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Report on Asosan (Japan) — July 2019

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 44, no. 7 (July 2019)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Report research and preparation by: Liz Crafford.

Asosan (Japan) Multiple brief ash emission events during April and May 2019; minor ashfall in adjacent villages

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2019. Report on Asosan (Japan). In: Crafford, A.E., and Venzke, E. (eds.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 44:7. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


Asosan

Japan

32.884°N, 131.104°E; summit elev. 1592 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Japan's 24-km-wide Asosan caldera on the island of Kyushu has been active throughout the Holocene. Nakadake has been the most active of 17 central cones within the caldera for 2,000 years. Historical eruptions have been primarily basaltic to basaltic-andesitic ash eruptions, with periodic Strombolian activity, all from Nakadake Crater 1. The most recent major eruptive episode began in late November 2014 and continued through 1 May 2016. Another eruption, with the largest ash plume in 20 years, occurred on 8 October 2016. Asosan remained quiet until renewed activity from Crater 1 began in mid-April 2019; it is covered in this report, through the end of June 2019. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) provides monthly reports of activity; the Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) issues aviation alerts reporting on possible ash plumes.

Asosan remained quiet during 2017 and 2018 with steam plumes rising a few hundred meters from Crater 1 and low levels of SO2 emissions; a warm acidic lake was present within the crater. Fumarolic activity from two areas on the S and SW wall of the crater rim generated occasional thermal anomalies in satellite data and incandescence at night. A brief period of increased seismicity was reported in mid-March 2019. An increase in seismic amplitude on 14 April 2019 preceded a small explosion on 16 April; it produced an ash plume which rose 200 m above the crater rim and drifted NW. It was followed by additional small explosions on 19 April. A new explosion on 3 May produced minor ashfall in adjacent communities; ash emissions were reported multiple times during May with plumes reaching 1,400 m above the crater rim. No additional ash emissions were reported in June.

Activity during 2017 and 2018. JMA reported that no eruptions occurred during 2017. Amplitudes of volcanic tremor increased somewhat during March but were generally low for the rest of the year. The earthquake hypocenters were mostly located near the active crater at around sea level. SO2 emissions were slightly less than 1,000 tons per day (t/d) from January through April; for the rest of the year they ranged from 600 to 2,500 t/d. The Alert Level had been lowered from 2 to 1 on 7 February 2017 where it remained throughout the year. Steam plumes generally rose no more than 600 m above the active crater rim (figure 42). JMA noted that from January to June they often observed crater incandescence at night with a high-sensitivity surveillance camera; Sentinel-2 satellite images also captured thermal anomalies a few times (figure 43). The green lake inside the crater persisted throughout the year with water temperatures of 50-60°C. Two fumaroles were present with high-temperature gas emissions on the SW and S crater walls. Temperatures at the S crater wall were over 600°C from February to May; they decreased to 320-560°C during the rest of the year (figure 44). Sulfur deposits were visible around the SW crater wall fumarole during July.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 42. Steam plumes that rose around 600 m above Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan were typical activity throughout 2017. Images taken with JMA webcam on 9 June (top left), 22 August (top right), 12 November (bottom left), and 20 December (bottom right) 2017. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 43. Sentinel-2 images captured thermal anomalies at the S rim of the green lake at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 on 16 February (left) and 27 May 2017 (right). JMA reported that incandescence was occasionally visible during the night from January-June from the same area. Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 44. High-temperature gas and steam from fumaroles on the S wall of the Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan on 24 August (top) and 17 November 2017 (bottom) were persistent all year, with temperatures ranging from 300 to over 600°C. The green lake inside the crater persisted throughout the year as well with water temperatures of 50-60°C. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).

The Alert Level did not change at Asosan during 2018, and no eruptions were reported. Sulfur dioxide emissions fluctuated between 400 and 1,800 t/d throughout the year. Steam plumes generally rose less than 500 m above the active crater (figure 45); incandescence was observed at night during May-October and sometimes observed in satellite imagery as thermal anomalies (figure 46). The temperature of the green lake inside the crater ranged from 58 to 75°C throughout the year. The thermal anomaly on the S wall of the crater was consistently in the 300-500°C range, and had a high temperature in April of 580°C; in December the high temperature had risen to 738°C (figure 47). A brief increase in the number of isolated tremors occurred during March, with 1,044 reported on 4 March, exceeding the previous maximum of 1,000 on 27 October 2014. Seismicity also increased briefly during June, with more than 400 events reported each day on 8, 18, and 20 June. The Minami Aso village Yoshioka fumarole zone, located about 5 km W of Nakadake Crater 1, continued to produce modest steam plumes throughout 2017 and 2018 (figure 48).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 45. Typical steam plumes at Asosan during 2018 rose around 500 m above the Nakadake Crater 1. Images are from 4 March (top left), 22 July (top right), 17 August (lower left), and 13 September 2018 (lower right). Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 46. Nighttime incandescence was reported by JMA during May-October 2018 from the S rim of Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan; Sentinel-2 satellite images (bands 12, 4, 2) captured thermal anomalies from the same area numerous times during 2018 including on 16 June (top left), 26 July and 19 September (middle row), and 18 and 23 November (bottom row). JMA photographed incandescence at night on 17 July 2018 at the S fumarole area (top right). Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground and JMA (Aso volcano Monthly Report for July 2018).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 47. The "Green Tea Pond" inside Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan had temperatures that ranged from 58 to 75°C during 2018 (top row, 26 March 2018); the thermal anomaly on the S wall of the crater consistently had temperatures measured in the 300-500°C range and the SW fumarole area had somewhat lower temperatures (bottom row, 22 June 2018). Courtesy of JMA (monthly Asosan reports for March, May, and June 2018).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 48. The Minami Aso village Yoshioka fumarole zone, located about 5 km W of Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan, continued to produce modest steam plumes throughout 2017 and 2018. It is shown here on 20 December 2017 (top) and 12 March 2018 (bottom). Courtesy of JMA (December 2017 and March 2018 monthly volcano reports).

Activity during 2019. Steam plumes rose to 800 m above the crater rim during January 2019. Overall activity increased slightly during February; SO2 emissions peaked at 2,200 t/d early in the month; they ranged from 800 to 1,800 t/d for most of the month. The amplitude of volcanic tremor also increased slightly during February. A further increase in tremor amplitude on 11 March 2019 prompted JMA to raise the Alert Level from 1 to 2 the following morning. Volcanic tremor amplitude decreased on 15 March; JMA determined that activity had decreased, and the Alert Level was lowered back to 1 on 29 March 2019. The amount of water in the crater decreased significantly between 27 February and 20 March, exposing part of the crater floor.

The surface temperature of the lake rose during the first part of 2019; it was 78°C in February and 84°C in March. Steam plumes rose to 1,200 m above the crater rim during March and April. SO2 emissions rose to 4,500 t/d on 12 March but dropped to a lower range of 1,300-2,400 for the rest of the month. Another surge in SO2 emissions on 12 April 2019 to 3,600 t/d prompted a special report from JMA the following day. SO2 emissions varied from about 1,700 to 4,100 t/d during the month; values remained high during the second half of the month. JMA noted that the color of the water in the lake inside Nakadake Crater 1 changed from green to gray after 4 April. Fountains of muddy water were periodically observed; they reached 15 m high on 9 April. The temperatures of both the lake (82°C) and around the two fumarole areas (S area about 530°C, SW area about 310°C) remained constant during April and similar to March.

A large increase in the amplitude of volcanic tremor early on 14 April 2019 prompted JMA to raise the Alert Level from 1 to 2 later in the day. The epicenters of the earthquakes were very shallow, located within 1 km beneath the crater. A small eruption occurred at 1828 on 16 April at Nakadake Crater 1; it produced a gray and white plume that rose 200 m above the crater rim and was the first eruption since 8 October 2016 (figure 49). Incandescence was observed inside the crater on 3 and 17 April. The amplitude of seismic tremors decreased on 18 April. Three very small eruptions on 19 April produced ash and steam plumes that rose 500 m above the crater rim. During a site visit that day JMA measured a high-temperature area that produced incandescence from the bottom of the crater at night (figure 50).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 49. The first eruption since October 2016 at Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan on 16 April 2019 sent an ash plume 200 m above the crater rim (top). Incandescent gas appeared on the crater floor the next day (bottom). Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, April 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 50. Three small explosions on 19 April 2019 at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 produced small ash emissions that rose 500 m above the crater rim (top). A strong thermal signal also appeared from the bottom of the crater. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, April 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).

A new eruption began at 1540 on 3 May that lasted until 0620 on 5 May (figure 51). Initially the ash plume rose 600 m above the crater rim, but a few hours later the volume of ash increased, and the plume reached 2 km above the crater rim for a brief period. Incandescence was visible from the webcam. The Tokyo VAAC reported the ash plume at 3 km altitude drifting SE on 3 May. Later in the day it rose to 3.7 km altitude and drifted SW. During a field survey the following day (4 May) JMA reported a steam and ash plume rising from the center of the active crater. The infrared thermal imaging camera recorded the temperature of the plume at about 500°C (figure 52).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 51. An explosion at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 on 3 May 2019 produced an ash plume that reached 2 km above the crater rim (top) and incandescence visible from the webcam (bottom). Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, April 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 52. During a site visit on 4 May 2019, staff from JMA witnessed an ash and steam plume rising from the bottom of Nakadake Crater 1 at Asosan (top). The infrared thermal imaging camera recorded the temperature of the plume at about 500°C (bottom). Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, May 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).

Ash fell on the S flank, and a small amount of ashfall on 4 May was confirmed by evidence on a car windshield in Takamori Town (6 km S), Kumamoto Prefecture (figure 53). Ashfall was also reported in Takamori-machi, Minami Aso village (9 km SW), and part of Yamato-cho (25 km SW), also in the Kumamoto Prefecture. SO2 emissions were measured as high as 4,000 t/d on 4 May. Additional explosions with ash plumes were reported from Asosan on 9, 12-16, 29, and 31 May; the plumes rose from 200 to 1,400 m above the crater rim but were not visible in satellite imagery. The TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5 satellite captured SO2 plumes on 3 and 26 May 2019 (figure 54).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 53. Ashfall was reported on 4 May 2019 in Takamori Town, Kumamoto Prefecture, from the eruption at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 on 3 May 2019. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, May 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 54. Plumes of SO2 from Asosan were recorded by the TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5P satellite on 3 (left) and 26 (right) May 2019. Courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Steam plumes rose to 1,700 m above the crater rim during June 2019 (figure 55). During field visits on 6 and 25 June diffuse ash emissions were observed rising from the center of the active crater, but they did not extend significantly above the crater rim (figure 56). The maximum temperature of the plume was measured at about 340°C with a thermal imaging camera. Almost all of the water in the crater bottom had evaporated since early May; incandescence continued to be observed within the crater at night with the high-resolution webcam (figure 57).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 55. Steam plumes rose to 1,700 m above the crater rim at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 on 10 June 2019. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, June 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 56. Plumes of gas and minor ash were visible at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 during site visits by JMA on 6 (left) and 25 (right) June 2019. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, June 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 57. Incandescent gas was visible from the vent at Asosan's Nakadake Crater 1 on 18 (left) and 25 (right) June 2019. Courtesy of JMA (Aso volcano monthly activity reports, June 2019, Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory, Regional volcano monitoring and warning center).

Geologic Background. The 24-km-wide Asosan caldera was formed during four major explosive eruptions from 300,000 to 90,000 years ago. These produced voluminous pyroclastic flows that covered much of Kyushu. The last of these, the Aso-4 eruption, produced more than 600 km3 of airfall tephra and pyroclastic-flow deposits. A group of 17 central cones was constructed in the middle of the caldera, one of which, Nakadake, is one of Japan's most active volcanoes. It was the location of Japan's first documented historical eruption in 553 CE. The Nakadake complex has remained active throughout the Holocene. Several other cones have been active during the Holocene, including the Kometsuka scoria cone as recently as about 210 CE. Historical eruptions have largely consisted of basaltic to basaltic-andesite ash emission with periodic strombolian and phreatomagmatic activity. The summit crater of Nakadake is accessible by toll road and cable car, and is one of Kyushu's most popular tourist destinations.

Information Contacts: Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), Otemachi, 1-3-4, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 100-8122, Japan (URL: http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html); Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), 1-3-4 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan (URL: http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/svd/vaac/data/); Sentinel Hub Playground (URL: https://www.sentinel-hub.com/explore/sentinel-playground); Global Sulfur Dioxide Monitoring Page, Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (NASA/GSFC), 8800 Greenbelt Road, Goddard, Maryland, USA (URL: https://so2.gsfc.nasa.gov/).