Thursday, January 10, 2013

PBS "Life on Fire": Volcano Doctors

On Wednesday, January 9, PBS aired what appeared to be the first of a series about volcanoes, called “Life on Fire”, with the first film (one hour) called “Volcano Doctors”.

The link for the entire series is here.

The film presented the work of scientists who, at some physical risk to themselves, study volcanoes.

The episode presented several major eruptions resulting in dislocation.  In Colombia, an ice dam over a volcano collapses, leading to flooding of a stream below and villages.  Later, a pyroclastic eruption (like Mt. St. Helens in 1980 in Washington state) melts even more ice, causing even more catastrophic flooding.

The volcanologists work in the Philippines, and then in New Guinea, filming Rabual, which shows truly spectacular lava flows which are visible in the plains below.

The researchers go to Italy and map a volcano similar to Vesuvius or Etna.  Remember, in January 2004 the History Channel had aired “Pompeii”  with a lengthy advertising campaign (including Metro boards) for the cable disaster film, simulating life in  Pompeii up to the time of the eruption.

One of the most destructive volcanoes in this episodes is in Chile, a volcano that had not been active for 8000 years.  It wiped out villages with floods and then ash.  Residents wanted to return despite the ash, because life as refugees was demeaning.  (Wouldn’t it be?) The volcano caused an underwarter landslide and a tsunami which, luckily, remained small.

The episode also covered the disruption of air travel over Europe in 2011 after the eruption of a volcano in Iceland and the persistence of a huge ash cloud. 

There are fears that a landslide after an eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands could create a tsunami large enough to wipe out US East Coast cities.  Then all of us who survived would become refugees. 

Wikipedia attribution link for St. Helens eruption picture. 

Update: Jan. 24

PBS aired the episode "Phoenix Temple" about the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, and the ecosystem in the countryside surrounding the deep crater, including bats.   This was a spectacular episode. 

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