Sailing over an eruption and Friday’s NtV Riddle

Image by NASA showing the eruption of a new island. The image is from seventh of January 2012, 8 days before the eruption ended.

Image by NASA showing the eruption of a new island. The image is from seventh of January 2012, 8 days before the eruption ended.

In 1997 I spent a couple of weeks in an old rust bucket of a merchant ship in the company of navy people trying their best to look like Philippine merchant mariners. Just seeing them hurting over not being allowed to make the ship look ship shape and Bristol ready was a hoot, they were visibly in pain over being ordered to look like slobs.

We were patrolling the waters just south of Iceland waiting for the ultra shy American Boomer fish, renowned back then for never having been caught on a passive hydrophone. When we looked for the fish we heard a lot of odd sounds growling deep down in the ocean. The noise was the MAR spreading, black smokers gushing hydrothermal water and somewhere south of Iceland, a volcanic eruption took place.

A few years later I had the joy of sailing from Jakarta to Papua New Guinea passing by Krakatau and sailing along the south shore of the main Island. As we came to the strait leading to New Guinea I was brutally woken up by someone banging on the cabin roof. When I came out we had sailed into a large orange sheet of pumice.

Since that day I have been thinking on and off how dangerous it would be to sail over an erupting volcano, after all 70 percent of the worlds active volcanoes are below the surface of the ocean. So, how dangerous would it be? And what would kill you if your luck ran out?

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Surtseys northern tip in 2009.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Surtseys northern tip in 2009.

Being blown to pieces would of course be a sure way of dying when sailing across a volcanic eruption. But, unless you are sailing over something like Surtsey being born, that will not happen and it sure would be akin to committing suicide since you would see the large detonations as they happened from afar. This type of eruption is what people associate with submarine eruptions, but they are actually quite uncommon and only happen if the volcano is close to the surface, or as a volcanic edifice has grown close to the surface.

Over the years I have heard a lot of gibbity gook about the gas emanating from a volcano could sink the boat. It is one of the most persistant myths of the ocean that gas bubbles can sink a ship. The thought behind the myth is that the gas would lower the waters ability to buoy up the ship due to the loss of density. In reality a rising gas bubble will rise with the same amount of energy as it lowers the density, and as it hits the ship that force will lift the ship in equal measure to the water the gas displaced to begin with. There is a Mythbusters episode where they tried to sink Adam Savage with air bubbles, go watch that before starting an argument with me on the matter.

Most of us watched the eruption south of El Hierro that lofted fairly large glowing rocks that stayed on the surface for quite some time. Perhaps one of those rocks would sink the boat and kill you? Actually not, a modern sailing boat is sturdy enough to survive hitting one of those stones. And the heat would not be a problem either due to the ability of the plastics used to withstand heat. Your boat would probably be scratched and a bit bubbly in the topcoat, but otherwise it would be fully operational. And, you would anyhow probably do your best to avoid hitting them.

Above a volcano there can be tremendous currents and water upwelling. As long as it is not explosive like at the Zubayr Islands eruption in 2011 you would be able to survive it, you would though not be able to control the boat efficiently, but the current would actually push you away from the center until you hit calmer waters.

Rare historical picture of the rebirt of Krakatau. Here we can see when the new volcano, Anak Krakatau, comes out of the water. Not the best place to sail over.

Rare historical picture of the rebirt of Krakatau. Here we can see when the new volcano, Anak Krakatau, comes out of the water. Not the best place to sail over.

Now we come to the thing most likely to kill you, and that would be breathing in poisonous gases from the volcano. So, if you really are going to go sailing across an erupting volcano you should wear a scuba tank. A gas mask won’t cut it.

Now the multimillion dollar question, would I like to sail over a volcanic eruption willfully? No, only an idiot would do that. The reason is that there is always a possibility that something unexpected would happen. Let us say for instance that we have a large effusive eruption that is fairly harmless to sail over, and when you are halfway across the magma chamber roof collapses and we have a caldera forming detonation right under the keel. Also, there are a lot of things that could go wrong. But, in the end you would most likely actually survive sailing over an erupting volcano. In retrospect there was never a phase of the El Hierro eruption that would have killed you as long as you had your scuba tank with you.

Did we catch the Boomer? Well… that is classified.



Hints added!

2 points per volcano … 

No 1 – Location of the USA’s Project Sanitary deception … (4↑ & 9↓). SOLVED Cu Lao Re (4 Islands above the water and 9 below)

No 2 – Its highest peak would make an ace vantage point. SOLVED Christmas Island (Murray Hill is the highest peak here)

No 3 – Fantasy bunny’s repeated lamment. SOLVED Late Island (White Rabbit’s song in Alice in Wonderland … I’m late, I’m late etc)

No 4 – Enterprising request for a free ride. SOLVED Vulcan’s Thumb

No 5 – Temptress set in bleak isolation. SOLVED Eve Cone (Set in the Desolation Lava Field)

No 6 – There’s no mountainside ingredients in the vegan’s stir fry. SOLVED Svartsengi (Thanks for the help Carl … its got no mountain on top and is an anagram of  ‘vegan’s stir)

No 7 – Southern hooker’s post Civil War Texas stamping ground . SOLVED Hell’s Half Acre ( Popular Texan term for a red light district following the Civil War)

No 8 – Massive North Americanwith a paradox. SOLVED Level Mountain


Alison 10

Kelda 6

Frances 4

Diana Barnes 2 inannamoon667 1 Random Joe 1 KarenZ 1 mdatc 1


300 thoughts on “Sailing over an eruption and Friday’s NtV Riddle

  1. Just No 1 and No 7 to go …. I am gasping for that drink …. grinning!
    Lots of hints in my comments above!

  2. I have to go now
    I leave you with these thoughts … Project Sanitary was a US/CIA Military operation set on a volcanic island … and try frying vegan’s stir!
    I’ll DING when I get back!

    • I’ve read far more about the CIA than I ever knew! I guess I’ll be under surveillance now 😉 Off to watch Glasto on the TV and swig a bottle of giner beer!

        • better without the whiskey if you ask me – I drink a nice bottle of ginger wine from time to time – yummm :0

          • This is called Ginger Grouse. I got it in Scotland a couple of months ago. Very nice – but I don’t think I’ll make a habit of it!

            • I don’t think Ginger Grouse can be bought in England – it was a ‘special’ I think. I’ve finished the bottle (only 4%) and it was just the thing for an evening of the Rolling Stones (they still going!).

          • @ Edward … Hey … just tracked back and saw that you ‘guessed’ Svartsengi before I went out to the pub … given you two points for that, Diana gets two points as well cos she worked out the anagram! Wish I has spotted it at the time ….

      • Quite possibly robotic facsimilies … but whatever, simply amazing tonight … wish I had been there!

          • I am thinking of going to Cornbury Festival next weekend …. Van the Man, Amy Macdonald, Bellowhead, Seth Lakeman et al … great line up but not sure about the company … Mr Cameron is an anual visitor … along with the great and not so good of Oxfordshire daaaarling … more like a garden party

            • Ooh that looks fun. Echo and the Bunnymen on Saturday!!!
              There’s a couple of recording studios near where I live: about 15 years ago Ian McCullough walked into my local pub. Surreal evening ensued.
              And then there’s the time a certain A. Winehouse bought ALL the bags of Haribos in our local Tesco. No kidding!!!!

          • Yeah Echo and the Bunnymen are great live … Seven Seas is an all time fav of mine! But a certain Mr Murray may well be playing ball on Friday and Sunday and sad sports fan that I am …. that takes precedence!

  3. Evening

    This is Iceland’s quakes from start of april to end of june focused on the Herdubreid-Hamarinn zone.
    I had a lot of small but troublesome issues to fix which explain some delay. (including going to some trappist abbeys to sample beer – but that part was not troublesome…)- for Carl’s information when you order beer in most parts of Belgium you get your beer Plus Cheese in dices with sometimes salt and celery.Some times free other not. I have most of the good adresses
    Frankly I am not proficient (yet) on Iceland volcanism to see trends but it’s a start document. From my point of vue this gives a global time view but should be some basis for choosing which zone to zoom in. Waiting for your suggestions…

      • The thing is, the riddles are tough (no, in fact rock hard…) so I choose the easy path…no more google image search, it’s a full contest there…

            • Project Sanitary involved kidnapping fishermen and taking them to Paradise Island, also known as Cu Lao Re, one of the Spratley Island Group, disputed between Vietnam and Laos.

    • DFM, you are a lucky man, cheese, beer and celery. What else does one need. Now I am going to watch the video 🙂

  4. Race is rained out, track is wet. Wife ordered a Pizza. She’s cruising the channels and passes by some Raptor like critters chasing people down a hallway. Musing at the rectangular features of these “raptors,” I remember the huge disappointment that the Godzilla fans had at the 1998 version of the story. I watch for a while. Turns out these were the offspring of Godzilla, and it was in fact the very same 1998 “Ferris Bueller vs Godzilla” movie that I had been reminded of.

    The only “sane” thing I saw was when Godzilla had the cab in it’s mouth, Ferris Bueller notices an energized power cord outside the cab’s window, reaches out and jabs it into Godzilla’s gums, causing the cab to be spit out from the gum irritation. “Ferris Bueller,” actually Matthew Broderick, was playing the part of “Dr. Niko Tatopoulos.” The tie in character that the story was built around.

    Geolurking Movie Rating:

    Here’s hoping that the 2014 version of Godzilla fits the fans expectations. I do know that some of the set involves a mocked up Japanese fishing village, and the interior of a commuter train set against a greenscreen background for later addition of CGI. No idea what the creature will look like. Some of the older B/W movies used close up of iguanas in order to represent dinosaurs, and the typical representation of T-Rex and Allosaurus required them to have broken tails or spines in order to walk as presented in the movie. Even the much vaunted Jurrasic Park took a bit of artistic license with the representation of two fighing dinosaurs that were millions of years apart archeologically…

    In the film, Spinosaurus was portrayed as larger and more powerful than Tyrannosaurus: in a scene depicting a battle between the two resurrected predators, Spinosaurus emerges victorious by snapping the tyrannosaur’s neck.

    When in fact, the build of T-Rex was much more bulky than Spinosaurus, which is noted as having less torsion resistance in it’s musculature and jaw design. Most likely being a fish eater.

    • Agree – the top one looks like a normal lizard to me. Even if it was a dinosaur, why would it be a raptor? (Sighs)

  5. Hi from a very busy Spica!
    No i did not forget Vc completely, i just have so much work to get done rl.
    An OT question. I recieved a stone as a present. It is possibly a meteorite which fell onto a roof terasse in Linz Austria.
    Does anyone have any knowledge if this could be a meteorite?

    And just to prove i am really busy… i got to drive one of my daughters and some friends to Vienna in an hour.

      • Hi Spica! Good to see you. I’d agree with DFM’s questions. Meteorites are usually heavy – the ones I’ve seen have signs of melt over all surfaces – from the heat of entry into the atmosphere. This stone appears to have that – but so can industrial waste. The fact that it landed on a terrace seems to point to it being a meteorite. Have a good time in Vienna.

        • Hi Talla. Oh forgot it landed with a huge big crash and was extremely hot even 1 mins later when the guy came out of his penthouse to see what happened.

        • The big crash and the heat make it sound like a meteorite but they are usually heavy. The only thing to do is get it tested by someone who knows what to look for in meteorites.

      • And, ( my daughters will kill me if they ever read this because they are timid). One reason for my absence were celebrations, my youngest managed to get her A- level… called Matura in Austria… and she did it with only 1s. ( Best grade possible) and not only for her Matura but … she never recieved anything less in her papers ever since she started school, and my oldest just managed to get her English Matura and got a 1 too. ( She dropped out of school and is now doing it in evening lessons) and she is on her way to Barcelona right now, thats why i took her to the airport in Vienna.

  6. good morning everyone, happy to see some sunshine and temperature above 10ºC here in south Iceland 🙂

    going to hike what I call a lazy weekend mountain, something around here in grimsnes, around 500m high. all are volcanoes, so it always feels extra nice to visit their old top craters.

    Anyways, Iceland is pretty quiet these last days…. guess it got tired of all that action around Vatnajokull…

  7. Finally – we get a little break in the clouds to see Shiveluch. A fair chunk of dome collapsed as suspected. Lots of deposits in the notch between the dome and the old crater wall.

  8. Mental reminder… If someone asks you for help to move heavy furniture ask when it is going to happen.
    Yesterday me and couple of friends spent the evening looking at vintage cars driving past while drinking cold beers. So, allready dehydrated I ended up on ten minutes notice lifting heavy things up 3 sets of stairs in plus 30C temperature. I came close to fainting before we were done.
    So, now I am sitting eating highly salted tomates to get my electrolytes back up. Hint, if salt does not taste salty, then your electrolyte levels are shot to hell and you should not drink water, you should eat salt. Because if you drink water the water will just leave your body with even more electrolytes. About when salt starts tasting salt again can you drink water.

    I am going to write something, but I am slow today… So it might be a few hours before I am done.
    Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

  9. For British readers – last episode of the Rise of the Continents tonight on Eurasia. 9.00pm on BBC2, straight after the new Top Gear! 😀

      • Well, if it was a straight choice then footy, no questions. But… you can get an hour of the Brit hillbillies and then the footy so no problems. I’m just still reeling that the BBC is not showing (or not allowed to show) Nick Cave 😦

  10. Hi

    This is the update for El Hierro for June 2013.

    All events before June 1st are shown as small dots. The events from March 17th 2013 to May 31st are in magenta. Prior events are in yellow.

    Color of the quakes shows date (see left scale on colorbar)

    Terrain elevation is shown on the right side of colorbar.

    Magnitude is proportional to circle size and to circle size x 8 for the current earthquake.

    The video is made of several parts with some rotations to show the earthquakes under several perspectives.

    The title bar in the first part shows on the right side the date of the event and the hour with magnitude.

    To summarize :

    – yellow = earthquakes prior to March 18th 2013
    – magenta = earthquakes between March 18th and May 31st
    – Filled circles = earthquakes between June 1st and June 30th (with magnitude)

    I do not “see” any particular pattern, activity has been quite low. However there is the hint of a small cluster below Tanganasoga.

    Data from NOAA and IGN
    Made on Gnu Octave 3.2.4 (Ubuntu) – avconv for the video.

    “Set a course from the old Dog Star / A point to the north of Achernar / Sleight your ship to the verge extreme / And dead ahead shines Thamber’s gleam” – Jack Vance – The Killing Machine

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