After deadly eruption, Japan ponders how to improve predictions

first_imgCan volcanic eruptions be predicted?The question has been very much in the news in Japan since the 27 September eruption of Mount Ontake. Despite 24/7 monitoring of the mountain for telltale warning signs, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) failed to predict the eruption. It surprised several hundred hikers enjoying a glorious autumn day on the 3067-meter mountain, leaving 56 confirmed dead and seven still missing—the country’s deadliest eruption in nearly 90 years.On Monday, a popular TV show asked whether the country could do better. Each week, Beat Takeshi’s TV Tackle features a group of celebrities quizzing experts on topics in the news. The most recent program brought together a panel of earth scientists and others concerned about volcanoes (on YouTube in Japanese here). “There is no way to precisely predict eruptions,” said Robert Geller, a geophysicist at the University of Tokyo famous for his criticism of Japan’s earthquake prediction efforts. He added that prediction efforts might succeed once in a thousand tries. “If society recognizes that, then warnings are surely possible,” he added. Hideki Shimamura, a geophysicist at Musashino Gakuin University in Sayama, agreed. “I’m rather critical about the idea of eruption prediction,” he said.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Today at a briefing for journalists, Toshitsugu Fujii, who chairs the JMA Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions, got a chance for rebuttal. Fujii, a volcanologist and professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, pointed to nine successful predictions since the program started in 1974. The most impressive example may be the case of Mount Unzen near Nagasaki. In late May 1991, after noting small eruptions and the formation of a lava dome, JMA convinced local authorities to evacuate 12,000 nearby residents. The mountain erupted on 3 June, sending a pyroclastic flow 4.5 kilometers from the crater. It killed 43 journalists and volcanologists who had entered the no-go zone to take pictures and gather data. “But not a single resident of the area died,” Fujii says.Still, he agrees that eruption prediction “is not very reliable yet.”It is not for lack of trying. Japan has 110 active volcanoes, including those on remote islands and beneath the ocean. JMA monitors 47 of those around the clock for seismic activity and ground deformation, and for some mountains it also watches gas and smoke emissions. At one time, human observers were stationed on certain mountains. Now, all the data are relayed to four observation centers.Those centers, however, are largely staffed by civil servants and not trained scientists, Fujii explained. And because volcanic activity in Japan has been rather quiet in recent decades, they’ve had little on-the-job training. Another weakness of Japan’s eruption prediction efforts is the split of responsibilities. JMA does not directly carry out volcanic research, which is left to universities and certain national institutes. In contrast, the U.S. Geological Survey has more than 100 volcanologists involved in a comprehensive research effort. The coordinating committee he chairs has “no legal authority, power, or budget,” Fujii explains.Communications is also a weak link. Even among the nine cases where JMA recognized a coming eruption, warnings reached local authorities in time for action in only three cases. A new committee charged with investigating how to speed up the flow of information will hold its first meeting this month. A separate committee will examine the specifics of the Mount Ontake eruption to see if warning signs were missed.After the TV program, Geller wrote to ScienceInsider that he is not saying eruption prediction shouldn’t be tried. But he objects to JMA’s five volcanic alert levels, which range from normal (Level 1) to stay off the mountain (Level 3) to evacuating nearby residents (Level 5). He thinks this implies a degree of precision beyond the current state of the art. The five-level system “is misleading the public to overestimate the accuracy and reliability of what’s now possible,” he wrote.last_img read more

Citizen Group Seeks Water Rights in Proposed Mining Area

first_imgChuitna Coal Mine. (Graphic Courtesy DNR)The public comment period closes Thursday on a water-rights petition from a citizen group fighting a proposed coal mine in the Chuitna watershed on the west side of Cook Inlet.Download AudioIn 2009, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition filed a series of water-rights petitions to theDepartment of Natural Resources. They asked DNR to reserve water rights in a tributary of the Chuitna River called Middle Creek.Judy Heilman helped start the coalition which comprises fishermen, some residents from the community of Beluga, and others. The group filed the petitions in response to a proposed coal strip mine in the watershed. Specifically, they are asking the water in Middle Creek to be saved for salmon.“That’s the first mining LMU, logical mining unit, that they want to start and it’s 14 miles of salmon spawning stream and they want to mine down 300 feet deep,” says Heilman.She says 15-20% of the silver salmon for the Chuitna River are spawned in Middle Creek. She and other opponents of the mine are concerned not only about the resource itself, but about fishermen and subsistence users who depend on it.“It’s very important for Alaskans to be able to fish and fill their freezers with salmon. There’s never been a salmon stream that’s been restored that’s been destroyed like that,” says Heilman.Bob Shavelson is the director of Cook Inletkeeper, which has partnered with the coalition.“Well, the west side of Cook Inlet is still a very remote and spectacularly beautiful place and the Chuitna watershed is unique in that it supports all five species of wild pacific salmon,” says Shavelson. “Like everywhere around Cook Inlet, the Chinook fisheries have been getting hammered recently and nobody has a great understanding on that. But, the Chuitna River has been listed by the Department of Fish and Game as a fishery of concern for Chinook. That’s just another reason that we should protect it because if our king salmon are hanging on by a thread right now, we need to provide everything that we can in a changing climate to make sure they have the resilience to fight back.”In 2013, PacRim Coal LLC filed for water rights for Middle Creek to divert the water from the stream and mine underneath. According to DNR’s Chuitna mine page, it’s part of a surface coal mining and export development proposal. It would be a 25-year project producing nearly 12 million tons of coal annually.If it were constructed, the coalition says it would be the state’s largest coal strip mining operation.Since the coalition and PacRim Coal have both filed for water rights, only one will emerge with the state’s approval.“I think it’s important to recognize that Governor Walker came in and it was a refreshing openness that he brought and he put together a transition team,” says Shavelson. “The fisheries transition team unanimously came up with a recommendation for what they call a Fish First policy, and that is when we’re making management decisions around our natural resources, we should put fish first and I can’t think of a better example than Chuitna to implement that policy.”According to DNR, PacRim Coal has made changes to their original mine proposal and has not yet submitted an updated draft. However they are aware of the Coalition’s instream flow reservation petition.In an email response to a request for comment, PacRim’s Chuitna Coal Project Manager, Dan Graham, wrote quote “PacRim is currently reviewing the notice and applications on file and has no further comment at this time.”Shavelson says the state’s decision in this case could have ramifications for other areas.“Well it really would be a new policy in the state’s history because never before has a wild salmon stream been mined completely through,” says Shavelson. “Looking back over decisions about salmon habitat, I can’t think of a more important decision in the past 25 or more years for the management of our resource because if we trade salmon for coal here, if we sacrifice a vibrant salmon ecosystem for a one-time use, then we’re going to set a precedent that’s going to put salmon streams across the state at risk.”Judy Heilman says she thinks this could be one step down that path.“It’s very important for the next generations coming up. We can’t leave them polluted streams, no fish in the streams, polluted air. We can’t do that to the kids coming up and the next generation. We have to leave them better than what we have now.”last_img read more