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Report on Nishinoshima (Japan) — September 2020


Nishinoshima

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 45, no. 9 (September 2020)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Edited by A. Elizabeth Crafford.

Nishinoshima (Japan) Major June-July eruption of lava, ash, and sulfur dioxide; activity declines in August 2020

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2020. Report on Nishinoshima (Japan) (Crafford, A.E., and Venzke, E., eds.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 45:9. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN202009-284096



Nishinoshima

Japan

27.247°N, 140.874°E; summit elev. 25 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Japan’s Nishinoshima volcano, located about 1,000 km S of Tokyo in the Ogasawara Arc, erupted above sea level in November 2013 after 40 years of dormancy. Activity lasted through November 2015 and returned during mid-2017, continuing the growth of the island with ash plumes, ejecta, and lava flows. A short eruptive event in July 2018 produced a small lava flow and vent on the side of the pyroclastic cone. The next eruption of ash plumes, incandescent ejecta, and lava flows began in early December 2019, resulting in significant growth of the island. This report covers the ongoing activity from March-August 2020 when activity decreased. Information is provided primarily from Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) monthly reports and the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), which makes regular overflights to make observations.

Renewed eruptive activity that began on 5 December 2019 continued during March-August 2020 but appeared to wane by the end of August. Major lava flows covered all sides of the island, with higher levels of activity during late June and early July. Ash emissions increased significantly during June and produced dense black ash plumes that rose up to 6 km altitude in early July. Explosive activity produced lightning and incandescent jets that rose 200 m and large bombs that fell to the base of the pyroclastic cone. Lava flow activity diminished at the end of July. Ash emissions decreased throughout August and appeared to cease after 27 August 2020. The MIROVA plot clearly reflects the high levels of thermal activity between December 2019 and August 2020 (figure 80); this event was reported by JMA as the largest eruption recorded to date. Sulfur dioxide emissions were very high during late June through early August, producing emissions that drifted across much of the western Pacific region.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 80. The MIROVA plot of thermal activity at Nishinoshima from 14 October 2019 through August 2020 indicates the high levels between early December 2019 and late July 2020 that resulted from the eruption of numerous lava flows on all flanks of the pyroclastic cone, significantly enlarging the island. Courtesy of MIROVA.

The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) conducted overflights of Nishinoshima on 9 and 15 March 2020 (figure 81). During both visits they observed eruptive activity from the summit crater, including ash emissions that rose to an altitude of approximately 1,000 m and lava flowing down the N and SE flanks (figure 82). Large ejecta was scattered around the base of the pyroclastic cone. The lava flowing north had reached the coast and was producing vigorous steam as it entered the water on 9 March; whitish gas emissions were visible on the N flank of the cone at the source of the lava flow (figure 83). On 9 March yellow-green discolored water was noted off the NE shore. The lava flow on the SE coast produced a small amount of steam at the ocean entry point and a strong signal in thermal imagery on 15 March (figure 84). Multiple daily MODVOLC thermal alerts were issued during 1-10, 17-24, and 27-30 March. Landsat-8 visual and thermal imagery on 30 March 2020 confirmed that thermal anomalies on the N and SE flanks of the volcano continued.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 81. The Japan Coast Guard conducted an overflight of Nishinoshima on 9 March 2020 and observed ash emissions rising 1,000 m above the summit and lava flowing into the ocean off the N flank of the island. Courtesy of Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and JMA.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 82. Lava flows at Nishinoshima during February and March 2020 were concentrated on the N and SE flanks. The areas in blue indicate topographical changes due to lava flows and pyroclastic deposits from the previous measurement. The growth of the SE-flank flow decreased during March while the N-flank flow rate increased significantly. Left image shows changes between 14 and 28 February and right image shows the differences between 28 February and 13 March. The correlated image analysis uses ALOS-2 / PALSAR-2 and is carried out with the cooperation of JAXA through the activities of the Satellite Analysis Group of the Volcano Eruption Prediction Liaison Committee. The software was developed by the Japan National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and uses the technical data C1-No 478 of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. Courtesy of JAXA and JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Nishinoshima, March 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 83. Vigorous steam emissions on the N flank of Nishinoshima on 9 March 2020 were caused by the active flow on the N flank. Whitish steam and gas midway up the flank indicated the outlet of the flow. Ash emissions rose from the summit crater and drifted E. Courtesy of Japan Coast Guard and JMA.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 84. Infrared imagery from 15 March 2020 at Nishinoshima showed the incandescent lava flow on the SE flank (foreground), blocks of ejecta scattered around the summit and flanks of the pyroclastic cone, and the active N-flank flow (left). Courtesy of Japan Coast Guard and JMA.

Ash emissions were not observed at Nishinoshima during JCG overflights on 6, 16, and 19 April 2020, but gas-and-steam emissions were noted from the summit crater, and a yellow discoloration interpreted by JMA to be sulfur precipitation was observed near the top of the pyroclastic cone. The summit crater was larger than during previous visits. Steam plumes seen each of those days on the N and NE coasts suggested active ocean entry of lava flows (figure 85). A lava flow was observed emerging from the E flank of the cone and entering the ocean on the E coast on 19 and 29 April (figure 86). During the overflight on 29 April observers noted lava flowing southward from a vent on the E flank of the pyroclastic cone. A narrow, brown, ash plume was visible on 29 April at the summit crater rising to an altitude of about 1,500 m. Thermal observations indicated continued flow activity throughout the month. Multiple daily MODVOLC thermal alerts were recorded during 2-6, 10-11, 17-23, and 28-30 April. Significant growth of the pyroclastic cone occurred between early February and late April 2020 (figure 87).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 85. Multiple entry points of lava flowed into the ocean producing jets of steam along the N flank of Nishinoshima on 6 April 2020. Courtesy of JCG and JMA.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 86. Lava flowed down the E flank of Nishinoshima from a vent below the summit on 19 April 2020. The ocean entry produced a vigorous steam plume (left). Courtesy of JCG.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 87. The pyroclastic cone at Nishinoshima grew significantly in size between 4 February (left), 9 March (middle), and 19 April 2020 (right). View is to the E. Courtesy of JMA and JCG.

Infrared satellite imagery from 17 May 2020 showed a strong thermal anomaly at the summit and hot spots on the NW flank indicative of flows. Visible imagery confirmed emissions at the summit and steam plumes on the NW flank (figure 88). Gray ash plumes rose to about 1,800 m altitude on 18 May during the only overflight of the month made by the Japan Coast Guard. In addition, white gas emissions rose from around the summit area and large blocks of ejecta were scattered around the base of the pyroclastic cone (figure 89). Steam from ocean-entry lava on the N flank was reduced from previous months, but a new flow moving NW into the ocean was generating a steam plume and a strong thermal signature. Multi-pixel thermal alerts were measured by the MODVOLC system on 1-3, 9-10, 13-15, 18, and 26-30 May. Sulfur dioxide emissions had been weak and intermittent from March through early May 2020 but became more persistent during the second half of May. Although modest in size, the plumes were detectible hundreds of kilometers away from the volcano (figure 90).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 88. Landsat-8 satellite imagery of Nishinoshima from 17 May 2020 confirmed continued eruptive activity. Visible imagery showed emissions at the summit and steam plumes on the NW flank (left) and infrared imagery showed a strong thermal anomaly at the summit and anomalies on the NW flank indicative of lava flows (right). Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 89. Lava continued to enter the ocean at Nishinoshima during May 2020. A new lava flow on the NW flank produced a strong steam plume at an ocean entry (left) on 18 May 2020. In addition to a light gray plume of gas and ash, steaming blocks of ejecta were visible on the flanks of the pyroclastic cone. The strong thermal signature of the NW-flank flow in infrared imagery that same day showed multiple new lobes flowing to the ocean (right). Courtesy of JCG and JMA.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 90. Small but distinct SO2 emissions from Nishinoshima were recorded by the TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5P satellite during the second half of May 2020. The plumes drifted tens to hundreds of kilometers away from the volcano in multiple directions as the wind directions changed. Nishinoshima is about 1,000 kilometers S of Tokyo. Courtesy of NASA Global Sulfur Dioxide Monitoring Page.

Activity increased significantly during June 2020. Satellite imagery from 2 June revealed two intense thermal anomalies at the summit indicating a new crater, and lava flows active on the NW and NE flanks, all showing gas or steam emissions (figure 91). Dense brown and gray ash emissions were observed rising from the summit crater during JCG overflights on 7 and 15 June (figure 92). Plumes reached at least 1,500 m altitude, and ejecta reached the base of the pyroclastic cone. Between 5 and 19 June the lava flow on the WNW coast slowed significantly, while the flows to the N and E became significantly more active (figure 93). The Tokyo VAAC reported the first ash plume since mid-February on 12 June rose to 2.1 km and drifted NE. On 14 June they reported an ash plume extending E at 2.7 km altitude. Dense emissions continued to drift N and E at 2.1-2.7 km altitude until the last week of the month. The JCG overflight on 19 June observed darker ash emissions than two weeks earlier that drifted at least 180 km NE (figure 94) and incandescent tephra that exploded from the enlarged summit area where three overlapping craters trending E-W had formed.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 91. Landsat-8 satellite imagery on 2 June 2020 confirmed ongoing activity at Nishinoshima. Lava produced ocean-entry steam on the NE coast; a weak plume on the NW coast suggested reduced activity in that area (left). In addition, a dense steam plume drifted E from the summit, while a fainter plume adjacent to it also drifted E. The infrared image (right) indicated two intense anomalies at the summit, and weaker anomalies from lava flows on the NW and NE flanks. Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 92. Lava flows at Nishinoshima entered the ocean on the N and NE coasts (left) on 7 June 2020, and dense, gray ash emissions rose to at least 1,500 m altitude. Courtesy of JCG.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 93. The lava flow on the WNW coast of Nishinoshima slowed significantly in early June 2020, while the flows to the N and E covered large areas of those flanks between 5 and 19 June. The areas in blue indicate topographical changes due to lava flows and pyroclastic deposits from the previous measurement. Left image shows the differences between 22 May and 5 June and right image shows changes between 5 and 19 June. The correlated image analysis uses ALOS-2 / PALSAR-2 and is carried out with the cooperation of JAXA through the activities of the Satellite Analysis Group of the Volcano Eruption Prediction Liaison Committee. The software was developed by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and uses the technical data C1-No 478 of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. Courtesy of JAXA and JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Nishinoshima, June 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 94. Ash emissions and explosive activity at Nishinoshima increased significantly during the second half of June. Dense black ash rose to 2.4 km altitude and drifted at least 180 km to the NE on 19 June 2020. Vigorous white steam plumes rose from the ocean on the E flank where a lava flow entered the ocean. Courtesy of JCG.

The Tokyo VAAC reported ash emissions that rose to 4.6 km altitude and drifted NE on 25 June. For the remainder of the month they rose to 2.7-3.9 km altitude and drifted N and NE. By the time of the JCG overflight on 29 June, the new crater that had opened on the SW flank had merged with the summit crater (figure 95). Dense black ash emissions rose to 3.4 km altitude and drifted NE, lava flowed down the SW flank into the ocean producing violent steam explosions, and incandescent tephra was scattered at least 200 m from the base of the pyroclastic cone from ongoing explosive activity (figure 96). Multiple layers of recent flow activity were visible along the SW coast (figure 97). Yellow-green discolored water encircled the entire island with a width of 1,000 m.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 95. The new crater on the SW flank of Nishinoshima had merged with the summit crater by 29 June 2020. Courtesy of JCG and JMA.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 96. Dense black ash emissions rose to 3.4 km altitude and drifted NE from the summit of Nishinoshima on 29 June 2020. Lava flowed down the SW flank into the ocean producing steam explosions, and incandescent tephra was scattered at least 200 m from the base of the pyroclastic cone from ongoing explosive activity at the summit (inset). Courtesy of JCG.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 97. Different textures of lava flows were visible along the SW flank of Nishinoshima on 29 June 2020. The active flow appeared dark brown and blocky, and produced steam explosions at the ocean entry site (right). Slightly older, brownish-red lava (center) still produced steam along the coastline. Courtesy of JCG.

MODVOLC thermal alerts reached their highest levels of the period during June 2020 with multi-pixel alerts recorded on most days of the month. Sulfur dioxide emissions increased steadily throughout June to the highest levels recorded for Nishinoshima; by the end of the month plumes of SO2 were drifting thousands of kilometers across the Pacific Ocean and being captured in complex atmospheric circulation currents (figure 98).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 98. Sulfur dioxide emissions at Nishinoshima increased noticeably during the second half of June 2020 as measured by the TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5P satellite. Atmospheric circulation currents produced long-lived plumes that drifted thousands of kilometers from the volcano. Nishinoshima is 1,000 km S of Tokyo. Courtesy of NASA Sulfur Dioxide Monitoring Page.

By early July 2020, satellite data indicated that the NE quadrant of the island was covered with ash, and a large amount of new lava had flowed down the SW flank, creating fans extending into the ocean (figure 99). The Tokyo VAAC reported ash emissions that rose to 3.7-4.9 km altitude and drifted N during 1-6 July. The altitude increased to 6.1 km during 8 and 9 July, and ranged from 4.6-6.1 km during 10-14 July while the drift direction changed to NE. The marine meteorological observation ship "Ryofu Maru" reported on 11 July that dense black ash was continuously erupting from the summit crater and drifting W at 1,700 m altitude or higher. They observed large volcanic blocks scattered around the base of the pyroclastic cone, and ash falling from the drifting plume. During the night of 11 July incandescent lava and volcanic lightning rose to about 200 m above the crater rim (figure 100).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 99. By early July 2020, satellite data from Nishinoshima indicated that the NE quadrant of the island was covered with ash, and a large amount of new lava had flowed down the SW flank creating fans extending into the ocean. The areas in blue indicate topographical changes due to lava flows and pyroclastic deposits from the previous measurement. Left image shows differences between 5 and 19 June and the right image shows changes between 19 June and 3 July that included abundant ashfall on the NE flank. The correlated image analysis uses ALOS-2 / PALSAR-2 and is carried out with the cooperation of JAXA through the activities of the Satellite Analysis Group of the Volcano Eruption Prediction Liaison Committee. The software was developed by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and uses the technical data C1-No 478 of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. Courtesy of JAXA and JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Nishinoshima, June 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 100. High levels of activity were observed at Nishinoshima by crew members aboard the marine meteorological observation ship "Ryofu Maru” on 11 July 2020. Abundant ash emissions filled the sky and tephra fell out of the ash cloud for several kilometers downwind (left, seen from 6 km NE). Incandescent explosions rose as much as 200 m into the night sky (right, seen from 4 km E). Courtesy of JMA.

During 16-26 July 2020 the Tokyo VAAC reported ash emissions at 3.7-5.2 km altitude that drifted primarily N and NE. The vessel "Keifu Maru" passed Nishinoshima on 20 July and crewmembers observed continuing emissions from the summit of dense, black ash. JCG observed an ash plume rising to at least 2.7 km altitude during their overflight of 20 July. A large dome of fresh lava was visible on the SW flank of the island (figure 101). Lower ash emissions from 2.4-3.7 km altitude were reported by the Tokyo VAAC during 27-29 July, but the altitude increased to 5.5-5.8 km during the last two days of the month. During an overflight on 30 July by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, dark and light gray ash emissions rose to 3.0 km altitude, but no flowing lava or large bombs were observed. They also noted thick deposits of brownish-gray ash on the N side of the island (figure 102).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 101. JCG observed an ash plume at Nishinoshima rising to at least 2.7 km altitude during their overflight of 20 July 2020. A large dome of fresh lava was visible on the SW flank of the island. Courtesy of JCG.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 102. Ash emissions changed from dark to light gray on 30 July 2020 at Nishinoshima as seen during an overflight by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention. Thick brownish-gray ash was deposited over the lava on the N side of the island. Courtesy of JMA (Information on volcanic activity in Nishinoshima, July 2020).

JMA reported a sharp decrease in the lava eruption rate during July with thermal anomalies decreasing significantly mid-month. Multiple daily MODVOLC thermal alerts were recorded during the first half of the month but were reduced to two or three per day during the last third of July. Throughout July, SO2 emissions were the highest recorded in modern times for Nishinoshima. High levels of emissions were measured daily, producing streams with high concentrations of SO2 that were caught up in rotating wind currents and drifted thousands of kilometers across the Pacific Ocean (figure 103).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 103. Complex atmospheric wind patterns carried the largest SO2 plumes recorded from Nishinoshima thousands of kilometers around the western Pacific Ocean during July 2020. Nishinoshima is about 1,000 km S of Tokyo. Top and bottom left images both show 6 July but at different scales. Courtesy of NASA Sulfur Dioxide Monitoring Page.

Thermal activity was greatly reduced during August 2020. Only one or two MODVOLC alerts were issued on 11, 18, 20, 21, 29, and 30 August, and no fresh lava flows were observed. The Tokyo VAAC reported ash emissions daily from 1-20 August. Plume heights were 4.9-5.8 km altitude during 1-4 August after which they dropped to 3.9 km altitude through 15 August. A brief pulse to 4.6 km altitude was recorded on 16 August, but then they dropped to 3.0 km or lower through the end of the month and became intermittent. The last ash emission was reported at 2.7 km altitude drifting W on 27 August.

No eruptive activity was observed during the Japan Coast Guard overflights on 19 and 23 August. High temperatures were measured on the inner wall of the summit crater on 19 August (figure 104). Steam plumes rose from the summit crater to about 2.5 km altitude during both visits (figure 105). Yellow-green discolored water was present on 23 August around the NW and SW coasts. No lava flows were observed, and infrared cameras did not measure any surface thermal anomalies outside of the crater. Very high levels of SO2 emissions were measured through 12 August when they began to noticeably decrease (figure 106). By the end of the month, only small amounts of SO2 were measured in satellite data.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 104. A strong thermal anomaly was still present inside the newly enlarged summit crater at Nishinoshima on 19 August 2020. Courtesy of JCG.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 105. Only steam plumes were observed rising from the summit crater of Nishinoshima during the 23 August 2020 overflight by the Japan Coast Guard. Courtesy of JCG.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 106. Sulfur dioxide emissions remained very high at Nishinoshima until 12 August 2020 when they declined sharply. Circulating air currents carried SO2 thousands of kilometers around the western Pacific region. Courtesy of NASA Global Sulfur Dioxide Monitoring Page.

Geological Summary. The small island of Nishinoshima was enlarged when several new islands coalesced during an eruption in 1973-74. Another eruption that began offshore in 2013 completely covered the previous exposed surface and enlarged the island again. Water discoloration has been observed on several occasions since. The island is the summit of a massive submarine volcano that has prominent satellitic peaks to the S, W, and NE. The summit of the southern cone rises to within 214 m of the sea surface 9 km SSE.

Information Contacts: Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), 1-3-4 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8122, Japan (URL: http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html); Japan Coast Guard (JCG), Hydrographic and Oceanographic Department, 3-1-1, Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8932, Japan (URL: https://www1.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/GIJUTSUKOKUSAI/kaiikiDB/kaiyo18-e1.htm); 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/); 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/); Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), 1-3-4 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8122, Japan (URL: http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/svd/vaac/data/); Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency-Earth Observation Research Center (JAXA-EORC), 7-44-1 Jindaiji Higashi-machi, Chofu-shi, Tokyo 182-8522, Japan (URL: http://www.eorc.jaxa.jp/); 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/).