Report on Heard (Australia) — October 2018
Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 43, no. 10 (October 2018)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Edited by A. Elizabeth Crafford.
Heard (Australia) Thermal hotspots persist at Mawson Peak, lava flows visible in satellite data November 2017-September 2018
Please cite this report as:
Global Volcanism Program, 2018. Report on Heard (Australia) (Crafford, A.E., and Venzke, E., eds.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 43:10. Smithsonian Institution.
53.106°S, 73.513°E; summit elev. 2745 m
All times are local (unless otherwise noted)
Remote Heard Island in the southern Indian Ocean is home to the snow-covered Big Ben stratovolcano, which has had confirmed intermittent activity since 1910. The nearest continental landmass, Antarctica, lies over 1,000 km S. Visual confirmation of lava flows on Heard are rare; thermal anomalies and hotspots detected by satellite-based instruments provide the most reliable information about eruptive activity. Thermal alerts reappeared in September 2012 after a four-year hiatus (BGVN 38:01), and have been intermittent since that time. Information comes from instruments on the European Space Agency's (ESA) Sentinel-2 satellite and MODVOLC and MIROVA thermal anomaly data from other satellite instruments. This report reviews evidence for eruptive activity from November 2017 through September 2018.
Satellite observations indicated intermittent hot spots at the summit through 12 December 2017. A few observations in January and February 2018 suggested steam plumes at the summit, but no significant thermal activity. An infrared pixel indicative of renewed thermal activity appeared again on 7 March, and similar observations were made at least twice each month in April and May. Activity increased significantly during June and remained elevated through September 2018 with multiple days of hotspot observations in satellite data each of those months, including images that indicated lava flowing in different directions from Mawson Peak. MODVOLC and MIROVA data also indicated increased thermal activity during June-September 2018.
Activity during October-December 2017. MIROVA thermal anomalies recorded during October 2017 indicated ongoing thermal activity at Heard (figure 32). This was confirmed by Sentinel-2 satellite imagery that revealed hotpots at the summit on ten different days in October (3, 6, 8, 13, 16, 21, 23, 26, 28, and 31), and included images suggesting lava flows descending from the summit in different directions on different days (figure 33).
The MODVOLC thermal alert data showed no further alerts for the year after 22 October 2017, and the MIROVA system anomalies tapered off in mid-November 2017. The Sentinel-2 satellite imagery, however, continued to record intermittent hotspots at and around Mawson Peak, the summit of Big Ben volcano, into December 2017 (figure 34). Hotspots were visible during six days in November (7, 15, 20, 25, 27, and 30) and three days during December (5, 7, and 12).
Activity during January-May 2018. The satellite images during January and February 2018 were indicative of steam plumes at the summit, but distinct thermal signals reappeared on 7 and 12 March 2018 (figure 35). In spite of extensive cloud cover, the Sentinel-2 imagery also captured thermal signals twice each month in April (4 and 14) and May (9 and 14) (figure 36).
Activity during June-September 2018. Thermal signals increased significantly in the satellite data during June 2018. The sizes of the thermal anomalies were bigger, and they were visible at least nine days of the month (3, 5, 8, 10, 15, 18, 23, 25, and 30). Five substantial thermal signals appeared during July (3, 10, 15, 18, and 28); images on 23 June and 3 July distinctly show a lava flow trending NE from the summit (figure 37). MODVOLC thermal alerts appeared in June 2018 on three days (2, 26, and 27) and on four days during July (7, 8, 9, 10) indicating increased activity during this time. The MIROVA thermal signals also showed a substantial increase in early June that peaked in mid-July and remained steady through September 2018 (figure 32).
Six images in August (2, 7, 9, 22, 27, 29) showed evidence of active lava at the summit, and suggested flows both NE and SE from the summit that were long enough to cause multiple hotspots (figure 38). During September and early October 2018 the satellite images continued to show multiple hotspots that indicated flow activity tens of meters SE from the summit multiple days of each month (figure 39).
Geologic Background. Heard Island on the Kerguelen Plateau in the southern Indian Ocean consists primarily of the emergent portion of two volcanic structures. The large glacier-covered composite basaltic-to-trachytic cone of Big Ben comprises most of the island, and the smaller Mt. Dixon lies at the NW tip of the island across a narrow isthmus. Little is known about the structure of Big Ben because of its extensive ice cover. The historically active Mawson Peak forms the island's high point and lies within a 5-6 km wide caldera breached to the SW side of Big Ben. Small satellitic scoria cones are mostly located on the northern coast. Several subglacial eruptions have been reported at this isolated volcano, but observations are infrequent and additional activity may have occurred.
Information Contacts: Sentinel Hub Playground (URL: https://www.sentinel-hub.com/explore/sentinel-playground); Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) - MODVOLC Thermal Alerts System, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Univ. of Hawai'i, 2525 Correa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA (URL: http://modis.higp.hawaii.edu/); MIROVA (Middle InfraRed Observation of Volcanic Activity), a collaborative project between the Universities of Turin and Florence (Italy) supported by the Centre for Volcanic Risk of the Italian Civil Protection Department (URL: http://www.mirovaweb.it/).