When Volcanoes Attack… White Island Edition

Guest commentary by David Middleton

Aerial photo of White Island after the eruption (CNN).

I’m sure many WUWT readers have read Eric Worrall’s post, the headlines and seen the videos.

All volcanoes are dangerous

I would normally follow up “Volcanoes are dangerous” with “No schist Sherlock”… Then again, I’ve seen idiot tourists crossing safety barriers at Grand Canyon NP and eating a picnic lunch in the forest at Grand Tetons NP – right under a sign that said, “No Open Food Containers. Bears Present”. There’s a reason the park gift shop sells fire extinguisher-sized pepper spray dispensers.

No active volcano is safe. Neither are dormant volcanoes. White Island was exceptionally unsafe.

I ran across this article some time ago, when researching a possible post on volcanoes:

ERIK KLEMETTI
SCIENCE
08.06.12
How Dangerous is Visiting New Zealand’s White Island?

THERE HAS ALWAYS been a fragile relationship between volcanoes and tourism.

[…]

However, the danger can appear to be low in some places but in reality, you are literally putting your lives in the hands of tour operators when you make the visit.

One of the best examples of this might be White Island in New Zealand. Off the northern coast of the North Island in the Bay of Plenty, White Island is an active volcano that is part of the volcanic arc that stretches from the Kermadec Islands to the north all the way to Ruapehu in the south. Most of the volcanic edifice sits underwater, but the main crater is above water, sitting out like a sentinel in the Bay. Boat tours of White Island occur daily from Whakatane, where tourists can go to the island and actually walk inside the main crater – which, in theory, is nothing more hazardous than taking a stroll through the Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone or Bumpass Hell at Lassen. However, unlike those locations, White Island has erupted recently – in fact, between 1998-2001, the volcano produced multiple VEI 2-3 eruptions and is one of the most active in New Zealand.

Does this mean that tours shouldn’t happen? It is a tricky question. I was in New Zealand in 2009 and considered taking the White Island tour. However, the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me that these tours, although offering warning to tourists of the potential dangers, are potentially the perfect cocktail for a Galeras-like tragedy. By making the visits to the White Island crater seem routine, it can lull the tour operators and tourists into a false sense of security, much like what happened with Stanley Williams and the other volcanologists who visited the crater of Galeras in January 1993. In the case of Galeras, the volcanologists were caught off guard by a relatively small explosion in the crater, leading to the deaths of 6 of the science team and 3 tourists. Visiting White Island is almost exactly the same as climbing down into the crater at Galeras, and although GNS Science keeps close tabs on the activity at White Island, the 1993 tragedy at Galeras shows that even seasoned veterans of volcano monitoring can be fooled or volcanoes can erupt with little to no notice (such as what White Island did in 2000) … and unlike the Tongariro Crossing that passes between two active volcanoes, the White Island tours go into the active volcano’s crater.

[…]

For the White Island tours, people are given protective equipment like gas masks and helmets, but if even a small phreatic (steam-driven) explosion were to happen when a group was in the crater, the consequences could be catastrophic. Will it take a half dozen deaths at White Island to change the culture, or is that merely the cost of being adventurous? It is hard to say.

[…]

Wired

Erik Klemetti is a volcanologist and associate professor of geosciences at Denison University. All volcanoes are dangerous, even the dormant ones. Volcanoes like White Island are particularly dangerous. Unlike Yellowstone or Kilauea, there are no safe areas. Yellowstone and Kilauea are intensely monitored. There are areas that are open to tourism and hiking and areas that are not. Back in 2006, we did the crater hike at Kilauea and then, the next day, did the Blue Hawaiian helicopter tour, flying over an active skylight. That was an awe-inspiring sight.

However, White Island is nothing like Yellowstone or Kīlauea.

Why New Zealand’s White Island Erupted Without Warning
Steam volcanic eruptions like this one can only be detected seconds or minutes in advance

By Shane Cronin, The Conversation US on December 9, 2019

The following essay is reprinted with permission fromThe ConversationThe Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.

[…]

White Island is one of several volcanoes in New Zealand that can produce sudden explosive eruptions at any time. In this case, magma is shallow, and the heat and gases affect surface and ground water to form vigorous hydrothermal systems.

In these, water is trapped in pores of rocks in a super-heated state. Any external process, such as an earthquake, gas input from below, or even a change in the lake water level can tip this delicate balance and release the pressure on the hot and trapped water.

The resulting steam-driven eruption, also called a hydrothermal or phreatic eruption, can happen suddenly and with little to no warning. The expansion of water into steam is supersonic in speed and the liquid can expand to 1,700 times its original volume. This produces catastrophic impacts.

[…]

Monitoring and warning for hydrothermal eruptions is a huge challenge. We don’t normally see these eruptions coming, no matter how much we would like to. Many systems are already “primed” for such events, but the triggers are poorly understood.

[…]

Scientific American

Shane Cronin is a volcanologist and professor of Earth science at the University of Auckland. Phreatic eruptions are extremely dangerous.

Phreatic eruptions are steam-driven explosions that occur when water beneath the ground or on the surface is heated by magmlava, hot rocks, or new volcanic deposits (for example, tephra and pyroclastic-flow deposits). The intense heat of such material (as high as 1,170 ° C for basaltic lava) may cause water to boil and flash to steam, thereby generating an explosion of steam, water, ash, blocks, and bombs.

USGS

According to Brown et al., 2017, there have been at least 278,368 fatalities related to volcanic activity since 1500 AD. As expected, the vast majority (99.7%) of these deaths were among people living in the vicinity of volcanoes. The next largest group was tourism-related.

Table 6 from Brown et al., 2017

GroupIncidentsNumber of fatalities
Tourists or tourism-related113561
Scientists2267
Miners6108
Media630
Emergency response personnel557

Tourism-related fatalities

Many of these deaths resulted from complacency and/or ignoring safety protocols.

Persistent volcanic activity can result in hazard footprints that rarely extend beyond the crater. Such regular activity can engender complacency in tourists and guides, although small changes in activity, topography or wind direction can change the hazard footprint. At least 22 eruptive (and 5 indirect) fatal incidents occurred more than 1 year after the eruption start date, commonly at volcanoes known for regular activity. Long-lived eruptions affect analysis of relationships with VEI, as the VEI in GVP (2013) normally represents the tephra volume over the full length of the eruption. Ninety-one of the 113 incidents (81%) occurred during quiescence or low-explosivity eruptions of VEI 0–2.

[…]

Tourist co-operation is a requirement for safety in any volcanic setting, with visitors being relied upon to heed warnings and exercise appropriate caution. The 23 fatalities at Yellowstone occurred between 1890 (Whittlesey, 1995) and 2016 (Mettler, 2016), where deaths resulted from immersion in the near boiling water of thermal pools. Whittlesey (1995) describes these as accidental falls and misadventure – where the victims believed the pools swimmable. Of these fatalities, nine (36%) were children younger than 10 years old. Educational and safety information is provided and safe boardwalks through thermal areas have been installed, yet injuries are still frequent as visitors choose to engage in risky behaviour (Lalasz, 2013). Despite the frequency of injuries, only two fatalities are recorded in the last 30 years at Yellowstone, suggesting safety measures have been largely successful and the visitor population has become more risk averse at this volcano. Seventeen deaths are recorded at Rotorua, New Zealand since 1946, of which at least seven were tourists. These fatalities occurred primarily at hot pools through quiescent gas emissions. The decrease in incidents over time seen at Yellowstone is not seen here, with seven incidents since 2000. Recommendations were made in 2010 aimed at improving safety at geothermal pools (Bassindale and Hosking, 2011).

Brown et al., 2017

Tourism should have never been allowed on White Island.

Science-related fatalities

Professional geologists know they are risking their lives when they study volcanoes up close – But that’s their job, their chosen profession. And sometimes they pay the ultimate price for trying to increase our knowledge of how volcanoes work. Erik Klemetti mentioned the 1993 Galeras incident, in which 9 members of a 16 person expedition were killed.

USGS volcanologist David Johnston was killed in the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

David Johnston, a 30-year-old volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, was swept away by the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens on the morning of May 18, 1980. As one of the first members of the U.S. Geological Survey monitoring team to arrive at Mount St. Helens, and the scientist in charge of volcanic-gas studies, Dave spent long hours working on and close to the mountain. Ironically, he was caught at an observation post that was considered relatively safe. From his experience with active Alaskan volcanoes, Dave understood better than most the hazards of explosive volcanism. At the same time, he repeatedly voiced the conviction that adequate hazard evaluations require accepting the dangers of on-site monitoring of active volcanic processes. The volcano-monitoring effort of which Dave was part helped persuade the authorities first to limit access to the area around the volcano, and then to resist heavy pressure to reopen it, thereby holding the May 18 death toll to a few tens instead of hundreds or thousands.

USGS

Volcanologists and Katia &Maurice Krafft and Harry Glicken were killed by a pyrocalstic flow from Mount Unzen in 1991…

In June 1991, while filming eruptions at Mount Unzen (Japan), they were caught in a pyroclastic flow, which unexpectedly swept out of the channel that previous smaller flows had been following and onto the ridge they were standing on. They were killed instantly along with 41 other people, including fellow volcanologist Harry Glicken, several firefighters, and journalists also covering the eruptions.

Wikipedia

Brown et al., 2017 found that 67 deaths were related to scientific activities in and around active volcanoes. Almost half of these deaths occurred in the 1952 destruction of the Japanese oceanographic research vessel Kaiyo Maru No. 5 while observing a massive eruption of Myōjin-shō in the Bayonnaise Rocks region of a large submarine caldera.

Volcanoes are dangerous… Even to people who understand the risks.

Politician-related fatalities

Whakaari/White Island: Police and WorkSafe launch investigations
Thomas Manch and Henry Cooke
Dec 10 2019

[…]

The dead include tourists and tour guides, who were among 47 people on the island to view the volcano crater that afternoon. 

A spokeswoman for WorkSafe said the investigation would focus on the harm and the loss of life.

WorkSafe New Zealand has opened a health and safety investigation into the harm and loss of life caused by the White Island eruption.

“As the workplace health and safety regulator and administrator of the Adventure Activities Regulations, WorkSafe will be investigating and considering all of the relevant work health and safety issues surrounding this tragic event.”

A day after the eruption, politicians are facing questions on why tours of the volcanic island — which had in recent weeks appeared closer to eruption — were allowed. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said “bigger questions” would be asked and answered about the death of multiple tourists on Whakaari/White Island. 

The prime minister, along with Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, were unwilling to comment on the matter on Tuesday afternoon.

[…]

Stuff…

The only people who should be answering questions are the politicians who allowed this to happen. The geology of White Island was not a mystery or a secret.

Geology of White Island

Whakaari/White Island “is an active composite stratovolcano in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, that comprises many small volume (<0·1 km3) andesite–dacite lava flows and pyroclastic deposits with phenocryst contents of ∼15–44%”.  It is located in the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ). This is the youngest and most active part of the 22 million year old (22 ma) Cenozoic continental margin arc volcanic system of North Island, New Zealand. It’s actually two over-lapping composite stratocones, the extinct Ngatoro Cone and very active Central Cone (Cole et al., 2000) .

Figure 1 from Cole et al., 2000. “Map of the Bay of Plenty. Offshore faults and main structural elements are from Wright (1992). VR, Volckner Rocks. Inset map of Taupo Volcanic Zone shows location of White Island and other andesitic volcanoes mentioned in the text. Thick dashed line in inset map represents the southern limit of inferred en-echelon cross-fracture structures (Wright, 1992).

“Safe” is an antonym to White Island.

White Island is New Zealand’s most active volcano and in historical times (the last 150 years) has been characterized by sporadic eruptive episodes featuring small phreatic, phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions, associated with extensive fumarolic activity. The last eruptive episode on White Island began in 1976, with numerous small phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions (Houghton & Nairn, 1989). Olivine-bearing basaltic andesite bombs and blocks were erupted in March 1977 (Cole & Graham, 1987), and it is these samples that are compared and contrasted with the prehistoric lavas exposed in outcrops on Ngatoro and Central cones. The most recent eruptive episode ceased in 1992, although small phreatic explosions continue, and the level of activity is now (1999) again increasing.

Cole et al., 2000

When it comes to volcanoes, these are really bad words:

  1. Phreatic
  2. Phreatomagmatic
  3. Strombolian
  4. Olivine-bearing basaltic andesite bombs and blocks

Under most conditions, Strombolian eruptions are relatively safe to watch; but there’s no safe place on White Island from which to view one.

References

Brown, S.K., Jenkins, S.F., Sparks, R.S.J. et al. “Volcanic fatalities database: analysis of volcanic threat with distance and victim classification”. J Appl. Volcanol.6, 15 (2017) doi:10.1186/s13617-017-0067-4

Cole, J. Wh., T. Thordarson, R. M. Burt. “Magma Origin and Evolution of White Island (Whakaari) Volcano, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand”. Journal of Petrology, Volume 41, Issue 6, June 2000, Pages 867–895, https://doi.org/10.1093/petrology/41.6.867

Featured Image

Phreatic eruption
“Phreatic eruption at the summit of Mount St. Helens, Washington. Hundreds of these steam-driven explosive eruptions occurred as magma steadily rose into the cone and boiled groundwater.” (USGS)
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213 thoughts on “When Volcanoes Attack… White Island Edition

  1. David,
    Thank you for this detailed and informative post. WUWT at its scientific best but in such tragic circumstances.
    It really beggars belief that such close-up tourism into the heart of a very active volcano continued into the later stages of the 20th century, leave alone the 21st. Appropriate risk analysis – so prevalent in modern society and business – apparently absent. It’s a mad world.

    • “Appropriate risk analysis – so prevalent in modern society and business – apparently absent.”

      What does that even mean? guessing when a vulcano might erupt?

      People know there were risks choose to take those risks.
      I don’t see any problem and i don’t think it should be forbidden.
      Others choose to do other “radical” with flying suits, mountain climbing and other risky sports. Sometimes it ends bad.

      • The term used in safety is “As Far As Is Reasonably Practical” and – your country may vary – you are required by bucket loads of laws to ensure you provide a low risk environment for people.

        So you put up a warning sign, but people are stupid and can’t read. So the government body says “could you have put up a fence that would have prevented people walking into the area? Fences are cheaper than human life? Fences are practical. Why did you not put up a fence?”

        So you put up a fence.

        Then someone climbs over the fence and gets eaten.

        Then the argument becomes that you can’t accidentally climb over a fence, the idiot must have had clear intend to place themselves in danger and it is Darwin Award time.

        So people will do stupid things and if they really really want to climb the fence there is little we can do to stop them.

        The point in this context is that it isn’t just people really really wanting to climb the metaphorical fence into a live volcano, but there are third parties willing to assist them in this task and profit from the experience.

        • Delivering boatloads of people to a deathtrap every day if they can pony up $260 each is exactly not analogous to your scenario.

        • When we went with an official guide to the glacier face at Franz Josef, NZ, the guide had to stop a man from lifting the safety fence line to let his children through “to see the glacier”. The guide association maintains this safety fence, because almost every year, somebody is killed when the glacier (as glaciers do) collapses its face. The tourist office in Franz Josef keeps a board of ‘horror stories’ of people killed because they didn’t respect the power of Nature, and request (that’s all they can do) that tourists do not approach the glacier face without a guide who knows what is safe – and what isn’t!
          But – there are always idiots…

          • The endless supply of idiots would seem to cast doubt on Darwin… Idiots should be extinct by now… 😉

      • I’m also tired of having government try to protect me from myself. Each restriction takes away more of our freedom. With freedom comes responsibility of assuming risks, and sometimes it ends poorly.

        I recently watched Solo, a documentary showing Alex Honnold’s climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any equipment except chalk. It would have only taken a small gust of wind to push him off the face of that cliff. There are things you just can’t control. But he did it anyway, and succeeded. Somebody is going to follow him, and at some point fall. The more he does it, at some point probability will kick in and he will fall off due to either a mistake or something outside his control. But I think I’d rather Darwin be the enforcer rather than yet another government intrusion on our freedom.

        But these challenges, and adventurism is what makes life worthwhile. Being safe all the time isn’t in our dna. I don’t appreciate people telling us what we can or can’t do.

        In the United States, if you drive an automobile, you might be the lucky winner and be one of the 40,000 people killed each year. Google came up with an estimate of 1.25 million globally. This volcano only killed 14 people who were warned of the danger. Most of the time, nothing will happen. These people died following their curiosity getting up close and personal with a volcano. It is sad, but I don’t think government should outlaw it.

  2. My friend and former student Reid Blackburn, photographer on assignment for the Vancouver Columbian, was among the at least 57 people killed by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which I observed from a safe distance. The plume appeared to reach the stratosphere.

    Shortly thereafter, I rode in a WAARNG Chinook around the scene of devastation. The previously Fuji-like symmetrical cone had committed seppuku, wiping out vast tracks of forest in the process. Former cascades were steam falls. Rivers were mudflows. The power of even a fairly low VEI eruption is awesome and terrible.

    • The day after the Mount St. Helens eruption, I wrote “May 18, 1980” with my finger in the ash coating on the trunk of my car and took a photo of it. Little did I know that in doing so, the date would became permanently scratched in the car paint. We had the best garden ever that year.

    • I flew from London to SF about a week after the eruption and had a good view of the mountain top; it was, as Americans would say ‘an awesome’ sight with a part of the mountain missing. I still have somewhere a bit bleared photo of it. Most of the next fortnight I was up in California mountains (Grass Valley) north east of Sacramento.

  3. All I can say, after living in NZ for 10 years, multiple quakes where I was, literally, shaken out of bed, rocked on the 9th floor of hi-rise building, volcanic eruptions, working for DoC etc, I love the place and people. If I had money and didn’t have to work, I’d go back. However, JA, the current PM, is making that decision, no CHOICE, impossible.

    Not much better in Aus TBH.

    • Patrick MJD
      December 11, 2019 at 2:54 am

      As a geologist living in NZ I just had to go to visit White Island a few years ago. A wonderful and unforgettable experience. Yes, it is risky but informed adults can decide for themselves if they want to take a risk. We do that every day when we hop into our cars or go for a swim in calm or rough conditions.

      We should be able to have that choice…I would be happy to go back to White Island (but maybe only on a level 1 alert situation) in the future. Many would not which is fine. The government should keep out of this…let responsible adults decide for themselves.

      • The problem is that the vast majority of responsible adults aren’t even remotely informed about these sorts of risks.

        • David Middleton
          December 11, 2019 at 5:35 am

          Yes, and no I think.

          We were given a safety briefing before going on the trip and had to sign a waiver of some sort.

          Everyone knew it was an active volcano…it is constantly steaming which is part of the attraction. I would think that most visitors were more scared of volcanoes than I was as they would have just believed the Hollywood disaster movies they are constantly fed.

          We all knew it was a risk but were prepared to take the chance of being in a potentially very dangerous situation for a few hours…and were happy to pay for that! The chances that you are going to be involved in one of the infrequent eruptions were pretty small.

          It’s a bit like a lottery I guess. I still think we should be able to decide what level of risk we as individuals are prepared to accept. It should not be left up to the government hand wringers.

          There’s no doubt that we’re a funny species!

          • What about the rescuers? Should your acceptance of level of risk involve others? Or do you take risk to rescuers as included in your acceptance?

          • What about the taxpayers who will provide compensation to victims and their families? This is automatic in NZ

        • This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. The whole point of visiting an “active volcano” would be that it’s exciting because it’s dangerous.

          I also don’t know a lot about mountaineering, but I know that climbing K2 is dangerous.

        • “David Middleton December 11, 2019 at 5:35 am”

          I agree. I guess I was lucky because two weeks of so after I arrived in NZ there was a major quake off the Taranaki coast, which shook Wellington, and then Mt. Ruapehu erupted. So I did a little study. Wondered why the Taranaki coast (And other coast lines) was shaped the way it is…and went from there. Even so, when a quake starts you pause and think “Is this the big one?”…and then everything returns to normal.

      • Exactly.

        Funny how a guy like this author who constantly rails at liberal government intrusion into private behavior when it comes to not only climate related stuff but virtually everything as a dedicated Trumpster .. yet his knee jerk reaction to this incident is to demand that government prohibit what he personally considers unsafe visitation.

        Hypocrite much, Middleton?

        Trumpsters are the world’s biggest hypocrites.

        In this case, let people go. Make sure they are well informed of the risks. Make sure the tour operators are reasonably well prepared to prevent casualties .. and then let people govern themselves.

          • A web search would show it is an active vulcano…

            How many times people visited the island and how many times did this happened?

            People were informed and they went and they should be free to do it.

            “Trumpsters are the world’s biggest hypocrites.” stop idiotic generalizations when YOU seem to be an hypocrite, since suddenly people are responsible contrary to your mantra.

          • It’s simply a matter of the type of eruption risk and the fact that it could happen without warning. Along with the fact that activity was increasing and the alert level was just 1 notch below erupting. I have yet to find anything written by a volcanologist, that didn’t express serious concerns that White Island was a death trap.

          • We visited New Zealand from our home in Southern California at Christmas 2017. We stayed several days at Lake Okareka (near Rotorua) in a house whose owner welcomed us when we arrived. New to New Zealand, we visited many great sites in the Rotorua area. The house owner said: “You should really go visit White Island. That is the place to go.” It was too out-of-the-way for us, but it sounded like the place where adventurous people make sure they see.

          • I agree the majority,38 of the 47 of those on White Island at the time were passengers from a cruise ship , just a day outing to them.

          • Plenty of ‘volcanic experience’ tours available in that part of NZ, Im sure the greater number of ship tours travelled by bus to those locations. The difference is the safety level , this location outside of Rotorua was formed as part of major eruption to a nearby mountain in 1886. Some tourists and guides were killed there 100 years ago when it was much more active. But its been stable for some decades now, but of course the risk still isnt negligible
            https://www.waimangu.co.nz/

        • NO Duane, he is not blinded by loyalty to an elected President, he is a Geologist aware of the dangers. As both a Geologist and Air Traffic Controller (courtesy of a tour in Vietnam) I watched the events at Mt. St. Helen unfold in 1980. As an eruption was delayed, and the northward bulge because more pronounced, I contacted the FAA and advised them to issue an Emergency NOTAM to not allow overflights of Me. St. Hellen at night, and only upwind during the day. The FAA contacted the USGS, who said the type of volcanic activity they expected was of passive flows and nothing to worry about. I talked to Dave Johnston, along with another geologist friend from the University of Washington, and Dave said he was becoming greatly alarmed as we were, but the USGS was not going to budge from their view. I re-iterated the suggestion of Emergency NOTAM to the FAA and they again said no problem. Herein is a real problem: government agencies prefer the news “every thing is OK and normal” to their is an impending high probability of a disaster”, now with the notable exception of Climate Disaster. After the eruption of Mt. St. Helen my twin brother, pilot from Vietnam, and myself took my Oregon State University Professor, Cy Field, and his son, for plane ride to Mt. St. Helen. This was the day of the second large steam explosion that partially destroyed the dome in the new crater, and we were slicing downward through the crater when it blew. Greatly enjoyed by my brother and me, not so much by Professor and son.

        • Everything is about Trump isn’t it.
          Does Trump pay rent for the space he occupies in your mind?

          Hatred rots the mind and destroys the soul. Case in point, Duane.

          • Trump and Trumpsters make everything in life about Trump, and satisfying his egomania.

            If you don’t like that, then abandon Trump and join the world of the non-koolaid drinking, non-cult massive majority of the people who see through his megalomania, stupidity, ignorance, and self-aggrandizement as the world’s most powerful con man.

            Then and only then can you free yourself from the requisite hypocrisy that every Trumpster is forced to practice in order to excuse the inexcusable.

            January 20, 2021 -freedom from hypocrisy day .. and freedom period, from the dictator wannabe.

          • Heard of the Conservative Advantage, Duane.

            It is the claim that conservatives understand how Lefts think, but not the other way around. Lefts are group thinkers (because they know what is ‘right’) and assume everyone else group thinks as well.

            Conservatives are more about the individual and think for themselves (themselves in the sense of ‘what works for me’). They understand there are multiple choices in life and don’t like having someone else’s choice forced on them. Instead they want final say.

            And by being able to accept the concept of diversity, conservatives have an advantage over left’s who reject diversity in favour of ‘us’ and ‘everyone else who is too stupid to live and deplorable and probably racist’.

            Conservative Advantage. Tis real. You demonstrate it.

          • So it’s Trump’s fault that you spend all your time thinking about him.

            You really ought to see a psychiatrist about these delusions of yours.

            Dictator wannabe? Really? And Obama completely ignoring the constitution was OK with you.
            You really are a mental case. Forget the psychiatrist you need to be committed for your own safety.

          • Tom, Duane doesn’t need any actual facts. In his mind Trump is so evil that he must have done bad stuff, evidence is redundant.

        • Not sure why you had to drag Trump into an otherwise cogent argument. When did they elect him Prime Minister? This Trump is a pretty busy guy. What other countries does he head up Duane?

        • Duane,
          Your bigotry is annoying. It interferes with your ability to make a contribution to any subject.

        • Duane since you seem to have a comprehension problem I will type slowly. The risk is this type of volcano and that risk not explained to the tourists.
          Would you still skydive with a time expired parachute even after told the risk?

          • The problem is that the risk can’t adequately be explained. Telling people that there is always the risk of a volcanic eruption, is not really going to sink in.

            This volcano has an eruption frequency of about once every three years… But it’s unpredictable. It has erupted twice in one year three times and has never gone longer than 14 years without an eruption since 1926.

            It can erupt at any alert level. There was a near-certainty that at some point, an eruption would coincide with a tour group being present on the island. In which case, there was an extremely high probability of being killed or critically injured. And there was a near-certainty that the protective gear you were issued would be useless.

        • his knee jerk reaction to this incident is to demand that government prohibit what he personally considers unsafe visitation

          In us case the NZ is obliged to provide compensation to victims and their families, so they do have a right to specify what risks are acceptable since they are footing the bill.

      • Alastair

        When Mt. St. Helens exploded, I was on sabbatical leave from my geology teaching position. Twenty-four hours after the eruption I was at the volcano, with intentions of observing first-hand the conditions and documenting it with photographs to use in my teaching. Because the blowout had been to the north, I selected a location about 20 miles south of the the mountain for a base camp. My companion and I were experienced with the outdoors, and were in his CJ-5 4WD Jeep, hauling a military trailer with our gear. About 10 PM we were on a national forest road and were stopped by a group of armed civilians and informed that a volcanologist (who shall go nameless) at the USGS in Portland had instructed them not to let anyone go past their camp. We spent the night with them. Interestingly, early the next morning, a couple of 2-wheel drive sedans with government license plates drove past our campsite. The guys monitoring the road told us about a hill nearby that the news services had been using and suggested that we set up camp there, which we did. We left after a couple of days because it was socked in and raining and we couldn’t even see the mountain.

        We headed north along Highway 5, and came to a side road that had a washed-out bridge formerly crossing the Tuttle River. There was an armed National Guardsman there. He had orders not to let anyone approach the bridge. I presume he was prepared to shoot us to keep us from being harmed.

        We went a few more miles up the road to a roadside rest stop. We parked and bushwhacked our way to the river to be able to see it. Nobody knew we were there, should we have needed help.

        The heavy hand of bureaucracy came down on all alike, erring on the side of caution. It was a lesson in how quickly our freedoms can evaporate in times of crisis, all in the name of safety. Personally, I’d prefer to take my chances and be responsible for the consequences if I make the wrong choice.

        • In developing a safety plan, steps that need to be performed are a risk assessment, determining whether the risks are acceptable, exploring ways to mitigate the risks, and after doing that, determining whether the risks are still acceptable in relation to the importance of the mission. I’m sure that one thing the people in charge had to consider, is the safety of rescuers. Regarding the National Guardsman (since I am retired military), I wonder what his guard orders stated, and whether they included instructions for use of deadly force. I don’t think the National Guard out there would have been so inept, as to post an armed guardsman out there without guard orders (but ‘ya never know).

          • littlepeaks, I bet his Guard orders were to “bluff your way as far as you can to not allow people to pass, but if they insist get out of their way”. <not to denigrate the National Guard in its several forms, but there was not a declaration of Martial Law.

        • ” Personally, I’d prefer to take my chances and be responsible for the consequences if I make the wrong choice.”

          As a culture we are not disposed to honor those choices, although I believe we should. Few rescue organizations would be willing to face the public backlash from leaving you to your fate despite your written assumption of responsibility. So the reality is your choice could put rescue personnel at risk.

        • Clyde, the Tuttle River is actually the Toutle River. No way an armed bunch of civilians has any authority (except the obvious possibility that they might shoot you) to undertake directives from any government agency, and especially not from the USGS. The dome-destructive steam explosions were several months after cessation of main eruption and after the dome formation was well underway.

          • Ron,

            The main issues, of Martial Law not being declared, and a USGS employee taking it upon himself to instruct other civilians to restrict the movement of the general public (and providing quasi-authority for using lethal force), were egregious.

            A year or two later, by coincidence, I found myself sitting next to Dallas Peck at a Peninsula Geological Society meeting at Stanford. Peck had recently become the director of the USGS, and on the off chance he was not aware of what had happened, I bent his ear about my experiences (including the shouting match I had in the hall with the volcanologist in the Portland USGS office.) His response was, “Not one of our finest days.” However, I don’t know that anything official happened to prevent future similar occurrences from happening.

        • Clyde, “I presume he was prepared to shoot us to keep us from being harmed.” Made me laugh out loud! But the bigger picture is the very real irony. I was a deputy in Sanpete county at the time (a water-dog and Priest Lake was my area). The pluming black ash clouds were pretty dangerous–to health and engines. For the second eruption, I was ordered to go miles up the lake and upper lake and “make” campers leave the area before the ash rolled in. Not that I carried a gun on the boat–but what if they didn’t want to leave? It really is their decision, as long as they didn’t expect me to come get them once the clouds arrived…

        • And if the initial eruption had just been followed up by a VEI6?
          Rushing towards an erupting volcano is Darwin Award territory, and some poor bugger gets to recover bodies and inform relatives of their deaths.
          But the problem is not being allowed to do whatever you feel like???

        • Reminds me of my overnight visit to Mt. Ngaurughoe in the Central North Island…one of a cluster of 3 volcanoes that are now part of the Tongariro Crossing which now attracts up to 2000 day walkers every day…the other two have both erupted since I visited. It was Jan. 1974 and I had the whole hut to myself mainly because the volcano was erupting right across the valley from me! A wonderful sight with red hot rocks rolling down the slopes at night and lightning in the clouds above the summit crater.

          OK, a bit dangerous perhaps but that’s part of making your life interesting…I will never forget it but I’m sure if I tried to do a similar thing now there would be guards stopping me (hopefully not armed though) several km from the action.

      • Well said Alastair,
        I agree with you 100%.
        Every one has a choice and sometimes things go wrong .
        It seems to be the way of the world to have to blame some one .
        White Island is an active volcano and that is the attraction.
        We were always going to do the tour but it looks as though these tours will be banned from now .
        Graham Anderson

        • Would you fly on a specific airliner if you knew that specific aircraft would crash at some unknown point within the next three years?

          • That would depend on why you wanted the flight and what available alternatives there were; but it’s not an automatic “no”.

          • It’s at automatic no, that the particular aircraft would be grounded by any responsible government on Earth.

          • David–I really see no difference between these volcano excursions, and the yearly influx of tourists who just have to summit Everest. Some times they die–to bad so sad, but no one made them do it. I agree with the above comment about too much nanny state.

          • No one is allowed on Everest-style adventure climbs unless they can demonstrate the capability to survive the adventure… And it costs tens of thousands of dollars. Anyone with $250 could take the boat trip to a deathtrap that no one on Earth has the capability to survive.

        • If the FAA knew that a specific aircraft would crash in the near future and that there would be no warning signs of when it was about to crash, would you object to the FAA grounding it?

          • New Zealand has a different attitude to personal risk. Different to other western democracies, that is. You are much more responsible for your own safety there. But you can do risky things that aren’t allowed elsewhere. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, just that’s the way it is.

          • David
            The analogy is not quite perfect. It is more a matter of the FAA knowing what the probability of a crash being, not being certain of how soon. Further, they are grounding a ‘public service’ which people might not know has a high probability of crashing. That is in contrast to telling people they can’t fly on a particular airline because they have arbitrarily decided what an unacceptable risk is. I highly recommend the work done by Chauncey Starr where he demonstrates that people are willing to tolerate subjective risk in proportion to the perceived benefit they receive.

            Let me ask you a question: What level of risk (probability of a fatal crash) is too high for people to be ‘allowed’ to drive a car?

          • No analogy is perfect. Otherwise it wouldn’t be an analogy.

            If there was a 100% probability of a specific automobile being involved in a serious accident in any 3-yr period, irrespective of the driver and a 90% probability that everyone involved in the accident would be killed or critically injured… Any responsible government on Earth would take that automobile off the road.

          • David, unfortunately risk never seams to be managed logically or uniformly. We are required to drive w/ seat belts but can ride a motorcycle w/o a helmet in some States. On the other hand, EPA carcinogen risk assessments will arrive at acceptable risks at least a couple orders of magnitude safer than driving a car.

          • David
            You said, “No analogy is perfect. Otherwise it wouldn’t be an analogy.” Congratulations! Most people don’t realize that.

            You are missing the point. “If there was a 100% probability of a specific automobile being involved in a serious accident in any 3-yr period, irrespective of the driver and a 90% probability that everyone involved in the accident would be killed or critically injured,” no reasonable person would drive it. It wouldn’t be necessary for the government to take it off the road.

            But, you didn’t answer my question. What level of probability below 100% should trigger a reaction, and how do you arrive at that decision objectively?

          • When one specific automobile is causing 99.99% of the deaths, the answer is obvious.

            A responsible government would take that specific automobile off the road. A progressive Democrat government would take all automobiles off the road.

            About 100,000 tourists have visited White Island since the current eruptive phase began in 2011. At least 14 people have been killed and 25 critically injured. That’s a mortality rate (deaths per 100,000) between 14 and 39, depending on how many of the critically injured survive. The mortality rate for all other volcanic tourist attractions is close to 0. The US mortality rates for all automobile-related deaths is about 11, all firearms-related is about 10. The math is obvious.

          • David
            You point out that the “US mortality rates for all automobile-related deaths is about 11, all firearms-related is about 10.” That is individuals per 100,000 per year.

            Assuming the worst-case scenario, that none of the injured survive, that’s 39 per 100,000 over 8 years, or less than 5 per 100,000 per year.

            Yes, “The math is obvious.” If travel to White Island should be banned, cars and guns should be banned. The annual rate of mortality for them is approximately twice the worst-case average for the recent history of White Island.

            Look up the work by Chauncey Starr.

          • The risk of automobiles and firearms is spread across all automobiles and firearms and the entire US population.

            99.9999% of the risk of touring volcanic features over the past decade has been on White Island and limited to the people who chose to tour it and the tour guides.

            This not only was a nearly certain disaster., it also endangered the lives of all of the rescuers and the NZDF EOF team that just recovered 6 more bodies from the island, along with the NZDF teams standing by to rescue the EOD team in the event of another eruption.

            https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-13/new-zealand-white-island-volcano-body-recovery-operation/11797442

      • Yes, it is risky but informed adults can decide for themselves if they want to take a risk. We do that every day when we hop into our cars or go for a swim in calm or rough conditions.

        We should be able to have that choice…I would be happy to go back to White Island (but maybe only on a level 1 alert situation) in the future. Many would not which is fine. The government should keep out of this…let responsible adults decide for themselves

        One problem about that us the fact that the NZ government provides compensation to accident victims automatically, even up to 80% of future lost earnings. The organisation or person responsible does not have to be sued (and I believe gets off without having to pay, but that may be wrong).

        In such a situation, the government (ie taxpayers) should have some control over risks taken.

        • The taxpayers do “have some control.” They can vote for representatives who’ll get rid of such benefits. Following the “it’s for the good of the taxpayers” gets you to some really awful dystopias so careful with that argument.

      • I used to work for DoC (Contractor, in 2000-ish. We also had a satellite uplink to The Chatham islands) and they had a lahar monitoring station on Mt. Ruapehu (For the crater lake). It needed rebooting regularly, well what did you expect from NT4 in those days? Washed away by a lahar IIRC. I don’t recall anything for WI.

    • I was in Christchurch during the earthquakes, 7.1 in September 2010 and 6.3 in February 2011, plus thousands of aftershocks. We lived next to a river, and people talk a lot about liquefaction but at our place the lateral movement was unbelievable during the 6.3. Our house was condemned and the whole area red-zoned (no rebuilding), but the current PM wearing a hijab after the mosque shootings was more deeply upsetting. So I get why you wouldn’t want to come back here.

      • Erstwhile ‘virtue’ signalling is a pecksniffian affliction of globalist proportion. Whether the former President of the International Union of Socialist Youth, NZ Prime Minister, hijab wearing Ardern, or Gremlin Greta being announced as ‘Time’ mag. person of the year, after another diatribe at COP25 in Madrid, the fragile brittle neo-Marxist Left never miss an opportunity, out of necessity, to bolster the kollectiv.

  4. “The only people who should be answering questions are the politicians who allowed this to happen. ”
    To begin with, ascribing wisdom to, or expecting it from, any of about 99% of politicians isn’t thinking straight. It is the “there ought to be a law …” syndrom. These are the people who cause the majority of human problems.

    Aside from that, it is at most a philosophical, not a practical matter. Children often need to be protected from undertaking dangerous activities because they lack both experience and the basic biological majority that leads to the ability to reason, and act, rationally rather than emotionally. Of course some people never grow beyond that stage but allowing politicians to decide for adults is nothing less than repudiating one’s independence. The most politicians should be empowered to do, for activities that do endanger only the acting individual, not the general population, is to enact regulations that say ” you go on your own responsibility and can expect no government aid or compensation if things go wrong.”

    • It’s a simple matter of placing the island off limits to tourism. White Island is privately owned. Hold the owners civilly or criminally liable for this tragedy if they don’t cooperate with a tourism ban.

        • Apparently they could only sue the tour operator for punitive damages, if they were irresponsible, but not for injuries. And can’t go after the owners of the island. New Zealand’s adventure tourism law protects the operators.

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/118106636/whakaariwhite-island-eruption-killed-tourists-father-repeats-call-for-changes

          The tour operator could be fined if they were found to have violated safety rules.

          https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/118130800/fine-of-up-to-15-million-possible-if-white-island-tour-operator-breached-safety-laws

        • I think you are right, Keitho.

          But that doctrine only applies when the ignorant and malevolent politicians choose.

          After the dreadful Christchurch mosque massacre, I bet it wasn’t half an hour before Jacinda Aherne moved to ban guns. Would have been even quicker, if she hadn’t been looking for a niqab to wear.

          Not too many worries about individual responsibility for safety there. Now you can’t even mention the shooter’s name.

          But there is much to be said for more individual responsibility rather than looking for someone to blame (and sue) as a knee jerk reaction to any mishap.

          Of course, Government- and private enterprises- should use best endeavors to make truthful information available. (Ho Ho)

          But we should be very wary of all those (mainly green & lefty) people who get big in the trouser area at the very thought of attempting to micromanage other people’s lives.

          Also, just remember, it was my spoon that made me fat. (Not.)

        • My understanding is that there is no tort law in NZ so individuals are responsible for their own safety.

          The NZ government provides compensation themselves, with no need to sue. For this reason, they should be able to stop people taking these risks or exclude such activities, just like an insurance policy can exclude certain activities.

        • While governments routinely exceed their lawful authorities to protect people from their own stupidity, one of the primary functions of government is to enhance, if not ensure, public safety. And I fully agree that a majority of politicians can’t be trusted to make wise judgments in this area.

          There are many places on this planet that are simply too dangerous for untrained amateurs to visit. The odds are that 99% of the visitors to White Island have been totally unaware of the fact that a sudden phreatic eruption could occur at any time, without warning and that the safety gear they were issued would be effectively useless if that happened. Furthermore, there is no safe place on the island for them to retreat to and take cover in such an event.

          • Governments need to protect people from each other.
            When a government tries to protect people from themselves, it has gone to far.

          • There are risks that the typical person can’t assess. The typical person can’t assess whether a bridge is safe to cross, a product is safe to use, a cave is safe to enter. Professional engineers and scientists can reasonably assess these risks, ensuring that bridges are safe to cross, products are safe to use, and portions of caves that are safe for tourists. It’s possible for professionals to assess the safe areas of Kilauea for tourists to visit. It was clearly not possible for professionals to assess when it was safe to be inside the crater of White Island volcano.

            When the safety of something can’t be assessed, government does have a role to play in protecting the public from those hazards. This is the opposite of the precautionary principle. White Island has erupted 28 times since 1926, about once every three years. There was an extremely high probability that this sort of disaster would eventually occur and that the timing was unpredictable.

          • I am with you David. It is too dangerous few know the full potential for the danger . I have been to White Island twice. Once in my 20’s. We were on a fishing trip. I was the only one on the boat interested in going on. The skipper gave me the oars to the dinghy and that was all. No instructions, no safety warning. I remember feeling a profound sense of danger about half way to the crater so I turned around. It was a moment in my life I will never forget because the place was so captivating. When I got back to the boat the skipper asked where I had been and then told me I was taking a risk.
            Then in 2007 I went back. This time we all went on wearing gas masks. At the end of the video you can see us all looking into the crater…
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjEIVEbV8Ms
            I guess I knew there was risk, but didn’t appreciate that a lethal explosion could come without warning. In NZ we all experience geothermal activity, so have some level of comfort with it. White has taught us not all activity is the same. Sadly because of the events this week, we know that now. Would I go back now… no. Do I think we should stop others…. probably. But, it depends how effectively the science can keep us safe. Thats a big question at this point.

          • At one time almost all of the planet was too dangerous for “untrained amateurs” to visit but, since that means essentially the entire human race, most of Antarctica, the Arctic, Africa, North and South America, the Pacific Ocean, etc. would still be terra incognito under that philosophy. A great many people lost their life trying to find out what is where all over the globe. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

          • This wasn’t an exploration expedition. It was a routine tour of a time bomb with a very short fuse.

      • Some people probably thought that it was relatively safe because they have tour groups. Some people think that e-scooters must be safe because they are rented.

        We face risk every day in almost every action and we don’t always make the best choices. Most of the time, even bad choices work out. It’s just part of the human experience that leaders have to draw line.

        • In order to make a risk-reward judgement, a person has to be cognizant of the risks.

          Adventure tourism companies take groups to climb mountains, like Everest, but they only take people who can demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills and physical abilities to survive the climb. While the people who choose to do these things are taking huge risks, they are at least aware of the risks.

          • David
            You said, “In order to make a risk-reward judgement, a person has to be cognizant of the risks.” I agree. And, I think that is the proper role of government, providing the public with the information, not applying broad-brush prohibitions to everyone regardless of education, experience, and physical prowess.

            I found it interesting that during the same time that I was prevented from being within 20 miles of the south side of Mount St. Helens, on the ground, President Carter flew into the crater on a helicopter. The loss of his life would have had more serious repercussions for the world than mine. Yet, he was allowed to take risk and I wasn’t. What’s wrong with this picture?

      • Being a Libertarian at heart, I don’t agree with a tourism ban. However, some fairly obvious changes could be made. E.g. no tourists when the eruption risk level is above 3; insuring tourists watch a short video detailing the risk and previous fatalities.

        • The alert level was 2. 3 is the lowest level of eruption.

          The events of Dec. 9 demonstrate the fine line between 2 and 3.

    • Adults should be responsible for THEIR own actions. Expecting, or even demanding, that politicians do something because they somehow could is asking for more unintended consequences and unlimited bureaucracy. Private property and the pursuit of happiness still has meaning, I hope.

      • 99% of the time, that should be the rule.

        Renting out a deathtrap to boatloads of tourists, the vast majority of whom are ignorant of the risks, is not what Jefferson meant by “pursuit of happiness”.

          • That’s why they wrote the Constitution.

            “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
            –James Madison, Federalist 51

            https://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm

        • In Thomas Jefferson’s time, people routinely took risks in search of gold, land, a new beginning and ended up DEAD. There was no outcry for the government to fix this, not by Jefferson nor any others. The US was not settled by people who knew or understood the risks they were taking. It was settled by people who wanted freedom and a fresh start, even if it cost them their lives. (There was the idiocy of sending the military in to deal with the First Arrival Americans, aka Indians, but that was one of the bigger mistakes. Lends evidence that the government is NOT what we need to enhance safety.)

          • This wasn’t a mining operation or exploration expedition. It was a “routine” tourist trip to a ticking time bomb.

        • David calm down .
          Do not accidents happen on oil drilling platforms?
          Of course they have happened with loss of life but they are still the only way to drill and extract oil and gas offshore .
          Have you ever visited Rotorua in New Zealand where there are steaming mud pools amid housing .
          Some times the steam vents build up pressure and lawns and back yards turn into mud pools and house have to be shifted or topple in .
          These are facts of life and people are aware of the very low level danger .
          Lake Rotorua and Lake Taupo are the craters of massive volcanic eruptions and there is still slot of active vulcanisim to be seen .
          Both of these lakes could wake up and blow at any time in the future but the risk is very low .
          Wairakei near Taupo is New Zealands largest geothermal power station and wells have been drilled to capture the super heated steam and piped a distance to the power station .
          A lot of people lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquakes but life goes on .
          Wellington sits right across an active fault line but people still live there they know that a large quake could hit without warning .
          Just look what happened in the last major earthquake in Kaikoura .
          The coast line was lifted 2 meters and the road rail corridor down the coast was destroyed .
          New Zealanders live with these risks and as I said earlier this white Island eruption was an act of god and it could have happened at night with no casualties at all .
          Graham

          There are also several smaller stations around the country .

          • We take extraordinary measures to prevent accidents. We don’t try to ensure that disasters will happen.

      • Adults should be responsible for THEIR own actions. Expecting, or even demanding, that politicians do something because they somehow could is asking for more unintended consequences and unlimited bureaucracy.

        In NZ the government provides compensation o accident victims and their families. This ensures that people don’t take responsibility, unfortunately.

        An unintended fault of a seemingly benign law. Socialism writ large.

  5. David Middleton

    “Volcanologists and Katia & Maurice Krafft and Harry Glicken were killed by a pyrocalstic pyroclastic flow from Mount Unzen in 1991…”

    Great info…

  6. Thanks to this White Island volcanic eruption, there goes New Zealand’s benefit of effort to reduce its human activity carbon dioxide emissions for 2019.

    Mother Nature cannot be tamed. Climate change cannot be tamed. Weather cannot be tamed.

    • Not a lot of carbon dioxide associated with the White Island eruption.
      While the volcano usually emits CO2 and S02 most of the gas associated with the eruption would have been water vapour/steam.

  7. It does not matter how many times you tell people “Don’t mess with Mother Nature. She’s cranky.” They still do stupid things like wade in the thermal pools at Yellowstone and try to get up-close & personal shots of any active caldera anywhere, because SOUVENIRS!!! They jump fences to hug baby polar bears in zoos and wonder why the mother bear mauls them, or pound on the double-layered glass in a gorilla space at a zoo, and wonder why the dominant male gets pissed off enough to try to break the glass and get at them.

    Most people are so dumb about such things that the shock of getting whacked by the natural world, even at a zoo, confounds them. Go ahead – taunt the lion. He might not have had lunch just yet.

    • I recall when I was in one of the National Parks in Kenya one of the staff told me about a tourist who got out of his car with some bread to feed a bull elephant. He drove his car between them and got the guy back in his car, apparently the tourist thought they were tame! This was an area where there were also lions and leopards. On the same trip we were taking some photos of a herd of elephants with young from fairly close when another car drove between us and the herd, my guide said that he was too close. The large female in charge started flapping her ears and when the car didn’t move she walked over and put her foot on the car’s bumper and started pushing down. The driver revved his engine and she took her foot off and he reversed away.

      • Yeah, what I know about Africa, you don’t go to parks without a guide(s) and that guide has a gun (Usually an AK47 in my experience) that could bring an elephant down, after several well placed shots. Don’t go near a bull elephant that is either in “Must” or is “rouge”, horny or angry 6 tonne animals make light work of a 2 tonne vehicle, and squish people like ants.

  8. When Yosemite’s Grand Caldera (32 miles by 47 miles) releases [it’s geologically time for it], it may well be a “Planet Killer” event.

    Yet the Cognoscenti of the Climate Change Proponents are scared by a trace gas in Earth’s atmosphere. What a bunch a scared pussy cats.

      • Yep… And not even a Huckleberry Ridge-sized eruption would be a “planet killer”… Otherwise, the Snake River Caldera Chain would have killed the planet more often than they killed Kenny on South Park.

        That said, caldera-forming eruption of Yellowstone would be devastating to much of the United States and Canada. While there’s no strict geological schedule (Yellowstone is not overdue), there probably will be another massive eruption at some point in the future. As closely monitored as it is, there would probably be clear warning signs of an impending eruption. Maybe enough warning to evacuate the vicinity… But not North America. Like climate change, the best we could do, is to adapt to it.

        • David, my main concern about ample warning of a Yellowstone eruption would be that I had time enough to max out all my credit cards.

          I’d expend 90% of my ill-gotten funds immediately – I’d quaff gallons of the best whisky, smoke kilos of the best ganja, eat truffles by the bushel, and hire several troops of pole dancers.

          The remaining 10% I’d just squander 🙂

          • I have a friend, a geologist I used to work with at Enserch Exploration in the 80’s and early 90’s. He used to say that if he had a 20 minute warning of a nuclear attack, he’d grap a 12-pack of beer and head up to the roof of the parking garage to have a good view. A sound philosophy.

            He went on to be an astronaut and is now the Director of the USGS.

  9. There is a documentary which described the 1914 Whahaari eruption, an event involving a pyroclastic flow which killed ten sulphur miners.

  10. On episode two of the first series of ‘Coast New Zealand’, Neil Oliver visited White Island. I can remember thinking how incredibly dangerous that was. It was just a matter of time before that island blew up in people’s faces.

    And now it has.

  11. 3 helicopters flew to the island when they saw what happened. The pilots rescued about 12 people and said some of their injuries were horrific. They wanted to fly back to get the dead bodies, but the NZ gov’t forbade them.

    • Precisely the correct decision. Those guys were heroes and have been recognised as such. The risks they took to save the living were worth it. But it is not worth taking the same risk to remove the dead. That can be done when it is safer.
      I have been to White Island and was aware at the time that it could erupt without warning. Perhaps our attitude here in NZ is different – my house is a few yards from an active fault line, there are other active volcanoes that could cause enormous loss of life, (look up Lake Taupo sometime), and our largest city is built on an active volcanic field. On the other hand we don’t have poisonous animals, we don’t have to put up with blizzards or huge forest fires, and life here is pretty good.

  12. Aw, it’s “climate change” no matter what else you call it.

    Now did the scientists you quote sign that declaration? Are they among the 97%? That’s what really matters.

    N.B. We woke up to double-digits below zero temps in N. Minnesota this morning. The HIGH in Duluth is predicted to be ZERO.

    And right after the weather report they announced a special program airing later, on “how climate change is already affecting Lake Superior, and what you can do to prepare.”

    It’s like the world has succumbed to mass hysteria, the actual reality notwithstanding.

  13. Spent almost 3 weeks in Oregon this past August.
    What impressed me was how most of the state seems to be one gigantic lava flow and volcanoes of various ages.
    Kakayed around Paulina Lake which is one of two lakes in the Large Newberry Crater. Drove to the top of Paulina Peak, awesome views. The north end of lake has warm geothermal springs feeding in where folks have made ad hoc hot tubs in the sandy shoreline. The Big obsidian flow looked it happened yesterday, but was actually only 1300 years old.

    • Visit Sunset Crater in Arizona, a beautiful cinder cone, less than 1,000 years old.

      https://www.nps.gov/sucr/learn/index.htm

      Lots of cool basaltic lava flow features… Zero-point-zero chance of “phreatic, phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions, associated with extensive fumarolic activity”… Even then, tourists aren’t allowed to actually go into the crater.

        • Sunset Crater is also to protect the slopes. They used to allow hikes up to the crater, but they were damaging the slopes.

          That said, fencing off the dangerous parts of White Island would be impossible.

  14. … is nothing more hazardous than taking a stroll through the Norris Geyser Basin at Yellowstone

    I’ve been to Yellowstone a few times, and at the Norris Basin once. It was the only place in Yellowstone where I felt distinctly unsafe. At the time, half the area was closed because of high ground temperatures. (A ranger making measurements got off the boardwalk and the soles of his boot began to melt, blistering his feet.) Much of the area is so hot that even the thermophiles can’t colonize the Porcelain Basin portion and the high pressure steam jets make it clear things could go bad in an instant.

    Photos and more comments at http://wermenh.com/biketour/yellowstone.html

    BTW, I think everyone should try to make it to Yellowstone. It’s one of the few places where hearing “unique” doesn’t make me flinch.

    • Unlike Yellowstone, “White Island has erupted recently – in fact, between 1998-2001, the volcano produced multiple VEI 2-3 eruptions and is one of the most active in New Zealand”… And was clearly becoming more active at the time of the disaster…

      VOLCANIC ALERT BULLETINWI – 2019/11
      Tue Dec 3 2019 1:00 PM; White Island Volcano
      Volcanic Alert Level remains at 2

      […]

      Aviation Colour Code remains at YellowObservations and data to date suggest that the volcano may be entering a period where eruptive activity is more likely than normal.

      Brad Scott

      Duty Volcanologist

      https://www.geonet.org.nz/vabs/5gMP3pBjFuQmNOQB89rZT4

      Alert level 2 is the highest level of “unrest.” Alert level 3 is the lowest level of “eruption.
      https://www.geonet.org.nz/about/volcano/val

  15. The only people who should be answering questions are the politicians who allowed this to happen.

    David:

    I always enjoy your posts and usually learn a lot from them.

    The problem in the long term of blaming government for allowing people to do risky things is you end up with a bureaucracy which quickly figures out the way to avoid blame is just say “no” to everything. A lot of fun things in life are only possible if you accept some out-of-the-ordinary risk. Do you really want to invite government to forbid all of that?

    And I can think of several entities with a greater share of the blame than the government. The tour operators should have been monitoring conditions; if so they failed. I assume the tour operators had liability insurance; what kind of risk evaluation did the insurance companies make? Maybe they were a bit lacking in the diligence department?
    Going by what has been reported so far, the total casualties and White Island are still fewer than the Conception dive boat fire which killed everyone sleeping below deck (34). I’m intensely interested in knowing the ultimate cause of the fire, but I’d still book a dive boat cruise and don’t want a government official telling me I can’t.

    • I agree with all of your concerns. But there are some areas in which the average person is incapable of assessing the risks.

      There were 47 people on the island. 6 are dead, 8 are missing and presumed dead and 27 are horribly burned, both inside and outside… some may not survive.

      Safety regulations can prevent or at least reduce the risk of fires on diveboats. Nothing can mitigate the risks of being inside the crater of a volcano as active as White Island.

      • the average person is incapable of assessing the risks of driving, smoking, drinking and climate change. Go nanny some other people

        • The typical person sees the risks of driving, smoking and drinking on a daily basis. Very few people are unaware of the risks of smoking and drinking. Most of us choose to drive because the rewards greatly outweigh the risks, Drinkers and smokers simply choose to ignore the risks,

          The odds are that almost none of the 47 people on White Island at the time of the eruption were aware of the fact that a sudden phreatic eruption could occur at any time, without warning (the odds are that most of them didn’t know the definition of “phreatic”)… Or that the safety equipment they were issued would be useless.

          The average person could only be aware of the risks of climate change, if they were meaningful at the scale of a human lifetime.

          • There is a difference between an individual doing something on his or her own initiative and a business entreating people to undertake something potentially dangerous. A business can be properly required to do or not do many things in the interest of public safety. Doctors in the US are required, by reason of liability, if not by legislation, to inform people of the potential risks of virtually any treatment. Where individual might be putting themselves at significant risk (e.g. by choosing to take the tour), the business could legitimately be required to make the risk clear and immediate to all potential customers. In the case of a variable risk, such as this volcanic eruption, the requirement could reasonably include keeping the warning up to date with the best information available.

            If the science is clear enough to not just be opinions, then the business, not the tourists, could be required to suspend activity under specific conditions. This later is fraught with dangers of its own, however. Too many bureaucrats are eager to extend their controls as much as possible.

          • Absolutely. The problem with politicians is the “one size fits all” risk.

            The problem with letting the business decide, is the fact that they were not qualified to assess the risk… And neither were the experts. That said, I have yet to find anything written by a volcanologist that didn’t express serious concerns that this particular volcano was a death trap and that a disaster like this was a near-certainty.

            I’m not a volcanologist, that’s far from my specialty, but as a geologist/geophysicist, I know that this wasn’t just alarmist arm-waving.

        • Driving is pretty safe, with the occasional tragedy; most people recognize that. And most people recognize that smoking is unhealthy, from empirical observation. Climate change is so nebulous and unempirical that most people don’t give a flying phuck.

          • The probability of surviving an automobile accident are >99%. The odds of surviving an eruption on White Island are between 70% and 17%, depending on how many of the critically injured survive.

            People can take proactive measures to reduce the probability of being in an auto accident, while driving. People can take proactive measures to reduce the probability of being killed, if involved in a car accident.

            People cannot take proactive measures to reduce the probability of an eruption occurring when they are on White Island. There are no proactive measures a person can take to reduce the risk of being killed if they are on White Island during an eruption.

            There are safe ways to drive. This doesn’t eliminate the risk. There are no safe ways to visit White Island.

        • Funny, more people die from driving, smoking and drinking incidents than have ever died from CO2 driven climate change related incidents. Lets not talk about food poisoning, accidents in kitchens and building sites. So what do we ban first? Of course, CO2 and cheap energy!

      • I agree that the ordinary person can’t properly assess some risks, but there were more than ordinary people involved here: the tour operators (a business) and presumably their insurance companies (a business whose business is assessing risks of all kinds).

        Government bureaucrats are on the average not much better than the ordinary person, and they have a vested institutional incentive to not let anything bad happen, so their assessment of risk is often skewed by institutional bias.

        There were some tour operators in Hawaii that probably took unwise risks taking people to observe the lava firehose that opened in 2017. Some people on boats were injured by lava bombs, but I don’t recall there were any deaths.

        • In this case the NZ government underwrites the risk, so they should get to specify what risks are acceptable.

  16. the perfect cocktail for a Galeras-like tragedy

    I remember that event. While I’m no geologist, I like to understand the risk involved in things I might do. I spent a fair amount of time reading about the event. The visit to the volcano, which killed some six of fifteen people present, was coupled to a volcano conference nearby. That so many volcanologists were caught said we really can’t predict volcanic explosions well, at least not as well as we can appreciate an increasing risk.

    A lesson relearned.

    • Death is the only true “safe” state, where no harm can come to you. Life is never safe under any circumstances. People slip taking a bath…..If only the uneducated, ignorant children could understand this.

  17. La Sourfriere down in the windward Isles, St Vincent
    been there, done that
    A days hike from black sand volcanic beaches up through the rain forest and bamboo stands and out above the tree line, standing on hot `new` ground in the crater the size of a football field with the stench of sulphur in the air was brilliant, we know if it blew we would be dead but we all accepted the risk, shame about the sightseeing light aircraft that crashed into the far wall of the crater as we ascended and I guess the 4 dead accepted the risks when they climbed into the plane for the trip.
    we all accept risks and sometimes we get caught out.

  18. Some similarity: Tourists in Norway sometimes ignore warnings and walk very close to glaciers. As glacier tend to “calve”, this is a sort of Russian roulette. The tourists tend to win, but they sometimes lose. This might be termed curiosity-assisted suicide.

  19. The Government is always looking for excuses to control people. I hope they don’t go crazy, as usual, and eliminate this chance to see geology up close.

    • That is the problem with government. Outlawing all tourism to volcanoes would be going overboard. Fencing off the dangerous areas and closing the feature to tourists when the eruption risk is elevated are reasonable regulatory actions.

      The problem with White Island is that it always has an elevated and unpredictable eruption risk and that there are no safe areas on the island. The island is basically the crater.

      • David
        I think that the reasonable role of any government is to provide information and advice, which I welcome. However, I think it is going beyond reasonable to make decisions and choices for me, and explicitly threaten me with punishment should I decide to ignore their closures or restrictions. Under some circumstances, it might be appropriate to have me sign a waiver indicating that, should I get into trouble, it would be too dangerous to send in rescue crews, and that in any event, I would be responsible for the costs of the rescue operation. I frequently run into issues with old mines being put off limits or made inaccessible, thereby precluding mineral collecting. I don’t want my tax money going to government agencies that tell me what I can or can’t do. I want the government to assist me, not control me.

        • There are areas of many national parks where you are not allowed to go. That’s not controlling you. It also doesn’t prevent you from going there.

          This volcano was going to erupt at some point with tourists on the island. It’s analogous to flying on a specific aircraft that you know will crash. It may not crash on your flight, but it will crash at some point in the near future. I fly on airliners, because the probability of a crash is very low. I wouldn’t fly on a specific Boeing 737 that I knew would crash. The FAA would properly ground a specific aircraft that they knew would crash.

          • David

            I’m not happy with being told that there are certain places I’m not “allowed” to go in a National Park. It is like me being told that I couldn’t go beyond the campground, while sedans with government license plates drove on past with impunity. It is the old story about some animals being more ‘equal’ than others.

            If one knew with certainty that a particular aircraft would not make it to its destination, only someone who was suicidal would get on the airplane.

            However, ALL active volcanoes will erupt in the near future, and many dormant volcanoes may erupt in the near future. Is it the responsibility of the government to cordon off all active volcanoes? If not, just what level of probability warrants such an action. Then there’s the consideration that none of us live forever. Is it really the responsibility for the government to try to maximize our life expectancy by restricting our activities?

            Your position is closely related to the position of climate alarmists who believe that climate catastrophe is inevitable and therefore they are justified in telling us how to live our lives and what we can and cannot do.

          • My position is exactly the opposite of climate alarmists. The precautionary principle would ban any activity that had even the slightest risk of harm. White Island had an almost 100% probability of harm.

          • David
            You claimed, “White Island had an almost 100% probability of harm.” How do you arrive at that conclusion when there have been thousands of visitors and this is the first time any have been killed let alone injured. Assuming that the number of historic visitors has been 10,000 (probably low), and approximately 10 have been killed, I’d suggest that the odds of death are 1/1,000 or 0.1%. Not to worry, the difference between this percentage and your estimate only differs by a factor of 1,000.

          • I was referring to the probability that at least 1 incident like this would happen. Not that it would always happen. There’s a 100% probability that someone will be shot in the head in Russian roulette, even though there’s only a 16.67% chance on each trigger pull.

        • Clyde,
          Have you ever visited a zoo and complained to those in charge that it is unreasonable of them to make it difficult for you to pet the lions and the bears?
          I think you should go cuddle with a Polar Bear.

          • John
            I’m not suicidal, so I have no desire to cuddle with a polar bear. Zoos are privately run enterprises and they have a sizable investment in their animals. They have every right to protect that investment by keeping the animals and paying visitors separated. When I pay my fee to enter, I have no expectation of interacting with the animals outside of the Petting Zoo area. I can choose to go to the zoo or not go to the zoo. There is a finite possibility that a dangerous animal might escape. However, the probability is usually so low that the government doesn’t step in and close the zoo, on the remote possibility of that happening. As I have remarked to David, there is always some probability of a hazard. How does one objectively decide when the probability becomes excessive? And, is it appropriate to add a warning, or to make it a punishable offense for an individual to expose themselves to the risk?

            I’m reminded of one time I was exploring lava tubes in Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California. After several hours, we came out a different way from that we entered. There was a well-used path there, and a sign warning not to enter because of the risk posed by ground squirrels with bubonic plague. I thought at the time, “Now they tell us!” I probably wouldn’t have gone in had I been aware of the risk. However, I wasn’t. Should I have been fined or incarcerated for unknowingly violating a prohibition? Just how much risk was there to warrant the prohibition? None of the three of us got sick. Life is full of risks! Risks have often made my life more interesting. I don’t take risks which I think will have end my life. However, there have been many instances where I have come to losing the gamble. Yet, I wouldn’t change anything if I had it to live over. But, I want to make that choice, not some wimpy beta bureaucrat.

  20. One of our correspondents at Volcano Hotspot is in NZ and visited the island some years ago. He wrote a comment overnight with the following information:

    – Everyone who visits the island signs a release form. The threat is well known and publicly acknowledged, (not unlike the threat of drowning on a fishing charter – my words).
    – Tours have been at the island for years at Level 2

    Possible responses might be to ban children from visiting or putting some sort of cap on the number of people on the island at any one time so as to help with evacuation.

    The last time something like this happened was Mount Ontake, Japan, Sept 27, 2014 when a phreatic eruption with smallish pyroclastic flows killed 63. There were hundreds on the mountain at the time. The only warning was a slightly elevated earthquake level, though JMA had not raised the warning level. It took days to recover the bodies. Link to a pretty decent paper on the eruption follows.

    https://earth-planets-space.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40623-016-0452-y

    We are humans. We take risks. Some of those are more deadly than others. Usually, it works out. Occasionally is doesn’t and people either don’t make it back or are hurt. White Island is one of the latter. Cheers –

  21. I hiked part way up Mt Etna in Sicily about 5 years ago. The guide (you don’t go there w/o a guide) said that there were restrictions and special permits to advance closer than 5 km to the calderas. We did get to explore some lava tubes and also the most recent lava flows. Occasionally people get killed by a phreatic explosion or get clocked by flying boulders, but most of the recent deaths have been caused by other events, ie lightening, blizzards, earthquakes, etc. It is extremely dangerous anywhere near the calderas.

  22. When I visited the Grjótagjá cave geothermal pools in Ice Land, there were plenty of signs telling tourists not to swim because the water was too hot. But sure enough, three people went for a swim anyway. When they exited they were very red, looked like severe sunburn. I think they were fortunate, a degree or two more and they likely would have been badly injured.

    Tourists can be their own worst enemy.

  23. If the hazards of living near volcanoes was taken to its logical extreme then New Zealand would be evacuated. I live merely 80 km from White Island. I look out of my kitchen window at a (hopefully) extinct volcano and from my living room window can see a volcano that last erupted in 1886 which covered my area in deep ash. Just 200 km south is Taupo which last had a major eruption less than 2000 years ago of the super-volcano class.

    Ive been through a major earthquake (officially only 6.3-6.8 Richter) but with one of the highest MMIs recorded would not wish to live anywhere else and yes i have lived elsewhere>

    I was actually booked for a tour of White Island the day after this recent eruption. I’ve spent much of my life almost within visible distance of the island and thought my chances of seeing it close up were diminishing with my advancing age. These chances seem now to have been extinguished.

  24. Many years ago I was on university business in Colima Mexico which is under that notoriously active Volcán de Fuego. I had an opportunity to go deep into the normally closed zone near the volcano’s flank. I took it! We walked among boulders that volcano had spewed in previous eruptions that were the size of cars. It was one of the most exciting and wonderful experiences I ever had but it was also absolutely terrifying. We got close enough that we could see red stuff rolling down the cone and that was on a quiet day. The next day a mere burp by Volcán de Fuego standards was big enough that it would have killed us. So I understand the fascination and the intense desire to get up close to a volcano. I know exactly why the tourists went in there. I had a whole lecture about the risks before I left and I agreed, eyes wide open. I contributed to the expedition in by carrying stuff. While I stood there looking at melted rock and steam I thought about my family, especially my kids. I learned it is just not worth getting that close to a volcano for a thrill. The island should be closed to tourists. They can get their thrill by riding a boat around it.

  25. I hope the urge to limit personal freedom that allows people to place themselves in potentially dangerous situations is avoided, after this White Island event.
    Our hearts go out to the bereaved and hope the injured make successful recovery.
    I have toured all over NZ on three occasions in the past 15 years. I was always impressed by the realism of the New Zealanders, which probably comes from the fact there are earth quakes there every day. On my last tour I detected a subtle but definite change taking place in risk acceptance. The current PM is a part of that attitude change which is not for the better.
    We all do stuff that we reflect on afterwards and decide never again. It is what makes us human and what makes life worth living.
    Here is an example of a personal, insane choice.
    https://www.franzjosefglacier.com/
    When you are walking between two walls of brilliant blue ice, in the crevasses of Franz Josef, that form as the glacier heads towards the terminal edge. It is sobering to remember, this glacier is literally on the edge of the two tectonic plates that make up NZ. At any moment, an earth tremor could bring those beautiful ice cliffs down and bury you in hundreds of tonnes of ice.
    Taking the crampons off, at the end of the icy trek felt particularly good….

      • If one specific CO2 source was inflicting a higher mortality rate than all of the guns and cars in the US, combined, while all other CO2 sources weren’t harming anyone, a responsible government would shut down the specific CO2 source

        The greentard reaction would be to shut down allCO2 sources.

  26. Two more of the hospitalised have died overnight.
    The injuries of some of the rescued are horrific and are probably not survivable – burns to 80-90% of their body and 20 of the rescued still needing assisted breathing.

    The pressure will go on for tourists to return to the island.
    The activity has been a terrific money-spinner for the local community.
    I shifted to a nearby city and had been planning on a White Island visit for 2020, but it’s off my wish-list now.
    We are spoilt for choice in NZ for volcanoes, thermal areas, and off-shore islands….. there’s always somewhere safer to visit.

  27. Sure the tourist were “incapable of assessing the risk”.
    So what?
    What part of active volcano,frequent past eruptions did they miss?
    The “risk” was part of the tour.
    Why else visit such a site?
    So nothing needs done,these tourists have done their service to their fellow man, visiting active volcanos is dangerous,possibly fatal.
    I still ride motorcycle,the risk there has become obvious,half the motorists are planning to run you over and the other half can’t see you with either eye so will run you over by neglect.

    If people want to visit danger zones and others wish to guide them what is the problem?

    The mantra of our progressive comrades,never let a crisis go to waste, should be ignored.
    People die,in fact everyone reading this is going to die.
    What is next banning every extreme sport?

    Now I see Davids point,but people have to chose often with very little info.
    This event will enable future tourists to chose more wisely.

    • This wasn’t a “risk,” It was a near-certainty. The only reason this hadn’t happened before is that tourists were not on the island during an eruption. The frequency of both had been increasing since 2011.

      • David,
        I would say that if no tourist had ever returned from the island, then it would be appropriate to claim “near-certainty” of death because of an eruption. However, these appear to be the first deaths in decades. The objective odds actually seem to favor the risk takers. Again, how does one objectively establish a probability that would warrant denying people the choice to take chances?

        • The odds of being killed by that specific volcano, were as high as being killed by all of the guns and automobiles in the United States combined…. Without any way to mitigate the risk.

  28. I’ll bet a box of champ that WI will be permanently closed to all activities other than scientific research.

    It gripes me that in NZ, work and safety compliance in the work place is so restrictive and costly while for adventure it is open slather. When things go wrong our emergency response teams swing into action at virtually no cost to the distressed party – no offence intended towards the WI casualties. I have already stated my opinion that the prime responsibility lies with GNS.

    Personally, I could not care less if there were no tourists in NZ. This attitude is becoming far more prevalent within middles NZ . They clog our roads with slow camper-vans and litter rural camp sites. Add to this the increasing influx of immigrants, many who drive our roads in the most diabolical manner. There have been string of fatal accidents where visitors forgot that we drive on the left. House prices and rent continue to rise t a level defined by The Economist as the most unaffordable ( to a Kiwi) in the world.

    Off-topic, but my classic culture is being swamped, diluted, and forgotten by the cosmopolitan elite. Once was the time when I welcomed visitors but they are like fish – after 3 days the appeal declines. My local village of 3000 is now a tourist town. The main street has 15 eat-joints all run by foreigners. Only 4 businesses remain in Kiwi hands – the vet, a book shop and a couple of real estates. Parking is clogged. 40 % of houses are BNB. Its a rare day that I see a local in town.

    On the positive side I found the OP to be excellent.

    Cheers

    M

      • Its not ‘protection’ , just that the adventure tourism is ‘loosely regulated’ .

        The complaint about the Accident Insurance scheme isnt relevant to adventure tourism, as it covers the whole country and almost all accidents , say from workplace to road accidents to falling of a ladder at home. Medical costs, time off work etc are covered without fighting insurance companies through lawyers. As a policy rule tourists are covered even though they arent paying premiums into the self funded scheme ( reserves of NZ$40 bill).
        The father who son who lost his life in a plane crash for a skydiving event ( now thats risky!) didnt get a lump sum payout for a claim of negligence as that sort of action in NZ is ruled out for ALL accidents. Im sure if his son had life insurance, they would have had a skydiving exclusion on the policy and would have got nothing either. Sure the plane crashed just after takeoff, and it may have been because too many people at the rear, but going after the Civil aviation regulator smacks of US style ‘only going after the deepest pockets’ and not those directly responsible.

    • Michael
      You remarked, “There have been string of fatal accidents where visitors forgot that we drive on the left.” I can speak from personal experience from a couple of trips to NZ, that one of the risks is that after one has been driving for hours, one tends to drive on autopilot. An example: There was a landslide along the coastal highway and there were cones diverting all traffic to the (my) right lane. After a considerable distance both lanes again became available. However, I felt quite comfortable being in the right hand lane, which is where I had driven my whole life. It wasn’t until I saw a pair of headlights coming at me in my lane that I realized I had to move over. Being tired can contribute to making such mistakes.

      • Road rules in NZ are “interesting” esp the give way rules. Which lane to be in has never been a problem for me because we in the UK, Australia and NZ drive on the correct side of the road. (Which is largely historical, how horses were mounted and how swords were slung).

        That landslide was a result of a pretty large quake that shutdown State Highway 1 on both islands and there were concerns it would never be re-opened.

    • In all my time living and driving in NZ (Mostly SH2, Rimutaka Hill rd) I have never seen a Kiwi drive slow, clogging up roads, or in a diabolical manner, or dump rubbish out the window of a moving car, never seen a Kiwi driving a car without a WoF. Nah, never happens eh bro?!

  29. The key thing to look for when signing a tour operator’s indemnification form before you embark on your adventure activity is whether said form also infers an application for a Darwin award.
    🙁

  30. Volcanic eruptions are becoming more common and dangerous because of global warming. 97 percent of political scientists and dentist agree.

  31. For me, some of the most dangerous things I’ve done have also been the most rewarding and would’ve still been worth it 100 times over even if I died while doing them. One of those was watching live lava flows on the Big Island (Hawaii).

    Please don’t take those things away and make life not worth living (to me). If you’re gonna do that, just put a gun to my head and shoot me already!

    • Kilauea is not analogous to White Island in any way, shape, matter or form, apart from the word volcano.

  32. Back in the 70’s I was involved in repeat surveys of White Island. Part of an effort to predict eruptive events. My role was to reoccupy survey points inside and around the caldera, and take repeat magnetic observations. The idea was that an ascending body of hot magma would have a low magnetic susceptibility, hence we would see an increasing negative magnetic anomaly with time. Not very successful, but worth trying. A geochemist in our group would risk life and limb to descend into fumaroles to sample gasses. Its not for want of trying that precise prediction of eruptive events has not been successful. Having said which. although I think a good, hard look at the procedures and processes for visits is in order, I would not ban such visits in the future. Everything in life has risk.

    • It’s often possible to sort of predict lava eruptions. One method is to establish a series of survey stations across the volcano. Increased magma in the magma chamber beneath the volcano causes uplift which can be detected by monitoring the survey station levels. It’s not 100% certain, nothing is.

      With a phreatic eruption such as occurred on White Island you don’t get this warning.

      However if you can see steam/water vapour issuing from vents in the crater it might be an indication that something was up and it would be better not to be there.

  33. I was living on the southern side of San Juan Island in Puget Sound and woke up to the sound of Mt St Helens. We were all at a party the night before dancing to Jimmy Buffet’s tune Volcano.

  34. Our hospitals are owed multiple millions by foreigners with injuries who are automatically treated then leave the country without paying. They usually never pay. The NZ taxpayer does.

    Add to this the cost of search and rescue.

    M

    • Same happens in almost every country, so NZ isn’t unique there. NZ has reciprocal arrangements for medical treatment for tourists with countries such as Australia, and visa versa. In my experience, as I know many people in the medical industry in both Australia and NZ, they just get on with caring for people and then ask questions later. So I admire medical professionals for that.

      My mother had a heart attack while on holiday in the US some years back. The stent alone cost US$8000. My parents didn’t buy medical insurance separately as is usually the case when travelling O/S however, as it turned out medical insurance was part of the “benefits” of the credit card company, Amex IIRC, when purchasing airline trips O/S.

    • Kiwis are never injured overseas and treated in local [not NZ] hospitals ?
      Of course not….Kiwis never take risks

  35. Mr. Middleton,

    I’m not sure what your complaint is or what you reasonably expect should be done about it.

    Volcanoes are tourist attractions, especially active volcanoes. People are reasonably educated about volcanoes; most Americans certainly understand what the word “Pompeii” means and what happened there, even if they do not know the specifics. White Island is a known volcano. The tourists knew what they were getting into. You basically said they could not be educated enough, that they did not know an eruption was a near certainty.

    Certainly, you understand there is no such thing as a certainty or a near certainty in dealing with volcanoes. In mid-1970s the area around Mount Baker was evacuated because a major eruption was believed to be imminent. There was no eruption, and it became an embarrassment for the US government.

    The memory of Mount Baker affected decision-making concerning Mount St. Helens in 1980. After the initial eruptions, though the earthquakes continued, Mount St. Helens spent weeks doing little if anything. People lived and worked around the volcano. They had resorts to run, trees to harvest. That was their livelihoods. Yes, that bulge on the north side was growing, but even David Johnston (one of the first to express concern about a lateral eruption and a major league badass) could not say with any reasonable degree of certainty what was causing the bulge or if it would explode. How long would you keep people from their livelihoods? What level of probability (because there is no certainty here) would justify denying people their means of living?

    In the past 3 years I have visited three volcanoes considered active (Mount Vesuvius, Mount Aetna, Santorini) and seen two dormant or extinct volcanoes (Ischia, Methana). Mount Vesuvius and Mount Aetna were smoking when I went up then. Santorini is known to smoke sometimes. I told people that I didn’t care about the risk – I would go up Mount Vesuvius or die trying.

    As I have said many, many times, Mount Vesuvius IS history (Spartacus, Pompeii). So, for that matter, are Mount Aetna (“Hepheastos’ Forge”) and Santorini (“Atlantis”). I’ve studied these active volcanoes for eons and wanted to go up these literal pieces of history.
    It seems you would deny that because they might erupt. That was a risk I was willing to accept. You seem to believe that even if people like me accept the risk, the tourism vendors who make the visits and climbs possible should not conduct such visits, which would effectively deny those of us who accept the risk the ability to visit or climb these volcanoes.

    You might need to accept that 1. Volcanology is not an exact science at this time and thus you cannot predict when or even if a volcano will erupt (Mount Baker versus Mount St. Helens); and B. People like myself are willing to bear more of a risk than you believe reasonable to visit volcanoes, especially the historic Mount Vesuvius and Santorini, or to simply continue their livelihoods.

    In short, there is no perfect solution to this issue. Simply banning people from the area around an active volcano because it might erupt is not acceptable. The best you can do is inform people, as they appear to have been informed in the White Island eruption, and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.

    • Jeff Cox
      December 11, 2019 at 6:21 pm

      Very sensible comments…some of us (especially geologists around volcanoes) are prepared to take more risks than others.

      David Middleton has suggested that maybe we should limit access to activity level 1 or below…that too makes sense. It’s somewhat similar to the way we restrict (or try to) access to dangerous mountains when weather conditions reach a particular threshold. But please don’t ban all the tours. Yes, as another commenter mentioned, maybe giving factual videos of the risks before tourists go out might limit numbers to those who are seriously interested…it’s a bit like an airline safety video I guess. Planes do crash, many die but some do survive often.

      David’s comments about flying in unsafe planes is interesting too…I do understand that he is talking about the risk of a particular plane not a type. But like many geologists I have survived a helicopter crash (Robinson 44 in Quebec) yet I’m happy to fly in helicopters and love doing so…but I will never set foot again in either a R22 or R44. Interestingly they do some of the tours to White Island in Robinson 44s. Strangely I preferred to go by boat!

      • I’ve flown in helo’s. Our company suffered 1 fatality last year in a helo crash. I would still prefer to fly than take the crew boat and ride the Billy Pugh basket. Thankfully, due to the fact that I’m more of a geophysicist than a wellsite geologist and the miracles of modern technology (Schlumberger Interact), I haven’t had to physically go offshore since 1990. That said, I wouldn’t have hesitated to fly out a semi the day after Macondo (Deepwater Horizon).

        While Macondo revealed some systemic problems, the disaster was due to “defining deviancy down”… Allowing a gradual escalation of the tolerance for procedural deviations. Even the, had they properly interpreted the negative pressure test, the disaster would have been averted or at least mostly mitigated.

  36. What people who whine “why did the government let…” don’t realize, or don’t want to bear in mind, is that the island is **Private Property**. If the government is to keep people away they need to buy the island, patrol it, and then fine the heck out of anyone caught on the island.

    • The NZ Govn’t *HAS* been trying to buy the island since the 1950’s IIRC, but the owning family won’t sell. This event might change that.

      • @ Patrick Why in the world? Unless they charge the tour companies an arm and a leg to bring visitors to the island. If that is the case then they are complicit in the visitors’ deaths. Knowing it was dangerous and people might die and yet keep selling tickets. The NZ government should try emeinent domain.

    • If your private property is a death trap, in the US, the owner incurs a massive liability if they invite people to tour the death trap.

  37. David, I am a bit surprised by your push for government regulation of the volcano access. A need to have the government save me from myself?

    Government control of whitewater sports such as rafting, kayaking, and other adventurous thrill seeking? Rock climbing, dirt biking in steep terrain, where I can hike or picnic because a bear, snake, gator, bison may be present? Surfing big waves needs regulation? Can we include skateboard parks and YouTube videos showing how the risky stunts cause the not so cautious to get hurt and maimed? Skydivers are well known to jump out of a perfectly good airplane for no apparent reason than for the hell of it. Lightening strikes on golf courses and beaches and about anywhere so government approval to go outside based on the weather forecast? I guess skydiving has some risk to other individuals on the ground as a falling body could land on them or smash someones rose garden though.

    I’d rather just take my chances for the adventure, just plain curiosity or seize the adrenaline rush available at the moment.

    • My comments were strictly about White Island, not volcanic features or other forms of adventure tourism. This specific volcano is too dangerous for tourists to ba walking around inside the crater or anywhere else of the island.

      A disaster like this wasn’t a possibility, it was a near-certainty.

      • David,

        Just for fun and not that I even care, but for the sake of principle as follows.

        The odds of my becoming a volcanic cookie on a visit to White Island are about 1 in 17,520. But much greater than winning the lottery jackpot!

        If the likelihood of an eruption is once every 3 years and tours on the island are 1 1/2 hours on the island then the likelihood of me being on the island at the time of an eruption would be 1 in 17,520. Putting that in perspective, the likelihood of my being a volcanic cookie on daily visits would be once in 48 years. Chances are that if I started my daily visits at age 30 I would get bored with the adventure before White Island got me!

        Class 5 and 6 whitewater would likely have gotten me much sooner. I got old before it killed me and the risk was worth every swim, bruise, sprain, and strain. Adrenaline kills but I’m a junkie!

        I was just checking the odds! 🙂

        • The probability of the volcano erupting at least once, at some random point in time over any 3-yr period, was close to 100%.

          Close to 100% of a tour group, on the island at the time of an eruption, would be killed or maimed.

          The probability of a tour group eventually being on the island at the time of an eruption was also very high, maybe close to 100%.

  38. Visiting volcanoes during what is set to be the deepest solar minimum during the space age – which on Spaceweather started in 2006! – is certainly a recipe for an adventure holiday.

  39. There is a big difference between the risk for one individual (the ‘me’) visiting once in a lifetime and groups visiting almost on a daily basis.

    According to several genuine experts there were a few very subtle changes in the system right up to the eruption. The tour guides will have observed the vent many times yet did not apparently have concern. One then must assume that a similar event may occur in the future with little warning.

    It is not appropriate to compare WI with other land-based volcanoes. WI is a large intermediate composite cone immersed in water with a level a few meters below its active vent. These are rare and will have very distinct eruption precursor signals that are maybe too subtle to recognise within a reasonable time-frame. The eruption was as much a geyser as a classic eruption.

    What if a hands-off Government allows visits to continue and this tragedy happens again? They are still not responsible? The public have power over Government. I sense the majority here will be feeling “stay away”.

    Apparently, the gross return from the operation is a piddly NZ$ 4.5 mil/ yr. Is the risk worth it? I am not sure how NZ law stands in relation to a Governmental ban. They can impose no-go zones during natural catastrophes (e.g. the Christchurch CBD after the earthquake) but I think that they first have to impose some form of state of emergency. I am sure that there will be a mechanism by which Government could impose a permanent ban. The best mechanism would be to have the owners impose the ban but they may be under a contract to the operators.

    My gut feeling as a geologist, who deals with hazard and risk as part of my work, is that WI should be placed permanently off-limits to the general public by whatever means. Why take such risk for $4.5 mil/yr? It makes no sense.

    Regards

    M

    • Yep. Maybe allow tours when the Alert Level is 0, possibly 1… But this sort of disaster wasn’t a possibility, or moderate probability… It was a near-certainty.

      Furthermore, it endangered the lives of the rescuers and the NZDF EOD team who risked their lives to recover the bodies of 6 of the 8 missing and presumed dead.

      How dangerous is the White Island volcano today?

      The New Zealand Defence Force worked closely with scientists to determine when it was safe to attempt the recovery.

      On Friday morning, scientists determined that there was a 6 per cent chance of an eruption in any three-hour window throughout the day, which was deemed an acceptable level of risk.

      It was likely the team on the ground would have been confronted by mounds of ash, noxious gases and steaming vents.

      https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-13/new-zealand-white-island-volcano-body-recovery-operation/11797442

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