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Report on Suwanosejima (Japan) — January 2021


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 46, no. 1 (January 2021)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Edited by A. Elizabeth Crafford.

Suwanosejima (Japan) Explosion rate increases during July-December 2020, bomb ejected 1.3 km from crater on 28 December

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Suwanosejima (Japan) (Crafford, A.E., and Venzke, E., eds.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 46:1. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN202101-282030



29.638°N, 129.714°E; summit elev. 796 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Suwanosejima, an andesitic stratovolcano in Japan's northern Ryukyu Islands, was intermittently active for much of the 20th century, producing ash plumes, Strombolian explosions, and ashfall. Continuous activity since October 2004 has included intermittent explosions which generate ash plumes that rise hundreds of meters above the summit to altitudes between 1 and 3 km. Incandescence is often observed at night and ejecta periodically reaches over a kilometer from the summit. Ashfall is usually noted several times each month in the nearby community on the SW flank of the island. Ongoing activity for the second half of 2020, which includes significantly increased activity in December, is covered in this report with information provided by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), and several sources of satellite data.

A steady increase in activity was reported during July-December 2020. The number of explosions recorded increased each month from only six during July to 460 during December. The energy of the explosions increased as well; ejecta was reported 600 m from the crater during August, but a large bomb reached 1.3 km from the crater at the end of December. After an increased period of explosions late in December, JMA raised the Alert Level from 2 to 3 on a 5-level scale. The MIROVA graph of thermal activity indicated intermittent anomalies from July through December 2020, with a pulse of activity in the second half of December (figure 48).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 48. MIROVA thermal activity for Suwanosejima for the period from 3 February through December 2020 shows pulses of activity in February and April, with intermittent anomalies until another period of frequent stronger activity in December. Courtesy of MIROVA.

Six explosions were recorded during July 2020, compared with only one during June. According to JMA, the tallest plume rose 2,000 m above the crater rim. Incandescent ejecta was occasionally observed at night. The Tokyo VAAC reported a number of ash plumes that rose to 1.2-2.7 km altitude and drifted NW and W during the second half of the month (figure 49). Activity increased during August 2020 when thirteen explosions were reported. The Tokyo VAAC reported a few ash plumes during 1-6 August that rose to 1.8-2.4 km altitude and drifted NW; a larger pulse of activity during 18-22 August produced plumes that rose to altitudes ranging from 1.8 to over 2.7 km. Ashfall was reported on 19 and 20 August in the village located 4 km SSW of the crater; incandescence was visible at the summit and ash plumes drifted SW in satellite imagery on 19 August (figure 50). A MODVOLC thermal alert was issued on 19 August. On 21 August a large bomb was ejected 600 m from the Otake crater in an explosion early in the day; later that afternoon, an ash plume rose to more than 2,000 m above the crater rim. During 19-22 August, SO2 emissions were recorded each day by the TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5P satellite (figure 51).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 49. An ash emission at Suwanosejima rose to 2.7 km altitude and drifted NW on 27 July 2020. Courtesy of JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Suwanosejima, July 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 50. Ash drifted SW from the summit crater of Suwanosejima on 19 August 2020 and a bright thermal anomaly was present at the summit. Residents of the village 4 km SW reported ashfall that day and the next. Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 51. A period of increased activity at Suwanosejima during 19-22 August 2020 produced SO2 emissions that were measured by the TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5P satellite. Nishinoshima, was also producing significant SO2 at the same time. Courtesy of NASA Global Sulfur Dioxide Monitoring Page.

Thirteen explosions were recorded during September 2020, with the highest ash plumes reaching 2,000 m above the crater rim, and bombs falling 400 m from the crater. Ashfall was recorded on 20 September in the community located 4 km SSW. The Tokyo VAAC reported intermittent ash plumes during the month that rose to 1.2-2.1 km altitude and drifted in several directions. Incandescence was frequently observed at night (figure 52). Explosive activity increased during October with 22 explosions recorded. Ash plumes rose over 2,000 m above the crater rim, and bombs reached 700 m from the crater. Steam plumes rose 2,300 m above the crater rim. Ashfall and loud noises were confirmed several times between 2 and 14 October in the nearby village. A MODVOLC thermal alert was issued on 6 October. The Tokyo VAAC reported multiple ash plumes throughout the month; they usually rose to 1.5-2.1 km altitude and drifted in many directions. The plume on 28 October rose to over 2.7 km altitude and was stationary.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 52. Incandescence at night and ash emissions were observed multiple times at Suwanosejima during September and October 2020 including on 21 and 26 September (top) and 29 October 2020. Courtesy of JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Suwanosejima, September and October 2020).

Frequent explosions occurred during November 2020, with a sharp increase in the number of explosions to 105 events compared with October. Ash plumes rose to 1,800 m above the crater rim and bombs were ejected 700 m. Occasional ashfall and loud noises were reported from the nearby community throughout the month. Scientists measured no specific changes to the surface temperature around the volcano during an overflight early on 5 November compared with the previous year. At 0818 on 5 November a small ash explosion at the summit crater was photographed by the crew during an observation flight (figure 53). On 12 and 13 November, incandescent ejecta fell 600 m from the crater and ash emissions rose 1,500 m above the crater rim (figure 54).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 53. A minor explosion produced a small ash plume at Suwanosejima during an overflight by JMA on the morning of 5 November 2020. The thermal activity was concentrated at the base of the explosion (inset). Image taken from off the E coast. Courtesy of JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Suwanosejima, November 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 54. On 12 and 13 November 2020 incandescent ejecta from Suwanosejima reached 600 m from the crater (top) and ash emissions rose 1,500 m above the crater rim (bottom). Courtesy of JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Suwanosejima, November 2020).

During December 2020 there were 460 explosions reported, a significant increase from the previous months. Ash plumes reached 1,800 m above the summit. Three MODVOLC thermal alerts were issued on 25 December and two were issued the next day. The number of explosions increased substantially at the Otake crater between 21 and 29 December, and early on 28 December a large bomb was ejected to 1.3 km SE of the crater (figure 55). A second explosion a few hours later ejected another bomb 1.1 km SE. An overflight later that day confirmed the explosion, and ash emissions were still visible (figure 56), although cloudy weather prevented views of the crater. Ashfall was noted and loud sounds heard in the nearby village. A summary graph of observations throughout 2020 indicated that activity was high from January through May, quieter during June, and then increased again from July through the end of the year (figure 57).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 55. Early on 28 December 2020 a large explosion at Suwanosejima sent a volcanic bomb 1.3 km SE from the summit (bright spot on left flank in large photo). Thermal imaging taken the same day showed the heat at the eruption site and multiple fragments of warm ejecta scattered around the crater area (inset). Courtesy of JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Suwanosejima, December 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 56. Ash emissions were still visible midday on 28 December 2020 at Suwanosejima during a helicopter overflight by the 10th Regional Coast Guard. Image taken from the SW flank of the volcano. Two large explosions earlier in the day had sent ejecta more than a kilometer from the crater. Courtesy of JMA (Volcanic activity commentary material on Suwanosejima, December 2020).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 57. Activity summary for Suwanosejima for January-December 2020 when 764 explosions were recorded. Black bars represent the height of steam, gas, or ash plumes in meters above the crater rim, gray volcano icons represent explosions, usually accompanied by an ash plume, red icons represent large explosions with ash plumes, orange diamonds indicate incandescence observed in webcams. Courtesy of JMA (Suwanosejima volcanic activity annual report, 2020).

Geological Summary. The 8-km-long, spindle-shaped island of Suwanosejima in the northern Ryukyu Islands consists of an andesitic stratovolcano with two historically active summit craters. The summit is truncated by a large breached crater extending to the sea on the east flank that was formed by edifice collapse. Suwanosejima, one of Japan's most frequently active volcanoes, was in a state of intermittent strombolian activity from Otake, the NE summit crater, that began in 1949 and lasted until 1996, after which periods of inactivity lengthened. The largest historical eruption took place in 1813-14, when thick scoria deposits blanketed residential areas, and the SW crater produced two lava flows that reached the western coast. At the end of the eruption the summit of Otake collapsed forming a large debris avalanche and creating the horseshoe-shaped Sakuchi caldera, which extends to the eastern coast. The island remained uninhabited for about 70 years after the 1813-1814 eruption. Lava flows reached the eastern coast of the island in 1884. Only about 50 people live on the island.

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); 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/); Sentinel Hub Playground (URL: https://www.sentinel-hub.com/explore/sentinel-playground); NASA 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/).