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Professor Dougal Jerram

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Mountains Jim... But Not as We Know Them! An Insider's Guide to Volcano Spotting

Posted: 18/03/2013 23:00

The first time I saw a live volcano in the flesh I was poking my geological hammer into red hot lava on the slopes of Kilauea, Hawaii, and we watched lava pour into the sea as the night fell... from that point I was hooked! But can you to become a volcano spotter yourself, and just how far would you need to travel? The answer is yes, and surprisingly not as far as you may think. Here's Dr Volcano's guide to seeing a live eruption, and you do not have to be reading a copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth to get there, far from it.

As I write, Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe, is giving us a firework show that can even be seen from space. Plosky Tolbachik volcano, a mouthful from behind the old iron curtain is doing its best to entertain in Russia. Lava lakes like Erta Ale (Ethiopia), Halema'uma'u (Hawaii), Villarrica (Chile) and Mt Erebus (Antarctica) have been rhythmically dancing a merry dance, some for hundreds of years, and the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone, Iceland and New Zealand (among many) tell us a tale of hot monsters lurking just beneath surface. Clearly some of these volcanoes are in far flung parts of the world which few of us, and I have been luckier than most, will get to see. So are there some, like Etna, that are in easy reach and can provide an almost guaranteed spectacular light show to boot?

In my eyes the best, and arguably the most reliable volcano I turn to when I need my magma fix, is Stromboli. Set as the easternmost island of the Aeolian chain, north of Sicily, this wondrous volcano has been erupting like a volcanic heartbeat for over 2000 years. In fact it has been so regular that the Romans nicknamed it 'The Lighthouse of the Mediterranean'. It not too difficult to get to, especially in the summer, and with organised tours with the mountain guides to the top, it really is an erupting volcano within easy grasp. Note: it is a 900m hike up to the summit, so make sure you pack some boots... and lots of memory cards for the camera. What will greet you at the top is 'raging Earth', fireworks from deep within the ground in an eruption which has actually been named 'Strombolian', it's that good!

The modern rock spotter is not a bearded, sandal clad geek, and many have indeed funded their lust for hot rocks by stacking shelves (take note IDS). They are empowered by a new drive for understanding the planet and how it ticks, and realising that the Science of the Earth can go hand in hand with a holiday, a pool bar, and some awesome life experiences. Go on, pick up your boots, head out to the Earth and look around... things may be a little hotter than you think :-)

 

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