A Volcanic ‘Grand Tour’ Part 2

Stromboli: the lighthouse of the Mediterranean

Stromboli lies at the end of the Aeolian volcanic island chain. To get there one must take a ferry, and there can be few finer sea journeys than the island-hopping service from Milazzo.

This is the very first volcano. The Romans believed that the god of fire lived beneath this island and, as a consequence, it was named Vulcano. Seemed like a catchy name for a fire-breathing mountain, so it stuck in some form or other for all the world’s other fire-breathing mountains. There have been no major eruptions there since 1888/90 but the geothermal area above the port steams away gently, seen here with the island of Lipari, famous for its pumice production, in the foreground.

A genuine “Oh, Crap!!!” moment. Yes, Dad has really signed us up to climb that monster! Please excuse the reflections of the ferry windows, but this is the moment when the true enormity of all that earlier ‘keyboard warrior’ bravery of booking a hike to the top of Stromboli with a local guide becomes all too apparent. To lend some scale to the image, those tiny dots on the far left are the houses of Ginostra village.

The elongated village of Stromboli (in fact several communities that have become joined in to one) is a Mediterranean jewel of beautiful white buildings, blue doors, cool yards with flower-bedecked sunshades and winding alleyways. There are no cars. The Carabinieri – good-looking, gun-toting and sunglass-wearing policemen in true Italian macho style – drive around in a ridiculous golf buggy with a big blue comedy light stuck on the top.

I am at great risk of being whisked away in a black Audi for revealing secrets of Italy’s strategic homeland defence, but here is a hastily grabbed spy-photo of Stromboli’s elite security force …. hard at work cleaning volcanic ash off the high-speed pursuit vehicle with a yellow feather duster, while presumably chatting up some woman on his mobile.

The ferry arrives at a place called Scari, and its loose English ‘meaning’ is, to me, rather appropriate. Stromboli village may be a lovely place, a perfect vision of island life – like Greece, but with Italian food – but, I nearly forgot to mention, it clings helplessly to the edge of a MASSIVE ANGRY VOLCANO.

A massive angry volcano that has spat fire every hour or so for the last 2,000 years (give or take a few days’ break once in a while). This activity is mostly benign and predictable, with lava being tipped down the wonderfully named Sciara del Fuoco (‘stream of fire’), a 1-in-1 scree slope/collapse zone that runs straight from the vents for a kilometre or so down to the sea. Every few years, though, the old girl decides to rain lava bombs, or worse, down on the village, just to remind everyone who is the guv’nor around here.

Even when there is little happening ‘up top’ it is difficult to forget what looms above you. A small change of wind direction and that white tablecloth upon which you are eating yet another plate of ridiculously tasty Pasta alla Siciliana (tomatoes, anchovies, eggplant, cheese) starts to acquire tiny black particles of ash.

A glance over your shoulder and there it is, steaming away, grinning at you. You can almost hear it whisper: “That’s it, you enjoy yourself. But just remember I can fry you like a chip whenever I feel like it, and no tsunami/earthquake/volcanic eruption warning notices are going to make the slightest difference.”

Stromboli island is nothing more than the upper part of a large stratovolcano. The craters steam permanently, and gently explode with regularity (‘Strombolian activity’ of course), sending small ash clouds like this one into the air with a slight thump that can sometimes be heard in the village. At the time of our visit the volcano was in a period of low activity, with eruptions happening every 45 minutes to an hour. During periods of higher activity the wait for an eruption is typically 10-15 minutes.

With its regular eruptions Stromboli has long drawn those fascinated with volcanoes, but apart from the constant steaming and occasional puffs of ash little can be seen of the volcanic activity from Stromboli village.

To see more of this natural wonder there are three options available. Firstly, you could take a helicopter flight over the summit from the playboy playground of nearby Panarea island, once you have fought your way ashore through all the ‘mega-yachts’ at anchor in the small harbour. If, like me, you’re trying to figure out just how far away from the airport you can fill up the hire car so that the gauge still shows ‘full’ when you return it, then the helicopter is probably not a realistic option.

For the young/fit/able-bodied (and stupid) there is the option of hiking to the top at night with a local guide. For the old/fat/infirm (and sensible) there are boat tours that sail to the bottom of the Sciara del Fuoco, from where you can watch the volcanic activity at your leisure, albeit from some distance, with a glass of wine in your hand.

Where trouble can creep in is when old/fat/infirm folks (like me) delude themselves into believing that they are still in the young/fit/able-bodied category. Somewhere along life’s journey I have gained several kilos of ‘beer residue’, while misplacing a cruciate ligament or two. I really missed the latter on Stromboli. ‘Lill-Viggen’, the guide and some ridiculously healthy family from an Austrian yoghurt commercial all laughed a lot at me as they bounded up the hill like amphetamine-fuelled chamois.

I know how she feels! Ingrid Bergman slogs her way up Stromboli during the making of the 1950 film of the same name, before giving up and slumping to the ground in a lake of sweat, with collapsed lungs, bursting heart and jellified legs. “Only another 500 metres to climb,” says our cheery, unnaturally sweat-free guide at about the same point.

But was it worth it? Well, it was frustratingly cloudy for much of the time, but being able to look briefly down in complete darkness on an erupting vent and seeing glowing lava tumbling down the Sciara del Fuoco was truly magic. The lovely Strombolian folks have even placed a couple of shelters at the top to shield you from the hurricane that blows over the summit, no matter how calm it might be at sea level. A chairlift would be a lot better idea.


257 thoughts on “A Volcanic ‘Grand Tour’ Part 2

  1. Yes I was wondering about that, I did say earlier that Albite is a felsic plagioclase feldspar mineral, maybe that was close enough to be correct…dunno. Anyway as always it was a team effort, and you were the one to get us on the right track, so well done Diana 🙂

  2. Coming up on 18 months since the last decent eruption, a serious case of cold turkey. And only 55 days left ’til “doomsday”.

    • <<<<<< Cusses softly to herself. Fishes out pen and paper and starts writing a bucket List (Things to do before you die) 1. Go to Iceland and watch a Volcanic eruption first hand…..
      2. Watching nekkid men dancing in front of said Volcano.
      <<<<<Sighs deeply as time is running out and her piggy bank is still very empty.

      • <<<<< Looks around and wispers …. some Volcanoes here have "to your door-step" (home delivery) depending on wind directions high-up and mood, and all next week there is forecast very strong and cold northern-winds … 😉 But can´t promise any on second one, if delivery fails, cause absense of master-blogger, but do hope some additional web-cameras be set up if out of range of current ones, but then us need more volunteers … both genders … we must have equality (thats the right word, no?) thats law here btw … and with very broad audiance (female, "it" and male), thats only fair .. 🙂

  3. In another forum (gaming)… my handle roughly equates to “Monkey Boy,” a self assigned term that draws it’s origins from a phrase uttered in Buckaroo Banzi and from my preference from hurling explosives at people from the roof tops… or just dropping a grenade at my feet and jumping out of the window if surprised by another player.

    As such, terminology related to monkeys comes up from time to time. So here is my latest Stupid Monkey trick.

    The Queen Charlotte Islands quake set has had up until now, a total of about 23.06 meters of displacement when you count all the quakes. They cover an area of about 26,064 km². Averaged out, that’s about 0.88 mm of slip per km².

      • I explained it. Using the Wells-Coppersmith (1994) equations, I calculated all of the average displacements for the quakes in the set. I have been working on getting the whole ensemble of equations down into one spreadsheet for strike-slip, reverse, normal, and generic earthquakes.

        The equations yield a pretty good estimate of surface rupture, size of faulting area, subsurface fault length, down dip fault width, average displacement, max displacement etc..

  4. Tooting my own horn here… I’m stoked.

    First… a bit of background. I have a … “wee bit” of programing experience. Not as a “programmer” per se, but as a dabbler in a lot of languages. My experience deals with figuring out how to make stuff work. In a previous endeavor, I have built and configured several web servers, mail servers, DNS servers, usenet news servers, configured and maintained user authentication servers for SLIP and PPP users… etc. I have on occasion, built my own authentication routines for websites that were pretty flippin’ hard to get around… basing the overall design off of a Novel user management scheme. I have even designed and built my own document server for a local real estate company so that his agents were all using the same edition forms. (got stiffed on that one, he closed up shop and sold the company before I got paid) In short… I’ve been around the block a few times. My last hands on was about was about 6 to 7 years ago. My servers of choice… Linux.

    Linux is probably one of the most versatile operating system around. Sure, you may love Windows… but when you don’t want to beat around the bush or be forced to pay the Microsoft Tax every time you turn around. Linux is the way to go. Apple even figured this out and went with an ancestral cousin of Linux for the core of their new fangled OS… BSD Unix. It was a huge leap in stability for them to do so. (plus Apple could tweak it to their hearts content) Windows did a similar thing when then bought the rights to Northern Telecom’s software. Before that, Windows couldn’t multitask it’s way out of a paper bag. That was the time if infamous Terminate and Stay Resident programs. Thus was born NT 3.51. At it’s core, Windows is still based of that design. That’s why your Windows machines all identify themselves as some variant of that at the machine to machine level. (I’d write a CGI routine and link to coff it up for you, but that’s beyond this post.., plus I’m not exposing my home server to the outside world.)

    Hmm.. I’m getting wordy. Anyway, a couple of “utility” programs that exist in the Linux world, are HtDig and WGet. HTDig is essentially a spider and search routine core that is very similar to what you get when you do Google or Yahoo searches. Turn it loose on a domain and it will index the hell out of it, saving the results in a database that you can then search off of. I used it one time to index all the PDF documents on my server. It was great when getting into an argument and I had to recover the reference where I had read something. (Still thinking about doing that again with all the seismic stuff I’ve accumulated) WGet was a pretty neat program that allowed me to “hoover” an entire Internet website. Pretty handy when a client wants to move their website over to your hosting and the current host is not being forthcoming with the files.

    So… I have this problem. A site that I usually go to for Nexrad imagery had re-done their interface so that I can’t stop the animation and save each frame. (something I desperately want to do for Sandy’s landfall.) Ruminating on this for a while.. I remember that I can view FireFox’s cache and get the files from there… try it.. crap, the file is hashed (for easy storage) and I can’t save it directly. Think think think… ding. HTDig was good at getting site info… no Windows binary that is easily available. Wait a minute… WGet. (HtDig wouldn’t have worked anyway, it just indexes.)

    Pull the link where the data comes from, check it.. yep, valid link. Full index of all the images. Save that out, clip out the HTML B/S and make a CSV. Pull it into Excel. Clip the rest of the garbage and insert the needed batch file calls for each named file. Save it as a CSV, pull up UltraEdit (it’s a work horse of a text editor) and yank all the commas and save it as a batch.

    Drop to a command line and execute. Tada… 980 images from the Nexrad Radar of interest. WOOT!

    This just proves that there is more than one way to skin a goat. :D.

    Note: This is not “Hacking” as defined by the media. This is the purest form of problem solving that you can get. No laws were violated, and nothing that was intended to be private was accessed.

    • Had they been behind some sort of Username/Password scheme, it would be a different story. Many servers watch for brute force attempts at breaking passwords… that’s one reason Windows locks you out when you screw the password up too many times. Brute force attack detection is one reason I got banned from that gaming forum.. I hit update too many times. (They have since unbanned me since it was their server that got overloaded from so many people trying to read it at the same time)

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