Volcanoes in visual art

May20
May20

May 20 2015, 9pm in Alaska, tune in to KAKM Science Wednesdays, Alaska Public Media, for Frontier Scientists’ COOK INLET VOLCANOES.

Volcanologists and geologists explore volcanic activity along Cook Inlet from ancient history to modern-day, monitor volcanic activity to provide important warnings, and even take a look at volcanoes from space. The episode features USGS Alaska Volcano Observatory scientists. Catch clips online at http://frontierscientists.com/projects/cook-inlet-volcanoes/.

Vulcan paint

Paint Eruption, RHADS joyreactor
Paint Eruption, RHADS (joyreactor.com/post/891970)

The natural destructive force of volcanoes and volcanic eruptions aren’t easy to predict, monitor, or capture.

Frontier Scientists videos feature modern day volcanologists working to do just that.

For an extra look at the topic, here’s a collection of volcanoes in visual arts. The artists who created these images have used volcanoes as their muses. It’s all part of our stunning and volatile world.

Santorini Eruption, illustrator Julius Schmidt, engravers Druck and Arnold
Santorini Eruption, illustrator Julius Schmidt, engravers Druck and Arnold

Above, a depiction of the eruption of the Santorini Volcano, illustration from Etudes sur les Volcans by Julius Schmidt, engraved by Druck and Arnold, 1881.

Lassen

The digital illustration titled ‘Lassen’s Starry Night’ is one work of art in Melissa Lockwood’s Nighttime Series, created as an Artist In Residence at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, in 2014. An intense night sky is depicted above the peak of Lassen Volcano. Find more at https://www.flickr.com/photos/lassennps/sets/72157646600041128.

Lassen's Starry Night, Melissa Lockwood
Lassen’s Starry Night, Melissa Lockwood

Kīlauea

Hawai’i’s Kīlauea Volcano is said to be the most active volcano on earth.

It was once a submarine or undersea volcano. Subsequent eruptions let it grow larger and larger as part of a seamount, or an underwater mountain, before it eventually emerged. It is now part of Hawai’i Island and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Volcano at Night, Jules Tavernier
Volcano at Night, Jules Tavernier

Compare Volcano at Night by Jules Tavernier, circa. 1880, to Halemaumau, Daylight, D. Howard Hitchcock, 1987 (Islander, Honolulu). Hawai’i is a place where a lot of magma, molten rock located underground in the Earth’s crust, is forced via intense pressure to Earth’s surface where it exits a volcano vent as lava.

Halemaumau, Daylight, D. Howard Hitchcock, 1987
Halemaumau, Daylight, D. Howard Hitchcock, 1987

Tephra

The fragmented material expelled by volcanic eruptions is broadly called tephra. The Greek τέφρα means ‘ash’. Airborne tephra fragments, or pyroclasts, might be ash particles, slightly larger lapilli cinders, or inches-across volcanic bombs. The tiny fragments are capable of remaining high in the atmosphere for weeks, blown around by atmospheric currents.

High levels of tephra in the stratosphere mean that volcanic ash and droplets of sulfuric acid reflect the Sun’s light away from Earth, which can cause cold periods known as Volcanic Winters.

When mixed with rain, tephra creates acid rain (or snow). Tephra aloft can also create an unusual red hue in the atmosphere and enforce highly colorful sunsets.

Eruption of the Souffrier, Joseph Mallord William Turner
Eruption of the Souffrier, Joseph Mallord William Turner

Eruption of the Souffrier by Joseph Mallord William Turner interprets a sketch made by Hugh P. Keane Esqire during the April 1812 eruption of the Souffrier Mountains in the Caribbean Island of St Vincent. Exhibited 1815. The painting shows volcanic bombs and other pyroclastic debris being expelled by the force of the volcano’s eruption.

Lahars

During the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens the mountain’s snow and glaciers melted and joined tephra to create large dangerous lahars, or mudslides.

Cotopaxi, a volcano in Ecuador, is shown in this Frederic Edwin Church painting completed in 1862. The snow on the volcano’s slope melted during the eruption and caused deadly lahars. The lahars pushed all the way to the Pacific ocean, 168 miles [270 kilometres] away.

Cotopaxi erupting, Frederic Edwin Church, 1862
Cotopaxi erupting, Frederic Edwin Church, 1862

Krakatoa

An image of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa is crafted in this lithograph by Parker & Coward, Plate 1 in The eruption of Krakatoa and Subsequent Phenomena, part of the Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society (London, Trubner & Co., 1888). You can see the immense plume of tephra ash emerging from Krakatoa.

Krakatoa eruption, Parker & Coward, 1888
Krakatoa eruption, Parker & Coward, 1888

The August 1883 eruption of Krakatoa created a sound noted as the loudest sound ever recorded, heard over nearly a tenth of our planet’s surface. The tephra sent aloft by the eruption spread far, causing reddened skies in distant places. Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting The Scream, created in 1893, is supposedly inspired by the event. Munch noted: “The atmosphere turned to blood – with glaring tongues of fire – the hills became deep blue – the fjord shaded into cold blue – among the yellow and red colours – that garish blood-red – on the road – and the railing – my companions’ faces became yellow-white – I felt something like a great scream – and truly I heard a great scream.”

The Scream, Edvard Munch
The Scream, Edvard Munch

Tambora

1816 was called The Year Without a Summer. The Northern Hemisphere experienced cold temperatures and crop failures. Global average temperatures decreased by as much as 1.3 °F [0.7 °C]. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in (present day) Indonesia was a major instigator of The Year Without a Summer’s cold temperatures. The year helped inspire written works of art including Lord Byron’s poem ‘Darkness’ and Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Red skies caused by airborne tephra also showed up in many works of visual art, including Edvard Munch’s The Scream noted above.

Toba Event simulation, user Anynobody
Toba Event simulation, user Anynobody

This digitally created image by user Anynobody simulates a view of the eruption of Toba called the Toba Event as seen from above Sumatra, Indonesia (GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later). The Toba Event occurred some time 5 thousand – 73 thousand years Before Present. Ash from the event can be found in a layer all over South Asia and in adjacent seas. The eruption expelled 100 times as much mass as the 1815 Mount Tambora eruption which caused the Year Without a Summer.

Fuji

Mount Asama on Honshu Island in Japan erupted in 1783, one of the most destructive volcanic events for Japan in modern history. This 1859-61 image from Hiroshige II’s One Hundred Views of Famous Places in the Provinces shows the restless mount.

Mount Asama, Hiroshige II
Mount Asama, Hiroshige II
Mount Fuji Aratame, Hokusai
Mount Fuji Aratame, Hokusai

Another Honshu Island volcano enjoys international fame: Mount Fuji. It’s a stratovolcano, composed of a composite of lava, pumice and ash. Unlike shield volcanoes where layers of flowing lava make smoother and lower slopes, straovolcanoes tend to be conical and steep, generally more explosive. Mount Fuji is featured in Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print series Views of Mount Fuji circa 1830.

Mount Fuji from Inume Pass, Hokusai
Mount Fuji from Inume Pass, Hokusai

Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius, a stratovolcano in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, destroyed the Roman cities Pompeii and Herculaneum with pyroclastic flows and buried them in layers of ash. The mount continued as a force capable of destroying nearby cities and inflicting earthquakes and heavy ashfalls.

Pyroclastic flows are extremely hot currents of tephra, gas and rock. They flow away from the volcano which emitted them at incredibly high speeds.

During the late 18th century Naples was a popular tourist destination as part of the European Grand Tour; Mount Vesuvius was highly active at the time. There were numerous paintings of Vesuvius created during the period. They feature explosive pyroclastic flows, lava, and towering ‘Plinian’ eruption columns spewing tephra into the air. There follows a selection depicting Vesuvius to finish off this collection.

Vesuvius erupting at Night, William Marlow, 1768
Vesuvius erupting at Night, William Marlow, 1768
Eruption of Vesuvius, Francesco Fidanza, 1768
Eruption of Vesuvius, Francesco Fidanza, 1768
Vesuvius volcanic eruption seen from Portici, Joseph Wright of Derby, circa 1775
Vesuvius volcanic eruption seen from Portici, Joseph Wright of Derby, circa 1775
The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, Pierre-Jacques Volaire, 1777
The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, Pierre-Jacques Volaire, 1777
Eruption of Vesuvius, Xavier Della Gatta, 1794
Eruption of Vesuvius, Xavier Della Gatta, 1794
Eruption of Vesuvius at Night, Joseph Rebell, 1822
Eruption of Vesuvius at Night, Joseph Rebell, 1822
The Eruption of Vesuvius, Sebastian Pether, 1825
The Eruption of Vesuvius, Sebastian Pether, 1825

Laura Nielsen

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Cook Inlet Volcanoes project