Feds blame combination of parasite, virus, bacteria, pesticides for strange bee disappearance

Published May 05, 2013

Associated Press

  • Disappearing Bees 2013.jpg

    May 2, 2013: A bee looks for a pollen laden flower in Kennewick, Wash. A new U.S. report blames a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of honeybees across the country since 2006. (AP Photo/The Tri-City Herald, Richard Dickin)

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    Jeffery Pettis, a top bee scientist at the Agriculture Department’s Bee Research Laboratory, talks about his work with honeybees, in Beltsville, Md in 2007. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

  • Disappearing Bees 2013 1.jpg

    A new federal report blames a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2006. The factors cited include a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides. Experts say having so many causes makes it harder to do something about what’s called colony collapse disorder. The disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation’s bees to just disappear over the winter each year since 2006. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

A new federal report blames a combination of problems for a mysterious and dramatic disappearance of U.S. honeybees since 2006.

The intertwined factors cited include a parasitic mite, multiple viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics, habitat loss and pesticides.

The multiple causes make it harder to do something about what’s called colony collapse disorder, experts say. The disorder has caused as much as one-third of the nation’s bees to just disappear each winter since 2006.

Bees, especially honeybees, are needed to pollinate crops.

The federal report, issued Thursday by the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, said the biggest culprit is the parasitic mite varroa destructor, calling it “the single most detrimental pest of honeybees.”

The problem has also hit bee colonies in Europe, where regulators are considering a ban on a type of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that some environmental groups blame for the bee collapse. The U.S. report cites pesticides, but near the bottom of the list of factors. And federal officials and researchers advising them said the science doesn’t justify a ban of the pesticides yet.

May Berenbaum, a top bee researcher from the University of Illinois, said in an interview that she was “extremely dubious” that banning the pesticide would have any effect on bee health. She participated in a large conference of scientists that the government brought together last year to figure out what’s going on, and the new report is the result of that conference.

Berenbaum said more than 100 different chemicals – not just the pesticides that may be banned in Europe – have been found in bee colonies. Scientists find it hard to calculate how they react in different dosages and at different combinations, she said.

Some of these chemicals harm the immune systems of bees or amplify viruses, said Penn State University bee expert Diana Cox-Foster.

At a news conference Thursday, Sonny Ramaswamy, a top USDA official, said the scientific consensus is that there are multiple factors “and you can’t parse any one out to be the smoking gun.”

USDA bee researcher Jeff Pettis also cited modern farming practices that often leave little forage area for bees.

Dave Gaulson of the University of Stirling in Scotland, who conducted a study last year that implicated the chemical, said he can’t disagree with the overall conclusions of the U.S. government report. However, he said it could have emphasized pesticides more.

The environmental group, Pesticide Action Network North America blasted the federal government for not following Europe’s lead in looking at a ban of certain pesticides.

Pollinators, like honeybees, are crucial to the U.S. food supply. About $30 billion a year in agriculture depends on their health, said Ramaswamy.

Besides making honey, honeybees pollinate more than 90 flowering crops. Among them are a variety of fruits and vegetables: apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit and cranberries. About one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.

“It affects virtually every American whether they realize it or not,” said EPA acting administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Zac Browning, a fourth-generation commercial beekeeper who has hives in Idaho, North Dakota and California, said the nation is “on the brink” of not having enough bees to pollinate its crops.

University of Maryland entomologist David Inouye, who was not part of the federal report, said he agrees that there are multiple causes.

“It’s not a simple situation. If it were one factor we would have identified it by now,” he said.

Inouye, president-elect of the Ecological Society of America, said the problems in Europe and United States may be slightly different. In America, bee hives are trucked from farm to farm to pollinate large tracts of land and that may help spread the parasites and disease, as well as add stress to the colonies, while in Europe they stay put so those issues may not be as big a factor.

At the news conference, Berenbaum said there’s no single solution to the U.S. bee problem: “We’re not really well equipped or even used to fighting on multiple fronts.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/05/05/feds-blame-combination-parasite-virus-bacteria-pesticides-for-strange-bee/?intcmp=features#ixzz2SQcZG2TO

Hug a tree! 5 fun facts about Earth Day

Published April 22, 2013


  • earth-day.jpg
It’s a day to celebrate the most famous mother of all — Mother Earth. This Monday (April 22) marks the 43rd Earth Day, with more than 1 billion people in 192 countries expected to participate in activities this year.

Though Earth Day is mainstream now, its roots go back to the radical 1960s. So as people break ground for a tree planting or take a few hours to recycle their old laptops, LiveScience looks back at the role Earth Day played in environmental change. From its hippie roots to its global reach, here are five fun facts about Earth Day.

1. Green roots

Earth Day got its start in the wake of the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. After visiting the site of an oil spill near Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, envisioned a way to mobilize a grassroots movement to raise the profile of environmental issues, modeled after Vietnam War teach-ins. His idea spread and people held rallies in cities throughout the country on April 22, 1970. [SOS! The 10 Worst Oil Spills]

2. Political impact

Though Earth Day may now be synonymous with small-scale tree planting and volunteer cleanup projects, the first Earth Day actually had its sights set on bigger political projects. Earth Day demonstrations created public support for the creation of theEnvironmental Protection Agency, authorized by Congress in December 1970. Earth Day also contributed to the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts.

3. Equinox day

There are actually two Earth Days — the April 22 holiday and the one celebrated on March 20, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the autumnal equinox in southern latitudes. To this day, at the exact moment of the equinox, when the sun crosses the plane of the equator and day and night are equal length, the Japanese Peace Bell is rung at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, followed by two minutes of silent prayer or meditation. The Equinox was chosen as a symbol of harmony in nature and an appropriate time to dedicate efforts to peace and care of the Earth.

4. Global Movement

Earth Day may have been conceived in 1970, but it didn’t truly go global until 1990. That year, more than 200 million people participated in environmental activities in more than 141 countries. This year, more than 1 billion people are expected to participate in 192 countries.

5. Other holidays

Nelson originally chose April 22 because it didn’t seem to coincide with other big holidays in the United States. However, the date was once a big deal in the Communist Soviet Union: it was also the birthday of Vladimir Lenin.

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Breaking the ice: Earthquakes trigger Antarctic ‘icequakes’

By Becky Oskin

Published April 22, 2013


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    Researchers hard at work around a seismograph, an instrument in the orange box buried in a hole in the snow. Solar power runs the seismic station during the summer, and batteries keep it going during the long, dark winter months. (Doug Wiens)

When the world shakes, so does Antarctica’s ice, according to a study presented here April 19 at the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting.

Icequakes are vibrations in glaciers and ice sheets (the massive expanses of glacial ice that cover Antarctica and Greenland). From small creaks and groans to sudden slips equal to a magnitude-7 earthquake, the shaking signals movement in the ice.

Scientists discovered that big earthquakes, including Japan’s 2011 Tohoku quake and Chile’s 2010 Maule temblor, set off icequakes across Antarctica, just as they triggered earthquakes on land.

“We see pretty clear evidence of triggering [in Antarctica],” said Jake Walter, a geophysicist at Georgia Tech.

The icequakes started after a type of rolling earthquake wave called surface waves (also known as Rayleigh waves) raced through the frozen ice, Walter said. After the two recent major temblors, earthquake monitors picked up a spike in icequakes, which typically hit throughout the day as the ice shifts.

Walter suspects the shaking could shift crevasses or adjust the ice above subglacial rivers, both known icequake triggers.

The research team is also taking a closer look at the effects of earthquakes on the Whillans Ice Stream, a fast-moving ice river that flows to the Ross Sea. Whillans — where, this year, researchers recovered the first signs of life from a buried subglacial lake — surges toward the sea two times a day in stick-slip motion, much in the way earthquake faults move. Early results suggest that earthquakes elsewhere on the planet can trigger these sudden slips, Walter said.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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How a fake island landed on Google Earth

By Megan Gannon

Published April 20, 2013


  • sandyisland

    A view on Google Earth of the phantom Sandy Island. (via Google Earth)

Last year, a group of Australian researchers “undiscovered” an island the size of Manhattan in the South Pacific.

A mysterious place called Sandy Island had popped up on maps, northwest of New Caledonia. It even showed up as a black polygon on Google Earth. But when scientists sailed there last November, they found open water instead of solid ground.

In an obituary for the island published this month, the researchers explained why the phantom landmass had been included on some maps for more than a century, pointing to some human errors and a possible pumice raft. [See Photos of a Giant Pumice Raft]

Sandy Island was first recorded by the whaling ship Velocity in 1876 and first mentioned on a British Admiralty chart in 1908. But future expeditions failed to find the island, and it was removed from some official hydrographic charts by the 1970s.

However, the errant island stuck on some maps and then crept into digital databases like the widely used World Vector Shoreline Database, which was developed by the U.S. military.

“During the conversion from hard-copy charts to digital formats the ‘Sandy Island’ error was entrenched,” said Maria Seton, of the University of Sydney. (Seton was chief scientist on an expedition to study plate tectonics on the RV Southern Surveyor when the “undiscovery” was made.)

“We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island,” Steven Micklethwaite, a scientist at the University of Western Australia who was on the voyage, told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time of the undiscovery. “Then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map.”

But what did the crew of the Velocity see in the first place that led to the false discovery of Sandy Island in the 19th century? Seton and her colleagues speculate that it might have been a giant pumice raft.

Pumice forms when volcanic lava cools quickly, trapping gas inside and creating lightweight rocks that can float. Last summer, an erupting undersea volcano called the Havre Seamount sent pumice drifting off the coast of New Zealand across an astounding area of 8,500 square miles (22,000 square kilometers). And Sandy Island happens to sit along a pumice “superhighway.”

“It is believed that wind and ocean surface currents in the area combine to funnel pumice rafts through the area between Fiji and New Caledonia on their way to Australia,” Seton and her colleagues wrote in an article in the journal EOS. “The formation of this ‘pumice raft superhighway,’ which passes by the location of Sandy Island, lends weight to the idea that the Velocity may have captured a moment when some sea?rafted pumice was traversing the area.”

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Volcano under Yellowstone bigger than previously thought

By Becky Oskin

Published April 18, 2013


  • yellowstone-magma-pocket

    Yellowstone is an active volcano. Surface features such as geysers and hot springs are direct results of the region’s underlying volcanism. (National Park Service)

SALT LAKE CITY –  Yellowstone’s underground volcanic plumbing is bigger and better connected than scientists thought, researchers reported Wednesday, April 17, at the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting.

“We are getting a much better understanding of the volcanic system of Yellowstone,” said Jamie Farrell, a seismology graduate student at the University of Utah. “The magma reservoir is at least 50 percent larger than previously imaged.”


‘The magma reservoir is at least 50 percent larger than previously imaged.’

– Jamie Farrell, a seismology graduate student at the University of Utah


Knowing the volume of molten magma beneath Yellowstone is important for estimating the size of future eruptions, Farrell told OurAmazingPlanet.

Supervolcano trail
Geologists believe Yellowstone sits over a hotspot, a plume of superheated rock rising from Earth’s mantle. As North America slowly drifted over the hotspot, the Yellowstone plume punched through the continent’s crust, leaving a bread-crumb-like trail of calderas created by massive volcanic eruptions along Idaho’s Snake River Plain, leading straight to Yellowstone. The last caldera eruption was 640,000 years ago. Smaller eruptions occurred in between and after the big blasts, most recently about 70,000 years ago. [Infographic: Geology of Yellowstone]

The magma chamber seen in the new study fed these smaller eruptions and is the source of the park’s amazing hydrothermal springs and geysers. It also creates the surface uplift seen in the park, said Bob Smith, a seismologist at the University of Utah and author of a related study presented at the meeting.

The volcanic plume of partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano. Yellow and red indicate higher conductivity, green and blue indicate lower conductivity. Made by University of Utah geophysicists and computer scientists, this is the first large-scale ‘geoelectric’ image of the Yellowstone hotspot.

“This crustal magma body is a little dimple that creates the uplift,” Smith said. “It’s like putting your finger under a rubber membrane and pushing it up and the sides expand.”

Clearer picture
A clearer picture of Yellowstone’s shallow magma chamber emerged from earthquakes, whose waves change speed when they travel through molten or solid rock. Farrell analyzed nearby earthquakes to build a picture of the magma chamber.

The underground magma resembles a mutant banana, with a knobby, bulbous end poking up toward the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, and the rest of the tubular fruit angling shallowly southwest. It’s a single connected chamber, about 37 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 3 to 7 miles deep.

Previously, researchers had thought the magma beneath Yellowstone was in separate blobs, not a continuous pocket.

The shallowest magma, in the northeast, also matches up with the park’s most intense hydrothermal activity, Farrell said. The new study is the best view yet of this zone, which lies outside the youngest caldera rim.

Additional molten rock, not imaged in this study, also exists deeper beneath Yellowstone, scientists think.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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5 mysterious particles lurking underground

By Tia Ghose

Published April 08, 2013


  • lux-detector

    The Large Underground Xenon detector in Homestake mine in South Dakota could reveal the particles that make up dark matter. (Matt Kapust, Sanford Laboratory)

While the world’s largest atom smasher was busy finding the Higgs boson particle — thought to explain why other particles have mass — physicists have been quietly building giant underground laboratories deep beneath the Earth.

No, scientists aren’t hiding the next James Bond supervillain down there. Instead, they are working more than a mile beneath the Earth’s crust to find some of the universe’s most elusive particles.

The layers of rock may harbor evidence of a new force and shield delicate experiments from cosmic rays and other high-energy particles, allowing ultrarare particles to reveal themselves. From the unparticle to WIMPs, here are some mysterious particles that could be lurking underground.

The unparticle
Physicists are hunting for a new fundamental force within Earth’s mantle. The unparticle, which behaves both as photons and mass-bearing particles do, could be responsible for long-range spin interactions, a new force that causes the electrons in atoms to align their spins over long distances.

To find evidence of the new force, researchers mapped out the electron density and spin within the Earth’s mantle and are now investigating whether these subterranean electrons are affecting how neutrons and electrons spin in two experiments separated by about 3,000 miles. If the electrons in the mantle are transmitting a force to those particles in lab experiments, it should change the frequency at which they spin. Then the new force would join gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces in dictating the behavior of the universe. [50 Amazing Facts About Planet Earth]

Dark-matter particles
The universe is filled with invisible stuff called dark matter, whose gravitational pull is thought to keep galaxies from flying apart. Leading theories propose that dark matter is made up of weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs, that rarely interact with ordinary matter.

Several labs, including the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) Detector in Homestake, S.D., rely on the Earth’s crust to shield experiments from cosmic rays that could drown out the few interactions of WIMPs with regular atoms. So far, traces of WIMPs have been few and far between, but with several experiments ongoing, evidence of WIMPs could be revealed within the next few years.

Solar neutrinos
Physicists at Gran Sasso National Laboratory, a particle detector buried a mile beneath an Italian mountain, have caught solar neutrinos in the act of changing types, or “flavors.” The sun’s nuclear reactions create these chargeless particles, but leading theories suggest they change flavor as they traveled to the Earth. As a result, physicists looking for certain flavors of solar neutrinos have measured fewer solar neutrinos of those flavors than they expected.

Solar neutrinos rarely interact with matter, but by shooting beams of the particles 454 miles (731 km) from the physics lab CERN to the underground lab in Gran Sasso, physicists managed to catch the particles in the act of changing flavor. The finding confirms that neutrinos do change flavor as they travel from the sun.

Finding geoneutrinos
Neutrinos may form at the sun, but they also are produced from radioactive elements within Earth’s mantle. The Gran Sasso Lab also has isolated some of these so-called geoneutrinos, which form when radioactive uranium or thorium decays. The new particles could explain how much heat forms inside the Earth, driving the motion of tectonic plates. To catch these geoneutrinos emanating from the Earth’s mantle, the researchers use an oil-based fluid that scintillates, or gives off light, when subatomic particles bump into the fluid. The researchers identified the geoneutrinos because they emit a positron followed by a neutron when bumping into the atoms of the fluid, which gives of a characteristic flash of light.

Nucleon decay
Although many subatomic particles break down into other particles, so far no one has caught the decay of protons or neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms. Nucleon decay is predicted by Grand Unified Theories that seek to explain everything in physics.

To find evidence of this rare decay, scientists at the Super-Kamiokande experiment under Mount Kamioka in Japan have spent several years hunting for nucleon decay. Even if it takes protons one hundred hundred thousand million billion trillion (or 10 raised to the 34th power) years to decay, the detectors should be able to find at least a few of these events. So far, though, Super K still hasn’t found any evidence of proton decay.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Creators of mysterious desert ‘fairy circles’ found

By Tanya Lewis

Published March 29, 2013


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    Here, numerous tracks of Oryx antelopes crossing fairy circles in an interdune pan, shown in this aerial view of Namibrand, Namibia. (Image courtesy of N. Juergens)

The “artists” behind bizarre, barren, grassless rings dotting the desert of Southwest Africa have been found lurking right at scientists’ feet: termites.

Known as fairy circles, these patches crop up in regular patterns along a narrow strip of the Namib Desert between mid-Angola and northwestern South Africa, and can persist for decades. The cause of these desert pockmarks has been widely debated, but a species of sand termite, Psammotermes allocerus, could be behind the mysterious dirt rings, suggests a study published Thursday, March 28, in the journal Science.

Scientists have offered many ideas about the circles’ origin, ranging from “self-organizing vegetation dynamics” to carnivorous ants. Termites have been proposed before, but there wasn’t much evidence to support that theory.

Finding patterns in circles
While studying the strange patterns, biologist Norbert Juergens of the University of Hamburg noticed that wherever he found the dirt patches (the barren centers inside fairy circles), he also found sand termites. [See Photos of the Bizarre Fairy Circles]

Juergens measured the water content of the soil in the circles from 2006 to 2012. More than 2 inches of water was stored in the top 39 inches of soil, even during the driest period of the year, Juergens found. The soil humidity below about 16 inches was 5 percent or more over a four-year stretch.

Without grass to absorb rainwater and then release it back into the air via evaporation, any water available would collect in the porous, sandy soil, Juergens proposed. That water supply could be enough to keep the termites alive and active during the harsh dry season, while letting the grass survive at the circles’ rims.

Juergens conducted surveys of the organisms found at fairy circles. The sand termite was the only creature he found consistently at the majority of patches. He also discovered that most patches contained layers of cemented sand, foraged plant material and underground tunnels — telltale signs of sand termites.

The scientist found a few other termite species, as well as three ant species, at fairy circles in areas that get rain during the summer or during the winter, but not at all the sites he studied.

Teensy engineers
The termite behavior provides an example of “ecosystem engineering,” Juergens wrote in the Science paper. The insects appear to be feeding on the grass roots to create the characteristic rings, the study suggests. As to why the termites would create circular-shaped patches, Juergens doesn’t say.

“The paper is a useful addition to debating the origin of the fairy circles,” chemist Yvette Naude of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience in an email. But, Naude added, the study “does not address the key question as to what is the primary factor that causes sudden plant mortality, i.e. the birth of a fairy circle.”

The soil in fairy circles seems to be altered so that plants can’t survive, whereas termites usually enrich soil, making it more hospitable to plants, she said. (Juergens actually thinks the termites chew up the plant roots, and that’s what leads to the barren patches.)

It is possible the termites don’t cause the fairy circles, but merely live in them. However, Juergens found the insects were present even during the early stages of patch formation, before the grass had died off on the surface. Over the termites’ lifetime, they munch on the grassy borders and gradually widen the circles.

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Eerie Google images of Japanese ghost town in Fukushima

Published March 28, 2013


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    Google Maps
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    Google Maps
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    Google Maps
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    Google Maps
Google Street View is giving people a rare glimpse of Japanese ghost town Namie which was left abandoned after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami sparked a nuclear disaster that has left the area uninhabitable.

The eerie images taken by Google’s fleet of camera-equipped vehicles show concrete rubble littering streets with abandoned shops and homes shuttered after the double disaster.


‘We want this Street View imagery to become a permanent record of what happened.’

– Namie mayor Tamotsu Baba


In one a ship sits stranded on a stretch of dirt flattened when the powerful tsunami hit the coastline.

Google’s technology pieces together digital images and allows viewers to take virtual tours of locations around the world.

Now it is taking people inside Japan’s nuclear no-go zone for the first time, where the city’s 21,000 residents have been unable to return to live since they fled the radiation spewing from the ruptured Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant two years ago.

Koto Naganuma, 32, who lost her home in the tsunami, said some people find it too painful to see the places that are now out of their reach.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited I can take a look at those places that are so dear to me,” she said. “It would be hard, too. No one is going to be there.”

View Larger Map

Namie mayor Tamotsu Baba said memories rushed back when he saw images shot by Google.

“Those of us in the older generation feel that we received this town from our forebears, and we feel great pain that we cannot pass it down to our children,” he said. “We want this Street View imagery to become a permanent record of what happened to Namie-machi in the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.”

Street View was started in 2007, and now provides images from more than 3,000 cities across 48 countries, as well as parts of the Arctic and Antarctica.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/03/28/eerie-google-images-japanese-ghost-town/?intcmp=features#ixzz2OrQDd2sZ

8 mind-blowing volcanoes that you can visit


Published March 25, 2013


  • JNTO

    1Mt. Fuji, Japan
  • Solve Fredheim

    2Thrihnukagigur, Iceland
  • Fototeca ENIT

    3Mt. Etna, Italy
  • AP

    4Pacaya, Guatemala
  • Hawaii Tourism Authority / Tor Johnson

    5Kilauea, Hawaii
  • Italian Government Tourist Board/ Fototeca ENIT

    6Mt. Vesuvius, Italy
  • Indonesia Ministry of Culture & Tourism

    7Mt. Bromo, Indonesia
  • Vanuatu Tourism Office

    8Yasur, Vanuatu

Volcanoes are fierce, natural beauties that are even more striking up close. Should you wish to walk across an ash desert, watch a live lava river, or even climb into a magma chamber, here are eight volcanoes open for public exploration.

  • 1Mt. Fuji, Japan


    Although this volcano is now dormant (it last erupted in 1707), it is still a spectacular sight to see. Standing over 12,000 feet tall, Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain. The snow-capped mountain is surprisingly symmetrical and is surrounded by five lakes, creating a picturesque scene. It is open for hiking from July to August. The climb is steep, but there are resting areas along the way.

  • 2Thrihnukagigur, Iceland

    Solve Fredheim

    Luckily, you don’t have to correctly pronounce the name of this volcano to gain access to it. Also known as Three Peaks Crater, this volcano is the only volcano in the world that visitors can explore from the inside. Rest assured, it has lain dormant for 4,000 years, so you won’t come in contact with floating lava. To get to the volcano, you first must take a 45-minute guided hike. Once there, a cable lift lowers passengers deep into the magma chamber (from top to bottom, the volcano measures 400 feet) to explore for up to an hour. Guided tours depart four times a day and run from May to September.

  • 3Mt. Etna, Italy

    Fototeca ENIT

    Mt. Etna is the highest active volcano in Europe, currently measuring over 10,000 feet tall. The volcano contains more than 400 craters and is in a constant state of activity, so it’s not unusual to see it spew lava and ash. Tourists can take a jeep tour, guided climb, or cable car up the mountain. Those who would rather keep a safer distance have the option of taking a train ride around the base of the volcano.

  • 4Pacaya, Guatemala


    The Pacaya volcano is the most active of 32 volcanoes in Guatemala. It has been in a constant state of eruption since 1965, and although tourists aren’t allowed to visit the main crater, there’s a trail that leads up to a plateau near the top of the volcano. Visitors can choose to walk or ride a horse up with a tour guide. The ascent is moderately easy and typically takes two and a half hours. At some points along the walk, visitors can even roast marshmallows on hot volcanic stones.

  • 5Kilauea, Hawaii

    Hawaii Tourism Authority / Tor Johnson

    Located within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Since 1983, Kilauea has continuously erupted, producing between 250,000 and 650,000 cubic yards of lava per day. For a clear view of the volcano, visit the Kilauea overlook (which also doubles as a picnic area) or the Jaggar Museum overlook. Depending on volcanic activity, visitors may also have the opportunity to witness live lava rivers. The park is open 24 hours a day, year-round.

  • 6Mt. Vesuvius, Italy

    Italian Government Tourist Board/ Fototeca ENIT

    This volcano is famous for its eruption in 79 AD, when it buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The volcano is still active today, with the last major eruption occurring in 1944. Visitors can take a guided tour to the summit, where they can peer straight into one of the smoking craters that caused so much destruction many years ago.

  • 7Mt. Bromo, Indonesia

    Indonesia Ministry of Culture & Tourism

    Located in East Java, Mt. Bromo is not only striking; it’s also sacred. Each year, during the Kasada festival, locals throw offerings into the crater of the volcano to appease the mountain gods. To get to the base of the volcano, tourists must first walk, horseback ride, or drive across an ash desert. As long as the volcano activity is low, visitors can climb stairs to the rim of the crater. Try to get to the mountain before the sun rises, as the sunrise is not to miss.

  • 8Yasur, Vanuatu

    Vanuatu Tourism Office

    Located on Tanna Island in the South Pacific, Yasur is well known for its consistent eruptions. The 1,184-foot volcano spews lava and ash on a daily basis and often erupts in a Strombolian fashion (in which magma and volcanic rock shoot from the main crater). Depending on the volcano’s level of activity, visitors can access the rim of the crater with a guide.

Mega volcanoes responsible for mass extinctions on Earth?

By Tanya Lewis

Published March 22, 2013




Nature’s Fury: When Volcanoes Erupt

Belching lava, earth-shaking rumbles, smoke that fills the sky … volcanoes reveal nature at her most furious. We’ve recently seen several examples of her anger.


Massive volcanic eruptions may have led to the extermination of half of Earth’s species some 200 million years ago, a new study suggests.

The release of gases from giant eruptions caused climate change that led to the End-Triassic Extinction, the widespread loss of land and sea species that made way for the rise of the dinosaurs, the research says. The new study, published Thursday, March 21, in the journal Science, shows that a set of major eruptions spanning from what is now New Jersey to Morocco occurred very close to the time of the extinction.

Scientists suspected previously that such volcanic activity and the resultant climate change were responsible for this major extinction and at least four others. But researchers weren’t able to constrain the dates of the eruptions and extinctions well enough to prove the hypothesis. The new study, however, dates the End-Triassic Extinction to 201.56 million years ago, the same time the volcanoes were blowing their tops.


The End-Triassic Extinction to 201.56 million years ago, the same time the volcanoes were blowing their tops.


The eruptions, known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province, began when the land on Earth was part of one giant supercontinent called Pangaea. They lasted more than 600,000 years and created a rift that became the Atlantic Ocean. The researchers studied lava from these flows in modern-day Nova Scotia, Morocco and New Jersey. [Big Blasts: History’s 10 Most Destructive Volcanoes]

The previous dates for these eruptions had error margins of 1 million to 3 million years, but this study decreases those numbers by an order of magnitude, lead author Terrence Blackburn, a geologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, told LiveScience.

The results showed that the oldest massive eruptions were in Morocco, followed by the ones in Nova Scotia 3,000 years later and then those in New Jersey another 10,000 years after that. Animal and plant fossils, along with pollen and spores from the Triassic era, can be found in sediment layers underneath the lava flows, but not in layers above them. This suggests the eruptions wiped out those species. The organisms that went extinct include eel-like fish called conodonts, early crocodile species, tree lizards and broad-leaved plants.

The evidence heats up
Blackburn and colleagues determined the age of the lavas based on their mineral content. When lava flows cool, the center regions remain hot, and some chemical elements, like the mineral zircon, fail to crystallize. Zircon incorporates large amounts of uranium, which radioactively decays into lead at a specific rate. By measuring the ratio of uranium to lead in lava rock, the scientists could figure out precisely when the eruptions occurred.

“Zircon’s really the perfect time capsule,”Blackburn said.

A second piece of evidence supporting the role of volcanism comes from reversals in the Earth’s magnetic field. The researchers found mineral grains from one of these reversals in the sediment layer that formed just before the extinction. Since the researchers found the same layers at every site they studied, the magnetic reversal serves as a marker for when the extinction occurred.

A final line of evidence comes from repetitive motions of the Earth. As the planet rotates on its axis, it wobbles around like a top, which causes the amount of energy it receives from the sun to fluctuate depending on the areas that are pointed directly at the sun. These fluctuations correspond to different climate conditions and occur on a regular interval. By using these intervals, the researchers were able to determine the age of fossil-containing sediments to within 20,000 years.

Warming the planet
The gigantic eruptions would have vented sulfates that reflected sunlight back into space, effectively cooling the planet for several thousand years. But the eruptions would also have released large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, causing global warming. Many species wouldn’t have been able to survive this dramatic shift in temperature and would have died out.

The findings are “a nice confirmation of what we and others have been aware of for some time,” geologist Paul Renne of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. “The main difference is the dating that they used is more precise than our results were.”

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