Earthquakes and volcanic eruption in Ethiopia

UPDATE: I’ve updated the sat IR image below, plus added some Google Earth imagery below. The ash plume has hit the stratosphere and has now extended to more than 1000 miles from the point of origin. It looks more and more like the volcano is Nabro, which has not erupted in recent history. – Anthony

Eruption under way in N Ethiopia and Eritrea region. Think Nabro or Dubbi. Moderate earthquake swarm up to 5.7 ‘s going on there today. Latest sat photo showing eruption:


Here’s the USGS Earthquake Map:

Here’s the 5.7 magnitude Earthquake Details

  • This event has been reviewed by a seismologist.
Magnitude 5.7
Location 13.530°N, 41.625°E
Depth 9.9 km (6.2 miles)
Distances 133 km (82 miles) WNW of Assab, Eritrea

200 km (124 miles) SW of Al Hudaydah, Yemen

233 km (144 miles) E of Mekele, Ethiopia

353 km (219 miles) SE of ASMARA, Eritrea

Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 17.1 km (10.6 miles); depth +/- 2.8 km (1.7 miles)
Parameters NST=113, Nph=114, Dmin=320.6 km, Rmss=0.88 sec, Gp= 72°,

M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=6

Event ID usc00045xc

More on the earthquake swarm in the region:

Commenter Brian D. writes in Tips and Notes:

With two 5.7′s just before the eruption, and a sat image showing a rather tall plume in the equatorial region, wonder how high and strong this bad boy is. Nabro has no known modern eruptions. Dubbi has 2(1861, 1400). Man, did this one come out of nowhere.

Also h/t to Okie333

UPDATE: Here’s Google Earth imagery of Nabro


I’ve checked MODIS Terra and Aqua imagery and there’s no good imagery yet, if anyone spots any, leave a comment.


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Yet more volcanoes?
Certain proof of the dangers
of global warming.
Fewer Hurricanes,
small warmth; but volcanoes are
nicely alarming.


Quakes are close to the surface. Between 2 and 15 km deep.

Volcanoes are not
caused by emissions, you say?
This we can conceal:
we need disasters
to make people recognise
climate change is real.

Here’s some background reading about the East Africa Rift Zone.
It’s a fascinating area, a new plate boundary is being formed, and it’s mostly doing it above water.
My guess is that the eruption is not very violent and won’t lift sulfates into the stratosphere. I wouldn’t lean to hard on my guess if I were you….
From the article:

The East African Rift System (EARS) is one the geologic wonders of the world, a place where the earth’s tectonic forces are presently trying to create new plates by splitting apart old ones. In simple terms, a rift can be thought of as a fracture in the earth’s surface that widens over time, or more technically, as an elongate basin bounded by opposed steeply dipping normal faults. Geologists are still debating exactly how rifting comes about, but the process is so well displayed in East Africa (Ethiopia-Kenya-Uganda-Tanzania) that geologists have attached a name to the new plate-to-be; the Nubian Plate makes up most of Africa, while the smaller plate that is pulling away has been named the Somalian Plate (Figure 1). These two plates are moving away form each other and also away from the Arabian plate to the north. The point where these three plates meet in the Afar region of Ethiopia forms what is called a triple-junction. However, all the rifting in East Africa is not confined to the Horn of Africa; there is a lot of rifting activity further south as well, extending into Kenya and Tanzania and Great Lakes region of Africa.

Leon Brozyna

Great Rift Valley.
Wonder how much damage this one will do…

Since there has been a real concern in the past about the SAL (Saharan Air Layer), or the dust that blows into the Atlantic (it suppresses the formation of hurricanes during the Cape Verde season), is there a possibility that this will cause less hurricanes to form this season?

I think, it’s probably the Dubbi Volcano, after comparing the satellite picture of the plume with Google Map. This volcano has a history of eruptions with both ash and lava flows.
This area, the Afar Depression is in one of the most inhospitable and hotest places on Earth even without lava flows.
Lets see if this plume also affects flights.


Volcanoes occur at a higher rate in times of low solar activity.
We should be expecting this.
Has absolutely nothing to do with climate.

Not far from the Afar depression (depending on how you define “far”). As many here no doubt know, the Afar depression is an area where the land is lower than sea level, caused by part of Africa splitting away. The only thing keeping the sea from filling this “new ocean being born” as it is often called is a chain of mountains along the coast. It has flooded before due to past sea level rise(s) leaving evaporated salts mined by locals.
Why do I mention this? At some point, as the rifting continues, seismic cracks, erosion, and/or sea rise will again flood the depression maybe permanently this time. Most people expect this to take a long time but a recent earthquake a few years back showed that big cracks can appear very quickly in the region.
I have heard that a small lake in the area is actually maintained by salty ground water intrusion from the sea but this isn’t fast enough to overcome the. evaporation from the scorching heat of the area and flood the depression. So I have often wondered if, one day, an earthquake could open more fissures that would result in the depression finally filling in a human noticable time scale. Is this plausible?


The Great Rift Valley would make a great sci-fi thriller subject, without stepping on anybodys climate toes.
Can you picture the rift opening at 75 mph, sending ripples that jack the ME 10’s of thousands of feet into the air?
The formerly arid and baked Sahara becomes the African Alps.


some people are so stupid this has nothing to do with global warming!!!! Deadman you are not that smart!

Two volcanoes making headlines at once, on the heels of Iceland a couple weeks ago… Maybe these can keep the temperature anomalies down for awhile as La Nina fades…

John F. Hultquist

Snake Oil Baron says:
June 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm
. . . would result in the depression finally filling in a human noticable time scale. Is this plausible?

What sort of material (hard rock or uncemented sediments) might the fissures be in? What is the elevation difference between the sea and the floor of the rift? Say it does happen – where can we safely watch from?
Stories of interest:

Brian D

Kizimen on the Kamchatka Peninsula is starting to roar again this weekend as well. Plumes hitting 20,000 with an expectation of plumes to hit 50,000.
Then you have the Chilean volcano spreading ash all over the S. Hemisphere. Making for some beautiful sunsets.

R. Shearer

Meanwhile, volcanic ash from Chile is grounding flights in Australia and NZ.

Just a layman’s question here, but how is the ash plume going to affect traffic in the Red Sea and the gulf of Aden? Is there any evidence of earthquake damage to the oil pipelines in the area?

Brian D

Looks like the plume is making its way over to Khartoum, Sudan with over 5+ million people there.

Christchurch is not yet over their earthquake swarm either – two today – one a week ago.
4.3-magnitude quake strikes near Darfield 13 June 11
Christchurch hit by 5.5 earthquake 13 June 11
Significant aftershock rattles Christchurch residents
By Eveline Harvey 9:28 AM Monday Jun 6, 11


It is still before dawn there, probably won’t get any kind of meaningful reports until after daybreak.


It’s a beautiful place to fly over: (Google Earth)

jeff says:
June 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm
“some people are so stupid this has nothing to do with global warming!!!! Deadman you are not that smart!”
I think the point is satirical–global warming is often being cited in papers and magazines as a cause of earthquakes and volcanoes using dubious mechanisms such as the supposedly massive weight of the “rising” sea levels or the weight of storm surges caused by non compliance with the Kyoto protocols.

Anthony Scalzi

Go to the Erruptions blog at Big Think for more information.


Isn’t that area where Australopithecus afarensis, an extinct hominid lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago?
Most of our ancestors came from the Rift valley: we survived quite a lot more than “Global Warming”.

Brian D

BTW Anthony, thanks for the frontpage story here on WUWT. Not everyday a regular joe gets a story in. But I did figure this would be a potentially big story.
The very fact that we are seeing some of these volcanoes have a quick swarm, and then just explode without much time is incredible. Goes to show you can’t trust that you’ll be given the time to leave when you are living near, or just visiting them.

John F. Hultquist says:
June 12, 2011 at 7:09 pm
Snake Oil Baron says:
June 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm
. . . would result in the depression finally filling in a human noticable time scale. Is this plausible?”
“What sort of material (hard rock or uncemented sediments) might the fissures be in? What is the elevation difference between the sea and the floor of the rift? Say it does happen – where can we safely watch from?”
While the depression, I seem to recall, is basalt like that of the Atlantic rift forming the new plate material as the Atlantic expands, I am not sure what the mountains between the depression and the Red Sea are.
If there was a major crack (or several linking ones) it would be something to see but I suspect it would happen more as an increase in water intrusion such as at that salt water lake. People would notice the lake level rising and at first it would only be on the local news. As it continued, some geologist would realize what was happening and the rest of the world would take notice. Over months or years, as the depression filled, the water would cool the area and reduce the rapid evaporation and water that flows in from the south west would stop drying out before getting to the lake, as now happens. These events would speed up the rate of fill.
One might speculate that the growing weight of water might add to the tectonic forces in the region (since the depression floor is already thinner that most continental plates) which might trigger more quakes but that might be a long shot.
If all of this happened in a few years it would have a major affect on the local climate. One of the hottest places on earth would cool and moisture would be pumped into the air. Unfortunately an important place for researching paleontology and geology would become inaccessible but biological and ecological effects would make for some interesting research.
Some people have suggested using a tunnel to flood the depression on purpose to generate hydropower and create an inland salt lake but it has always been too controversial.

Brian D

Christchurch just got nailed with 6.0. Man, those poor folks. I’d be leaving that city.

Fergus T. Ambrose

Oil extraction in the Saudi kingdom, Sudan, and Eritrea most certainly lessened the quake and volcanims with pressure reduction.

Wow, I commented on the previous volcano posting and go mow the yard & weedeater and here’s another one! Yeah, the New Zealand situation is a bit nervous. As is Arkansas! Kamchatka has been fairly regularly honking tall plumes since 2008. Quiets down for a few weeks or so then shoots off a few plumes. Be interesting to see what the coming eclipse will reveal about any increase in SO2 in the stratosphere now. Being that Russia will have a good look.


Going to need some serious cracking or tsunami to get water into that place.
Millmeters of sea rise / decade isn’t going to get the job done in our lifetime.
MSM hasn’t picked up the story yet.


How interesting: Sun just went blank again.

James Allison

Just had another decent shake (mag. 6.0) here in Christchurch NZ. Most of the buildings that would have collapsed had already collapsed during the Feb 22 6.1 quake.

mike sphar

I wonder why it is a US map that is referenced. I know who pays for that. It is afterall in a different continent in the Old World. Shouldn’t the Brits or perhaps the Chinese be funding this stuff ? I guess I am in a state of mind to look for ways to reduce government expenses.


Warwick, NZ just received a 6.0 at 9.6km and 5.2 at 11km depth a few minutes ago.
May have been near Christchurch again but not sure about that.


Dunno about Australopithecus afarensis but Ethiopia is the ancestral home of coffee. Ethiopian genes from antiquity are extremely wide spread, ranging from northern Europe to Melanesia.

James of the West

Seems to me that the sesmic and volcanic activity occurs after a solar geomagnetic activity spike when sun calms down rapidly….. We had the solar flare event just a few days ago. NOTE – this is a non scientific and unchecked observation by me so it probably can be falsified by data.

Brian D

You can see the plume on the visible sat at the link provided for the sat images. Impressive!


Ok, we have a visible satellite pic now, very obvious volcanic plume:

Patrick Davis

As has been mentioned, near-ish to the Afar region. Interesting place, and it the hottest place on earth. Salt is still mined there. Hope it settles or at least the plume stays where it is, my wife is in Addis Ababa right now.


At least one person reporting a plume height of 50km! For comparison, Pinatubo was around 35km altitude.

Patrick Davis

“AntonyIndia says:
June 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm”
Yes, “Lucy”. And her remains are in a museum in Addis Ababa.

fred nerk

I think Deadman must be a Politician or a Watermelon(green on the outside red in the middle) either way he’s not real bright. Reminds me of the song How Does it Feel to be Thick as a Brick


Plume is almost at Khartoum, Sudan now. It is moving pretty fast, obviously in the stratosphere in order to move that quickly.

We should remember that the Christchurch earthquake swarm started on September 3rd – by mid Sept. Govt expert scientists were calling it “textbook” and “fading”. How wrong was that.
Prior to Sept 3rd the Christchurch area had not been noted for earthquakes. You might feel shakes from further afield like the Alpine Fault region – but Christchurch was pretty quiet.
So post- Sept 3rd is a whole new ballgame – rolling on and on.

Brian D

Crosspatch, I think that was 50k as in feet.


Is there some metric for total volcanic activity or intensity? Is it graphed over time somewhere? Seems like we might be on some sort of spike on that metric.


James of the West says:
June 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm
Not a bad idea at all. Big Flare, big lull. Rock has a property where if you put pressure against it, then release that pressure, the material that moved falls off.

fred nerk says:
June 12, 2011 at 9:04 pm

I think Deadman must be a Politician or a Watermelon(green on the outside red in the middle) either way he’s not real bright.

You might what to check his blog before you make that assertion. Click his name in his comments, or click Consider a little research before commenting, please.

James Allison

Warwick Hughes says:
June 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm
Somewhat OT. Further to what you say the only guy who has had a modicum of success at predicting future earthquakes in NZ since Sept 3rd 7.1 quake is a Kiwi fella called Ken Ring. His theories about short term weather and quake predictions are based on lunar activities. He was hounded by the MSM and so called Govt expert Geo scientists as a publicity seeking charlatan and scaremonger. The negative publicity made him go into hiding. Shame on the sanctimonious pisspot scientific orthodoxy and MSM for not at least allowing him a proper hearing.

James Allison

For those who knock Deadman suggest you visit his site before firing your next slavo.


It was 50km but it is now been clarified as the width of the plume at the time, not the altitude. There is an initial ash advisory that puts it at about 30,000 feed (FL300) or about 10km altitude.
Note, this eruption “came out of nowhere” and is in a very sparsely populated area. There probably won’t be any webcams pointed at this one.