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Report on Heard (Australia) — May 2021


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 46, no. 5 (May 2021)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Edited by Kadie L. Bennis.

Heard (Australia) Thermal anomalies during November 2020 and January 2021

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2021. Report on Heard (Australia) (Bennis, K.L., and Venzke, E., eds.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 46:5. Smithsonian Institution.



53.106°S, 73.513°E; summit elev. 2745 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Heard is a remote island located in the southern Indian Ocean that contains the Big Ben stratovolcano, which has had intermittent activity since 1910. More recent activity since 2012 through October 2020 has been characterized by thermal anomalies in the summit crater and lava flows, primarily identified based on information from satellite data (BGVN 45:11). This report covers similar activity that continued during November 2020 and January 2021.

MIROVA (Middle InfraRed Observation of Volcanic Activity) analysis of MODIS satellite data shows a total of three thermal anomalies of varying power during November 2020 (figure 46). Sentinel-2 thermal satellite imagery shows a single thermal anomaly on 9 November 2020 and later, on 11 November two strong thermal anomalies, possibly two lava flows, were observed descending the S and SW flanks (figure 47). These thermal anomalies were also detected by the MIROVA system. Weaker thermal anomalies were observed on 18 and 20 January 2021 in the summit crater. No new thermal activity was detected after November through April 2021 by the MIROVA system.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 46. Only three thermal anomalies at Heard were detected during November 2020, according to the MIROVA system, shown in this Log Radiative Power graph. The strongest thermal anomaly represents the two possible lava flows that were observed in Sentinel-2 infrared satellite data. No thermal anomalies were observed during December through April 2021. Courtesy of MIROVA.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 47. Sentinel-2 infrared satellite imagery of Heard Island’s Big Ben volcano showed a thermal anomaly (bright yellow-orange) on clear weather days on 9 (top left) and 11 (top right) November 2020, along with 18 (bottom left) and 20 (bottom right) January 2021. On 11 November two strong thermal anomalies, possibly representing different lava flows, were observed descending to the S and SW flanks, though much of the activity was covered by clouds. Sentinel-2 satellite images with “Atmospheric penetration” (bands 12, 11, 8A) rendering. Courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.

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