GFS and the Euro were predicting widespread snow across the mid-Atlantic. It’s pretty likely that the storm will at least trigger a strong Northwest flow event across the Central Apps, but what factors will ultimately determine how much Arctic air invades the southwest edge of the storm?

  9. 8 minHurricane Central‏@twc_hurricane

    Water levels at Cape May, NJ and Lewes, DE are already 1.3 ft above normal. That’s not a forecast, that’s right now. #Sandy

      • Sissel that must surely be the answer. If Alan is looking for a 3rd part as in where am i commonly found then: Pumice is widely used to make lightweight concrete or insulative low-density breeze blocks. When used as an additive for cement, a fine-grained version of pumice called pozzolan is mixed with lime to form a light-weight, smooth, plaster-like concrete. This form of concrete was used as far back as Roman times. Roman engineers used it to build the huge dome of the Pantheon and as construction material for many aqueducts. It is also used as an abrasive, especially in polishes, pencil erasers, cosmetic exfoliants, and the production of stone-washed jeans. “Pumice stones” are often used in beauty salons during the pedicure process to remove dry and excess skin from the bottom of the foot as well as calluses. It was also used in ancient Greek and Roman times to remove excess hair.[6] Finely ground pumice is added to some toothpastes and heavy-duty hand cleaners (such as Lava soap) as a mild abrasive. Pumice is also used as a growing substrate for growing horticultural crops. Some brands of chinchilla dust bath are made of powdered pumice.

      • And the highly vesicular volcanic glass is often erupted by volcanoes!
        Or just a littlebit convoluted: “Pumice is created when super-heated, highly pressurized rock is violently ejected from a volcano. The unusual foamy configuration of pumice happens because of simultaneous rapid cooling and rapid depressurization. The depressurization creates bubbles by lowering the solubility of gases (including water and CO2) that are dissolved in the lava, causing the gases to rapidly exsolve (like the bubbles of CO2 that appear when a carbonated drink is opened). The simultaneous cooling and depressurization freezes the bubbles in the matrix.”

        • Brain still not satisfyed with the given answers. – The “highly vesicular volcanic glass”, pumice, is mostly isotropic glass, and is mainly dark (goes “extinct”) under crossed polarized light. When the glass is dark, you can better see other substances in the cavities like secondary minerals introduced by percolating water. I guess.

          The “feature” can be a vesicular texture or an amygdaloidal texture.
          “Vesicular texture is a volcanic rock texture characterized by a rock being pitted with many cavities (known as vesicles) at its surface and inside.[1] The texture is often found in extrusive aphanitic, or glassy, igneous rock.”
          “A related texture is amygdaloidal in which the volcanic rock, usually basalt or andesite, has cavities, or vesicles, that are filled with secondary minerals, such as zeolites, calcite, quartz, or chalcedony. Individual cavity fillings are termed amygdules (American usage), or amygdales (British usage). Sometimes these can be sources of semi-precious stones such as agate.
          Rock types that display a vesicular texture include pumice and scoria.”
          Both quotes from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesicular_texture

  10. Hiya Folk – back – sort of – a fire at our ‘local’ electricity substation blacked out the area – still no right keeps dropping out.
    The Riddle
    Sissel has 1 pt for part 2 from 1732 Friday
    You need to work on that aspect, plus the ‘peas in a pod’ theme

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