Permanent Evidence of Life And Death in Pompeii 79 AD
August 24, 2010

Mt. Vesuvius in a Plinian eruption as described by Pliny the Younger in 79 AD

Last Vesuvius Eruption in 1944 Looks Very Similar to Pliny's 79 AD Observations

On This Date in History:  Italy is in some regard the cradle of Western Civilization, though the roots of modern Western culture can be traced to many regions around the Mediterreanean Sea.   Mixed in with the history of Italy and the Roman Empire are episodes of tragedy that were largely man-made.  However, some disasters were simply human tragedy.  The Bay of Naples in Southern Italy has a beautiful location for a town in the Campania region of the Napoli Province at the mouth of the Sarno River at the base of a giant mountain.  What could be better than a port near a river that gave access to inland markets on a bay that is a gateway to the rest of the world?   Sometimes a hidden menace can spoil what appears to be prime real estate.

Impact Zone from Eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD

In the early part of the 1st Century, earthquakes in the region were quite common and accepted as just a way of life.  Most were merely a nuisance but in 62 AD there was a violent tembler,even by Italian standards.  In 64 AD, the Roman Emperor Nero was in Naples performing when another major earthquake struck.  While life went on, it took quite a bit of time for the town to recover.  In 79 AD, the town was still recovering from the earthquake in 62 AD and, to a lesser extent, the one in 64 AD.  Around that time, more earthquakes rattled the area but this time something strange happened.  The wells and springs all dried up.  By the time August rolled around, the earth had cracked.  In late August, the sea became rather turbulent and the animals in the area began to behave in a very strange manner.   The residents of the town, probably more appropriately called a city, were somewhat alarmed but not so much that they thought to leave their home at the base of Mount Vesuvius.  Had they known what the mountain was telling them, they most likely would have left their city of Pompeii because on this date in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted violently.

Poor Dog Captured Forever in Image of Death

This single event is responsible for making Mt. Vesuvius one of the more well known volcanoes in the world.  However, it’s not so much for the event as to what was discovered 1700 years later.  In fact, the modern world may have been ignorant to the great eruption in 79 AD had it not been for the writing of a young man known as Pliny the Younger.  He was the nephew of a Roman offiical who had charge of the Roman Navy in the region.  His uncle, Pliny the Elder, was not only a military and political leader, but he was also a naturalist.  He also raised his nephew.   As a naturalist, Pliny the Elder habitually recorded many scientific observations and his nephew followed in his uncle’s footsteps.  Pliny the Younger wrote to the Roman historian Tacitus about the events of August 24, 79 AD.  He lived with his uncle about 18 miles from Pompeii in the town of Misenum where the fleet was stationed.  At one in the afternoon, the Younger’s mother urged his uncle to look at the strange cloud rising from a distant mountain.  He said that it “was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches.”   

What Appears to Be A Family Frozen in Time from 79AD

The Elder thought he’d take a small boat out to make an observation and asked the Younger if he’d like to come along but the young man was too busy with his studies.  Before the Elder could leave on his scientific excursion, he received a note from a relative that said her home at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius was in great danger and that there was no escape except by sea.  The Elder took off his scientific hat and took on the role of Roman citizen and Prefect and ordered his fleet to sea.  As he neared the city, his ships were pelted by falling stone and pumice as well as burning cinders.  Though his ships were in grave danger, he ordered them to shore.  When his pilot advised that they turn back, Pliny the Elder responded by saying, “Fortune favours the brave; steer to where Pomponianus is!”

An Embrace That Has Lasted Since August 79 AD

Pliny the Elder died that day in the firestorm.  Mt. Vesuvius buried the city of Pompeii under 10 feet of ash while the neighboring town of Herculaneum found itself 75 feet below the surface.  The eruption happened so suddenly that thousands of people died, many of whom were entombed as they attempted to flee.  Mt. Vesuvius erupted about every 100 years thereafter until about 1037 when the volcano went silent for about six centuries.  It awakened from its slumber in 1631 resulting in the deaths of about 4000 people.  As I said in the beginning, volcano notwithstanding, it was  a great place for a city so the rebuilding began.  While the city continued its rebirth over a century later, excavations uncovered the ancient city of Pompeii beginning on March 23, 1748.   The excavation work continues today.  

Preservation Was So Exact that Expressions of Agony Can Be Seen on the Victims

The observational recordings of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption by Pliny the Younger , preserved by Tacitus, resulted in the earliest detailed description of a volcanic eruption in human history.  That in itself makes the volcano noteworthy.  But, the discovery of the buried city is what really put the mountain and the city on the map as the ash preserved the city in a virtual snapshot of time.  From the ruins, it has been determined how Romans in the 1st century lived and they provide some clue as to how the people of Pompeii died.  Not only were the buildings and examples of advanced Roman engineering maintained as a model for archaeologists and anthropologists to study, but human remains were suprisingly left behind.  Stone like figures that appeared to be sculptures of people and animals in the throws of death were found.  The descriptive skill of Pliny the Younger and the heroic effort of his uncle led to the characterization of eruptions similar to that of Vesuvius as “Plinian.”  A typical Plinian eruption features the ejection of tephra into the atmosphere in a cloud that resembles a mushroom cloud, or as the Younger described it, a pine tree.  In 79 AD, it is speculated that the cloud rose to about 66,000 feet and pumice and ash rained on the countryside for 18 hours.  Under the weight of the ash buildings collapsed and then a blast of gasses and extreme heat engulfed the city.  Some speculation as to the ultimate demise of those who could not escape by sea centers around the excessive heat. 

US Army Air Corps Suffered More Damage From Mt. Vesuvius in 1944 than from the Germans and Italians

Now, Mt. Vesuvius has erupted about 50 times since that fateful day in 79 AD yet, as I’ve said, its a great place for a city and today there are nearly 3 million inhabitants of the region at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius.  It has got to be one of the most vulnerable and dangerous of all the world’s metropolises.  The last time it erupted was right in the middle of World War II.  The Mt. Vesuvius eruption in 1944 came just as the allies were attempting to take control of Italy from Mussolini and Hitler and, at times, the erupting volcano was more of an enemy than the facist soldiers.  Since 1944, the volcano has remained silent yet is still considered as an active volcano.  One day it will awaken again.  If it does, then you can have a birds-eye view from the webcams now situated on and around Mt. Vesuvius.

Weather Bottom Line: I told you that I thought that we’d turned the corner on the excessive heat and it would seem that we’re getting a little more evidence that there is a seasonal change coming.  Now, I’m not saying that we won’t get to 90 degrees again this year, but I am saying that the upper 90s are probably gone as well as the extreme humidity.  When we do get to 90, which we may this weekend, it won’t be so dog gone humid.  As it stands, we have a cold front coming through on Wednesday afternoon or evening followed by a secondary push of Canadian air.  That means that the latter part of the week we may see highs only in the low to mid 80s as we enjoy the front side of the Canadian high pressure system dropping down.  Our mornings will be in the mid to upper 50’s.  When the high drifts off to the east for the weekend, then we get a return flow and warm back up.  It’s a nice break and an indication that the times they are a changin’.


Iceland Volcano Not Necessarily Precursor to Global Calamity
March 22, 2010

Click For More On Iceland Volcano Exploding from Ice Cap

Myrdalsjokull Glacier Looms

Several weeks ago, I spoke of the threat of a volcanic eruption in Iceland. Correct headline, correct country, wrong volcano. I was speaking of news regarding Mt. Hekla and how some observations had been made that the summit was absent of snow and that there was speculation that may have indicated an impending eruption. I wonder if there is a connection. It’s purely speculation on my part and I have a very limited background in geology and vulcanology, but I wonder if perhaps magma was coming to the surface at Mt. Hekla while at the same time was rising to the surface elsewhere and the pressure was instead released with the recent eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull (AYA-feeyapla-yurkul) volcano.   Eyjafjallajokull is apparently considered to be a relatively small volcano and there is some concern due to its close proximity to the glacier of the same name.  If you heat up a bunch of ice, it tends to melt and then there is a big flood.  But, there is a larger concern.

Hot Spot Volcanic Island Life Cycle

Now the last time that Eyjafjallajokull erupted was in 1821 and it was boring eruption which oozed lava in a rather slow, pedestrian manner for a couple of days.   Keep in mind that Iceland was settled by the Vikings in the 9th century and is known as the land of fire and ice because its covered in glaciers but is also an island of volcanoes.  Islands such as Iceland are created by thermal plumes in the earth’s crust that create hot spots.  Iceland and island chains like Hawaii are formed by hot spots in which a volcano emerges from the depths and and island forms.  The earth’s crust moves and so the next time a plume develops, a new island forms after the old one has moved on.  Unlike Hawaii which is in the tropical region, Iceland is pretty close to the Arctic Circle so its not the same kind of paradise as Hawaii.  Now, one of the more active volcanoes on Iceland is the previously mentioned Hekla volcano which gained the moniker of the “Gateway to Hell” during the Middle Ages because the locals believed that souls were dragged below.

Mt Katla Has Interesting Ignatius Formations Similar to Devils Post Pile and also areas found in Pacific Northwest

The fear now is not the current eruption, but instead that it could create a larger fissure that would be the catalyst for an eruption of nearby Mount Katla.  Experts say that historical evidence suggests that when Eyjafjallajokull blows, Katla follows. But, they don’t know when. So, it could be tomorrow or years from now.  But, leave it to the media to not miss the chance for a dramatic headline.  NBC goes so far as to say that the volcano that is only speculated to maybe erupt at some distant time could have “world consequences.”     That is because in1783, the Laki volcano erupted, causing scores to die of famine when livestock and crops were destroyed and changing weather patterns across Europe.  Some historians link the climate disruption to the French Revolution and in 1784, the US had one of its coldest winters on record with the Mississippi River supposedly freezing at New Orleans. 

Iceland Glaciers Create Cool Waterfalls...Volcanoes can make waterflow extreme

The Katla volcano, which lies under the thick Myrdalsjokull icecap, has not erupted since 1918. Since Eyjafjallajokull hasn’t erupted since 1821, that would suggest that Katla is not necessarily terminally linked to Eyjafjallajokull.  So, that would seem to me to allow for the possibility that an Eyjafjallajokull eruption does not necessarily mean a Katla eruption.  Now, the idea that these two volcanoes do have some sort of apparent historical link, it makes me wonder if it is so unreasonable for me to speculate whether the Mt. Hekla observations are somehow connected.   Who knows? And who knows if there would be gloom and doom for the world with a Mt. Katla eruption.  No doubt, it would cause a huge flooding problem with the melting of the adjacent glacier.  But, the doomsday scenario that is being trumpeted as a potential since it happened in the late 18th century is a bit misleading.  You can’t necessarily take one incident in history and then say that if that event happened again, the results would be the same 240 years later.  And in this case, they aren’t even talking about the same volcano.  So, here’s the real lowdown:  Eyjafjallajokull eruptions have been known to preceed a larger eruption of Katla but not all Katla eruptions are preceeded by a Eyjafjallajokull eruption and the Laki eruption in 1783 created global consequences and we’re talking about Mt. Katla in 2010, not 1783.  Possible, not necessarily probable and certainly not worthy of scare tactic headlines.

Weather Bottom Line:  Told you we wouldn’t get out of the 40’s on Monday.  Official high was in low 50’s but that was just after midnight.  Doesn’t count unless you are our adopted stray cat, Paintbrush.  But, Snow White has a nice warm bed for him on our front porch so the falling temperatures weren’t a problem.  After a chilly night, Paintbrush and the rest of us will warm up nicely to the low 60’s on Tuesday and then mid 60’s on Wednesday with the sun doing its job.  Low to mid 60’s Thursday will help fuel rain and perhaps a few rumbles of thunder as another cold front swings through.

Feb. 26 Death Toll: Volcano 0,Terrorists 6, Corporation 125
February 26, 2010

Mt. Hekla Put On A Spectacular Show in 1970. Is it Showtime Again?

Mt. Hekla Looms Over Iceland

On This Date in History:  Iceland is a rather ironic name for an island-nation that is not only formed from volcanic activity but is also a vulcanologist’s fantasy land.  It is known as the land of Fire and Ice because of Iceland’s climate, that is cold but not as cold as one might think due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream,  and the number of volcanoes that dot the landscape.  One source claims that there is some 200 volcanoes in Iceland, the Global Volcansim Program features 32 volcanoes on Iceland while the Michigan Technological University Volcanoes Page indicates 6 active volcanoes on the island.  I suppose the differences have to do with the parameters one uses to define a volcano and it’s state of activity.  Anyway, one volcano that goes on every list is Mt. Hekla.  From the top, you can take spectacular summit view video from Mt. Hekla.   It is active and has a recent history of erupting about every 10 years.  It hasn’t always been that regular though.   

Hekla's 2000 Plume rose to at least 13 km

A history of Mt. Hekla reveals that it erupted in 1104 and then did so for the 17th time since then in 1991.    The last time Mt. Hekla erupted was on this date in 2000.  And now, University of Iceland Earth Science Professor Freysteinn Sigmundsson says that recent activity suggests that Hekla may be up to no good again.  In December and January 2010, reports were circulating that the top of the big guy was void of snow, which is unusual in the middle of winter and especially since the past several months have been particularly cold.  Apparently, it could be a clue because it may mean the top is heating up.  But, not necessarily…well have to wait and see.  After all February 26 has at least a small history of disasters but the two I’m thinking of had everything to do with man and very little with Mother Nature. 

People Might Not Be Aware of the Extent of 1993 WTC Substructure Damage

Did you Forget that on This date in History… 

 the World Trade Center was bombed? Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001…but the first attempt to bring down the towers happened on February 26, 1993. The above photo is from the ATF files of the incident. Nice hole, huh? I suspect the bad guys got closer to undermining the integrity of the substructure than we were led to believe. No matter, they came back again 8 years later after we forgot about their intentions. While everyone remembers Sept. 11, 2001 and the events of the day I sometimes wonder if we remember enough that we take seriously the possibility that they will come back again, just as they did following their near-miss of February 26, 1993. With all of the justified pre-occupation with the economy, how certain are you that the new administration is as vigilante as it can be to thwart any more attacks? Or perhaps, do you think that there will be no more attacks? 

West Virginia Town Wiped Out

West Virginia Town Wiped Out

Now, as I said I suspect that a mega disaster was narrowly avoided at the World Trade Center in 1993 and there is no question that September 2000 was just an catastrophic day on many many levels.  Those were both man made events perpetrated by those whose clear aim was to destroy the buildings, kill many people, severely disrupt the American economy and terrorize it’s citizens.  

But, other man made disasters don’t have to be deliberate.  They can come about do to negligence or just plain stupidity.  There is no way that the Buffalo Mining Company purposely courted disaster.  Even the most cynical opponent to corporate America would agree the financial cost to the company would make such an assertion foolish.  But, it can be said that they were neglegent on safety issues, perhaps in an effort to control costs.  And there is no question that negligence was foolish from a financial perspective, a human perspective and from the viewpoint of a Patriot.   On This Date in 1972 a cascade of water funnelled down Buffalo Creek in Logan County, West Virginia. 4000 homes and buildings in 17 towns were washed away and at least 118 people lost their lives. Marshall Univeristy has a “virtual museum” dedicated to the event. The culprit was a rather ironic foe. The irony lay in that the killer was also the lifeline to many of those who died. (Photo Gallery-Huntington Herald-Dispatch)  

Debris Piled Up on Bridge

The Buffalo Mining Company was one of a number of companies exploiting West Virginia’s greatest natural asset (aside from its beauty) which is coal. Much of the state’s wealth and economy is based on coal. But a problem with coal mining is what to do with the wastes. If you put them on a mountain, you get landslides and if you put them in a valley, you spoil the creek or river. The great idea of the Buffalo group was to build a dam. Actually, it was a series of three dams. Because of the type of dam they were, they weren’t really regulated much. There really wasn’t much of an engineering study done or anything. The waste from coal mining is inherently unstable and makes for a lousy dam. The first dam gave way, putting pressure on the second dam which failed and the huge amount of water spilling down caused the main dam to collapse. 

buffcreek1When you look at the steep terrain of West Virginia, it makes you wonder, “what were they thinking?” It’s one of those things in which it seems so obvious that using unstable material in such an area that a three-year-old could figure it out that it wouldn’t work. To say that its an example of corporate greed is probably a bit over-the-top as I’m sure those with the company didn’t want that to happen. Even if you have cynical view of the corporation, from their fiscal standpoint, it cost them a huge amount of money. However, the company was a subsidiary of the Pittston Mining Company and that company had a history of shabby safety practices. So, it would be fair to say that it appears that the company’s saving money on safety issues was the root cause of the disaster. But, given what it cost them from lawsuits, lost revenues, fines and other costs it seems that a greedy fellow would have prevented that from happening in order that they may keep more of their money. The result was from short sighted, stupid business practices and its a shame that we have to have government watch dogs to force some businesses to do what is not only smart from a corporate standpoint, but the right thing to do from a human perspective and for a business that relies on the efforts of their fellow citizens of the United States of America for their success. 

NAM In Mid to Upper 30's by 1 PM Sunday

GFS Critical Thickness Lines SW of Louisville Sun 1 PM and moving Northeast

Weather Bottom Line

Okay, I get it now, but I’m not sure that I’m buyin’ it.   The models were in a bit of flux but now I’m seeing some consistency and support for the idea of warmer temperatures for the weekend; particularly Sunday.  Not warm, mind you, but something closer to seasonal.  Then we get colder again.  But, I wouldn’t hold your breath.  Yes, the data has some consistency but it’s not making sense.  We’ll see.  I do think though that it’s a certainty that a big old storm should  come up out of the Gulf early in the week.  Snow White and my friend at Apple Hill Farm in the Mountains of North Carolina may get dumped on with snow on Tuesday and Wednesday.    She’s had a very large amount of snow this year.  But, the alpacas are just fine…they’re from the mountains of South America.   The trend has been for the storm to track a bit farther west and if this trend continues and it does track farther west than is progged now, then we may see another round of snow.  But, again, we’ll see.