Lagniappe for Askja post

Leonardo Antonio Avezzano/Shutterstock

Today’s Askja post.

Its lagniappe in full:

Briefly, on Friday somebody quickly responded when I forwarded a tweet of theirs, about the latest science update on Askja, adding the comment that Viti’s crater lake is open. (My updates on unrest news are here.)

Their response was simply that Lake Viti has a high sulfur content and is usually in the low 20s C — roughly 68° to 75° F.


That definitely explains it — the place would be a hydrothermal tourist attraction if it contained less sulfur, so people could swim in it, and wasn’t waaaaaay out in the subarctic winter boonies!

That was all; the rest of this describes a quite separate chain of thought it triggered based on other things I’ve noticed recently, including but not limited to:

  • Over twenty-some years, scientists appear to have shifted from “damage control” mode when publicly discussing dangerous volcanoes — as in, for example, ‘NO! Yellowstone isn’t going to blow!’ — to engagement, as in, ‘Well, someday Yellowstone probably will have another supereruption but not any time soon, and in the meantime, look at all this neat stuff!’

    It’s almost as though the boffins have been reading and writing articles like this!

  • A large segment of the public is only interested in sensationalism, but they’re losing ground to the rest of us, who are quite willing to be entertained by tales of UFOs hovering above Popocatépetl, etc., but who also take serious threats like dangerous volcanoes seriously; as we are learning more facts and starting to glimpse the big picture (“look at all this neat stuff!”), we want more detailed information.

    And if you’ve followed recent public outreach work by volcanologists — for example, at Taupo supervolcano, Mauna Loa and Mount Merapi Decade Volcanoes, and of course, the evergreen Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles and Volcano Watch — you know we are getting that info. 😍

  • Why are only a few scientists, like Dr. Thordarson and those quoted here, talking to the media about Askja? I have no idea, of course, but that put me into a ‘what if?’ mood.

I remember a few sensational rumors about Askja’s potential violence back in 2014, before and during the Bardarbunga/Holuhraun eruption. I don’t recall any official mention of possible explosiveness before or during that gorgeous effusive event.

That the possibility was taken seriously at the time has been mentioned in later research papers, including the one quoted in the Askja post.

Today’s public Askja hysteria is so strong on YouTube that I can hardly find decent videos. Again, most officials aren’t commenting on this round of volcanic unrest at Askja, though a few knowledgeable individuals are.

What if those officials, rightly or not, don’t trust us with the thought that an explosive eruption might be one — just one — of the scenarios if — a big if — unrest at Askja escalates into an eruption, as it did quite peacefully in 1961?

Don’t we all lose something by that?

And yes, there’s the possible economic effects to consider if Askja explosions ever happened, disrupting international air traffic, but let’s face it: some Icelandic volcano is going to do that, as Eyjafjallajokull did in 2010.

If not Askja, then Grimsvotn, Katla, or any one (or more) of a number of other volcanoes.

So what? It hasn’t been a hundred years yet since Lindbergh first made it to Paris — there’s still plenty of room outside the box to think up solutions before the problem hits us.

If we dare, as Lindbergh did.

I’m raising questions here that have no good answers only to explain why the tweet sequence about Lake Viti Friday, catching me in a thoughtful mood, also helped me decide what to do about an excellent but terrifying video I had come across while searching for this week’s Friday-cat-post guest video.

Segue/bridge: Explosive eruptions like Askja 1875 are awful, doubly so in this air-travel age, AND huge spiders are terrifying.

Askja Volcano seems to be a good center for of all sorts of “-sophy” and “-ology”: philosophy (jargon alert); geology (above linked Askja post); and, I think, biology (below).

[SPOILERS, or is it CAVEAT?]

No, the volcano isn’t mentioned in this video, which has over a million views —

— but something scary is: the bit about that bird-eating spider.

I can imagine the director and other decision-makers planning that one out:

B, C & D: GAH!

A: People will watch it — we’ve shown other grisly examples of predation here.

B: But it’s a bird-eating spider! I’ve had to call my therapist TWICE since watching it go after Tweetie!

A: Well, nobody knew the cage was open; the canary got out —

C: I don’t think we should present arachnids as creepy — they’re just animals. I forced myself to watch a tarantula in a New Mexico parking lot once and realized it’s just another natural –

A & B: Shut up! Everybody wants ‘creepy’ with spiders. Anything else would feel fake.

C: But it’s real! People shouldn’t be scared of the real thing, just careful.

D: How ’bout a mouse? They’re used to video scenes of cats preying on rodents, right?

A: Well…we could stage something, maybe with a nest of mice babies and the big spider approaching…


A, B, C, & D: Faked!

A: Somebody go put that Thing out in the sun for a while.

C: I want the ending to be a little girl safely laughing at a nasty-looking spider!

Doubtlessly, the actual making of this video was quite different, but that spider section is hard to take, even though you can see that the spider is nowhere near the actual nest, separated from it probably by several glass plates.

Nevertheless, we all feel the mouse parent’s fear and horror — which is the reality of nature that no one otherwise can film.

There are so many other good things in this video — the cheetah segment, for instance, showing the cat’s muscle power as well as its speed, like a linebacker gracefully clearing hurdles during a track event.

The spider ruined this as a feel-good Friday video, but I kept watching. They eventually got to humans and I was ready for the trite “we’re destroying everything” message. It never came.

It’s an excellent ending, and that last scene totally justifies the spider section, though I cannot express why in words, any more than this philospher, quoted by Pall Skulason (jargon alert), could describe Askja’s effect on him:

At my first glimpse, I had to look away. Nothing like that has happened to me before or since, to be struck dumb by landscape. But there is some magic attached to Askja, some awesome, disturbing force that took me unawares and that I could not at first withstand, there in my solitude. I have never seen anything as astonishing or powerful. It was as if the magnificent view which I had enjoyed just a moment before had been erased from my mind, and with the terror of animate flesh, I was confronted by this awesome wonder of inanimate nature. There is no hope of describing Askja in any meaningful way. Who can describe a great work of art? Words and images are like the mere clanging of metal or the beating of a bell. And the same applies to any attempt to describe Askja.

As G. K. Chesterton put it, in A Defence of Heraldry, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.”

It’s too bad that people try to sell us stuff through that road — the same medium as the one our intellects use for news and entertainment.

Additionally, it’s hard to engage our intellects when there is an active volcano stirring our eyes and heart.

That is a human thing, applying to scientists and laypeople alike.

Then we all have to function, and everyone moves out across the spectrum — volcanologists heading toward the “intellect” extreme, some YouTubers & Co. romping off to the “sensation” end — but, hopefully, with most of us clustering somewhere near the middle.

That works out best for everybody in the end.

As for the imaginary dialog above:

  • Some folks on YouTube and elsewhere online and in other forms of media are like A and B, above. They know what grabs attention and cater only to that.
  • I’m C — yes, I forced myself to look closely at one of the brown tarantulas crawling across a Tucumcari parking lot one day in 1987 and saw it, for the first time, as a fellow animal and a wonder. (This did not send me to the extreme of keeping one as a pet, but it cured me of any tendency toward the other extreme: unthinking arachnocide.)
  • D? Well, it just seemed to fit; you know, somebody who can communicate with the intended audience and who knows that it’s necessary to somehow work this messy thing into a picture they can show to others. It could be a scientist, as D is using their intellect, eye, AND heart.

    Or it could be a philospher like Skulason:

    The task ahead is to elaborate the concept of wholeness in order to make us capable of overcoming the ideology of efficiency and prepare for a much healthier world, where we humans learn to make peace with the powers of Nature – in our minds and in our actions. And for this task, we all have to find our own Askja.