VolcanoCakes: the UEA50 Eruptions of Confection

Cakes! Very tasty cakes! One of the most remarkable features of the UEA50 Festival was the 16 outstanding entries into the Great Volcano cake-off. Delia meets academia.

Obviously they were tasted on the day and there were a few awards….but…. which one is your favourite? Tweet using the hashtags: volcanocake and uea50 or follow this link to our facebook page where you can cast your vote by liking your favourites. Results of the popular vote in a couple of weeks!

The Full Line-up of Cakes (Photo: Jan Chylik)
The Full Line-up of Cakes (Photo: Jan Chylik)

Rumours were circulating that 1.8 kg of ganache went into one entry alone and another entry showered the waiting ‘press corps’ with explosive sugar. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted a lot of sciencey-looking kit around the cakes! Correct! The barriers between creativity, artistry and science came crashing down on that sunny autumn afternoon (often in a whoosh of fondant lava).

Here is our volcano-cake lowdown with a few categories to help you out a bit:

Magmatic mastery

Several of our cakes demonstrated that volcanoes go more than just skin deep!

Merapi! A song of cake and fire! (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Merapi! A song of cake and fire! (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

Not only was this an cake attempt to portray what lies beneath but it also used cake layering techniques from both Indonesia and the Netherlands

Mount Cake-atoa (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Mount Cake-atoa (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

This one has to be loved for its chilled margin along the edge of the conduit. Maaaagm-ificent! Great toffee spatter eruption too!

Bi-coloured volcano lava cake (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Bi-coloured volcano lava cake (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

I think this is the one with the unbelievably delicious icing.

Santorini (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Santorini (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

If ever there was a volcanic island that asks, nay demands, to be immortalised accurately in cake it’s Santorini. Brilliant idea and a gauntlet to all future volcano-cake makers. Next time we’ll be looking for something that immortalises the recent unrest and deformation (UEA50 style using a pump!)


Volcano: the next generation (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Volcano: the next generation (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

Lava lake by my kids. Nice chocolate spatter girls!

'Mauna Loa's' Rival (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
‘Mauna Loa’s’ Rival (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

Just brilliant use of jelly and chocolate for this glistening entry!

'Magma Flow' and its equipment (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
‘Magma Flow’ and its equipment (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

This one had a real conduit and quite the splendid eruption situation. Rumour had it the cake had to be a ‘a bit dense’ to pull off this effect.

Chocatoa (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Chocatoa (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

Lava flow in fabulous toffee, by this stage its dinosaur body guards had to be removed for security reasons. See picture above for details!

Mount Wannahockaloogie and Choc-suvius
Mount Wannahockaloogie and Choc-suvius

Mount Wannahockaloogie exemplifying here the complex relationship between explosive and effusive activity and Choc-suvius just going for it on the straightforward explosive sparkles.

Campus, carnage and mayhem

Clearly, some of our competitors spent quite a bit of time fantasising about a real eruption on campus and then re-imagining it in cake. Too many disaster movies, competitors! (But if you want some help with a script Team Norfolk Firework Volcano are now available some evenings and weekends!)


The Campus’ famous Ziggurats were subjected to a fantastic orange red eruption down the front courtesy of an ingenious balloon pump. NB: bunnies!

Cringleford 'Cano (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Cringleford ‘Cano (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

Even ‘Broader’ (geddit) Campus mayhem here – were the sparkly red bits in the lava real popping candy? Not only that but there is quite the issue with Giant Wallace and Gromit Style Killer Bunnies and Nessie in the Broad going on here: watch out Ziggurats!

Weapon of mass Eruption (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Weapon of mass Eruption (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

Widely touted as the Cake that Got Away from the Judges Awards, the spookily accurate reconstruction of Campus on the Day had a fab eruptive moment, although the hot weather deprived it of its plume (all the dry ice evaporated before lift off. I will resist jokes about global warming) :

Weapon of Mass Eruption (Photo: Jan Chylik)
Weapon of Mass Eruption (Photo: Jan Chylik)

Finally, a magnificient interpretation of a volcanic eruption rendered by some cake surrealists! Yippee! We’ve got it all going on here!

Le Volcano Francais (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)
Le Volcano Francais (Photo: Tahmeena Aslam)

This was the only cake to realistically undergo sector collapse shortly after its sampling by our experienced Cake Judge Tim Kinnaird.

Many many thanks to Tahmeena Aslam and Fuchsia Wilkins for the cake enthusiasm that got this part of the Festival off the ground. What a success!

Practically Perfectly Predicted Saturday Eruption

Our little mini Merapi. Having one of its mild explosive eruptions. We can't be sure but the estimate is that around 8000 people came to witness this eruption. Photo Credit: Tristan Conor Holden
Our little mini Merapi having one of its mild explosive eruptions. We can’t be sure but the estimate is that around 8000 people came to witness this eruption. Photo Credit: Tristan Conor Holden

In the end, the weather and the light were so beautiful we had to delay the forecast ‘eruption’ by 10 chilly minutes! We’re busy collating and compiling footage, movie clips and stories from the day (not to mention our ‘day jobs’). In the meantime here are a few of our photogenic highlights from the world’s best predicted volcanic eruption.

In the build up to the eruption, EventFX Ltd were on hand to have the volcano show signs of unrest through the late afternoon.  It was a pretty musical volcano and seemed to have unrest peaks during  moments  of musical intensity. There were plenty of those (see volcano caption for our playlist).

Jan Chylik
One of the last photos of mini-Merapi during its unrest phase prior to the main eruption. Mini Merapi warmed to unrest when played: movie soundtracks from Dante’s Peak, Volcano, 2012 and Twister; classical excerpts of Carl Orff (Carmina Burana); Holst (Mars from Planet Suite); Wagner (Ride of the Valkyries); Vivaldi (Storm from ‘Summer’) Mussorgksy (Night on a Bald Mountain). Photo Credit: Jan Chylik

During the eruption EventFX had commissioned some fireworks that were a little denser than usual to try and mimic the trajectories of ballistics they had seen in the footage we sent them of small explosions. We also had ‘quiet’ dome glow.

Denser fireworks glide through the air like ballistics. Photo Credit: Tahmeena Aslam
Denser fireworks glide through the air like ballistics. Photo Credit: Tahmeena Aslam

Our ‘pyroclastic flow’ worked pretty well but the bracing East Anglian wind whipped and diluted the cloud a bit faster than we might have liked… and then… the flares around the volcano lit up to signify the start of the artistic and wonderful ‘Trademark Final Flourish’ !(pers. comm. EventFX Ltd)

Tristan Conor Holden
Tristan Conor Holden

A truly fantastic finale; mini-Merapi swathed in ‘choking sulphurous fumes’

Tristan Conor Holden
Tristan Conor Holden

After an afternoon of colouring and drawing volcanoes in the Little Big Top with glitter pens and kids you would think we would have had quite enough of sparkly wonderfulness. Not. one. tiny. little. bit. of it.

Simply magnificent.

We owe a fantastic debt of thanks to those 65+ volunteers from the University of East Anglia and beyond who plastered, painted, wrote, drew, exploded, chatted, talked rocks and finally stewarded crowds. Thank you! More on those adventures soon.

For those of you wondering where all the cakes have gone, have no fear, the volcano-cake blog of the century is on its way……

Myth or Magma?

Hawaii’s vibrant mythology is populated by violent, emotional gods. But behind the fantasy could lie clues to the real volcanic events which – scientists now think – inspired them.

Ten centuries ago, the small group of Polynesian sailors who first glimpsed the Hawaiian Islands must have sensed the miraculous; a thousand miles from home, the Pacific had thrown them a lifeline. What they saw when they landed, though, confirmed the supernatural: On this lone outpost in an endless ocean, the ground was alive.

Hawaii Volcanoes NP Magma
Eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The settlers had no written language, so we can only guess what events inspired early legends of a god who devoured forests. But some sights seem to have inspired such awe in the islanders, that they left an invisible mark. Recently, the rich oral history, passed down through generations of native Hawaiians, has begun to receive scientific attention. It seems that, behind the legends of warring gods, could be the ghosts of two of the biggest volcanic catastrophes on the Big Island since humans first floated ashore.

In 1790, Captain Cook became the first Westerner to meet – and be killed by – the inhabitants of the “Sandwich Islands”. Thirty years later, another Englishman – William Ellis, a missionary – spoke to them in their own tongue. No hatchets this time. Instead, they showed him their volcano – the immense, lava-scarred pit of Mount Kilauea – and told him stories; about a mythology revolving around the lava goddess Pele: Jealous, volatile – eruptive.

Volcanologists aren’t used to wading through poetic metaphor; but when Don Swanson – a former director of the observatory which (somewhat precariously) overlooks Kilauea – read Ellis’ accounts, he saw more than just superstition. He saw a record.

The Goddess Pele by Frank Kovalchek

His volcanologist’s eye was drawn to one tale in particular. Pele had fallen in love. Steaming in her pit atop Kilauea, she demanded that her sister, Hi’iaka, fetch the object of her affections from his island home in the North. His name was Lohi’au, and he doesn’t come out of this well. Hi’iaka agreed, on one condition – that her sister keep her fires away from a grove of flowering trees that she loved. She excelled, bringing Lohi’au first back to life, and then back to Kilauea. But she took too long. Pele’s temper had flared (nobody said volcanoes were reasonable), and Hi’iaka returned to find her treasured forest ablaze. But her sister wasn’t finished. The goddess then murdered Lohi’au, casting his body into the depths of her volcano. In response, Hi’iaka began to dig. Frantically. Rocks were flying out of the crater; she delved so deep, she was warned that if she didn’t stop, she would hit water, and put out Pele’s fire.

Burning forests. Spitting craters. Write what you know, I suppose – even if you don’t have writing.

It doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine, as Swanson did, that the story of Hi’iaka’s burning forest might be echoing an ancient lava flow. But why would something as dull as a lava flow (of all things!) have diffused into myth? They’re weekly occurrences on the big island, after all. Perhaps, though, there had been one worth remembering. In the 1980s, a group of geologists discovered a flow that had been emitted from an extinct vent on Kilauea’s East flank, sometime in the 15th century. It was huge; the lava had reached the sea, more than 40 km away. Its length, though, wasn’t the only thing which caught Swanson’s eye. Through 14C analysis, he pinpointed the exact year that the flow had begun – 1410. Almost unbelivably, the end date was 1470: This single, gigantic stream of basalt had persisted for three generations. It would have changed the landscape forever; enough, perhaps, to etch itself into legend.

Incredibly, though, the final act might be hiding something even bigger. Hi’iaka’s furious digging, Swanson realised, might be describing the single biggest volcanic upheaval to have happened at Hawaii since humans arrived.

Puu Oo cropped
Puu Oo, on the eastern rift of Kilauea
At the time of the megaflow, Kilauea had a relatively small, ‘traditional’ summit crater. By the time Cook landed, however, it had morphed into a cauldron: 3000 meters wide, and 150 deep. A caldera collapse: As we tell it now, the result of ground subsidence due to the draining of magma-filled chasms beneath the volcano; but if you’re a medieval Hawaiian, and all you know is the Earth itself is sinking around you in a chorus of explosions – a god digging isn’t a bad guess.

It’s a cracking piece of detective work. But also a fascinating insight into how myths begin. Swanson’s respectful treatment of the story of Pele allowed him to see it for what it partly was: a theory. Formed by people like us, striving to explain the incredible; a best guess at a time when the accessible Earth ended at the surface. Anything below, like the unknown void above the stars, was given over to the gods.


Swanson, D. (2008) Hawaiian oral tradition describes 400 years of volcanic activity at Kilauea. J. Volc. Geotherm. Res. 176; 427-431

Volcanoes: How close is too close?

Volcanoes are incredible to see and visit, but unfortunately they also kill people. Eruptions have taken thousands of lives, such as the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius, or the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz. However, small numbers of people also die each year – not always volcanologists – because they were too close at the wrong time. Often it’s the case that many of these incidents could have been avoided.

Inside an active volcano - Merapi (7756647556)
An amazing photo from inside our volcano, Merapi. But is it worth it to get this close?

We have a few examples where people had a lucky escape and lived to tell the tale, but they could have all ended tragically. So why do we make bad choices? Sometimes volcanoes can just be an irresistible pull – in fact, one of the NFV team once sprained an ankle falling off a ledge because she was focussing too much on a glowing rock in the distance, rather than where she was walking! The captivating nature of volcanoes can sometimes cause us to lose our awareness as well as our common sense! So apart from turning into a zombie, what are the other pitfalls (‘scuse the pun) that might affect volcanophiles?

When we are iIl-informed about what a volcano can do, this can lead to naivety about the dangers. On the other hand, familiarity can breed complacency; a dangerous attitude when walking on a ticking bomb! Other times, it is easy to just follow guides (or other scientists) and not think about the dangers for ourselves; or we can be so focussed on an objective, that we don’t see other ways of achieving it. The USGS says that common-sense often isn’t enough – we need to be aware of what the volcano can do.

But how close is close enough? This depends on a few things: the size of the volcano, how frequently it erupts, the style of eruption and its predictability. All of us, regardless of how much we know, can still be caught off guard. So how do we make our choice?

We have picked out four videos that illustrate these problems – and we are going to explain what we think about them – you make your own mind up…

There’s no denying it – these guys are insane. While we have to admit that we enjoyed watching the volcano-action, if the explosion had been a tiny bit bigger… well let’s just say they were very lucky be able to come back and upload the video!

This one is a little closer to home. As volcanologists, we often need to collect fresh samples to help understand eruptions and determine the source of the magma, but does this scientist push it a little too far? We think so. The problem is – any number of things could have gone wrong. Lava lakes are very rare, but they can be unpredictable and violent! Normally when lava is flowing along the ground, it is probably the safest of the volcanic hazards (despite it being ~1200 degrees centigrade!) You can usually out-walk it and with the right gear on, you can get right up close to the flows. The ‘silver suits’ are cumbersome though, and rapid getaways from over-spilling lava lakes are not easy!

It’s a shame we’re polluting our blog with this insanity.  Mental May could’ve easily ended up the second of the Top Gear threesome to wind up in hospital…or worse…just for trying to appear cool for their millions of viewers as he “scoops up a fresh piece of landscape as a souvenir….”. We wonder if anyone at the BBC realises just how close this was…?

The final example shows what can happen when even scientists get it wrong. Maurice and Katia Krafft were experienced volcanologists pursuing their life’s work of documenting eruptions. They often got too close to the action, and were known for their fearless approach to observing and measuring their erupting subjects. In the end, the volcano got the better of them.

So what can we do? We don’t want to advise you on safety precautions and recommendations (that isn’t our place to say)…but rather encourage you to think carefully for yourself and take responsibility for yourself. Most volcanoes are just like normal mountains – you normally won’t find a fenced off bit telling you where is or isn’t safe!  We think that often the best question to ask is ‘what can the volcano do to surprise me today’? If you don’t know, find out! You can never have too much information – every time that NFV volcanologists do fieldwork, we always work with local scientists and often employ local guides and never ignore official warnings!

But perhaps the most important thing is to always think about each situation for yourself. Don’t just do something because someone else says it’s safe. If you feel scared or unsure – why are you there?

It’s not cool to be reckless.

But we hear you asking, “So, what about the Norfolk Firework Volcano though?”

Luckily for you – the firework volcano is one volcano that you can visit without having to think for yourself – we have thought about that already for you and won’t let you get closer than 20m…which will be quite close enough!

Comment below or tweet using #tooclose and share images or videos where you think people have gotten a little too close.

Volcanoes: A Plant’s-eye View

This post was written by Amelia Frizell-Armitage, a plant scientist at UEA and John Innes Centre investigating wheat yield improvement and a friend to a geologist (why she was pestered into writing this blog post). You can follow her on twitter here.

When you think about volcanoes you probably think about their danger as a natural hazard, their destructive power and maybe even a little about their (I have been told) interesting geology. However, as a biologist and self confessed plant geek, I am more interested in how volcanoes have shaped life on earth. We live in a world of contrasts, and volcanoes are no exception: they have the power to both destroy and create.

A plant grows from solidified lava. Photo by Alice Christophe
A plant grows from solidified lava. Photo by Alice Christophe.

Continue reading Volcanoes: A Plant’s-eye View

The birth of a (Norfolk) volcano

Well, aren’t we all very relieved at Team Norfolk Firework Volcano? Our volcano has been rained on, blown about by the wind, dangerous freshers with crazy ideas are on campus…. but look! It’s still up there! We wanted to build a firework volcano because of the reasons described here, and so we chose a volcano …. but then we had to start building it, which wasn’t so easy. Here’s how we did it:

We decided upon a site

One sunny summers day, everyone involved took a walk around campus to find the perfect spot for our volcano.

site visit 1

It had to be fairly flat, so that it would be easier to build on – but it had to be impressive. We chose the top of Waveney Mound (or The Prospect) because it was a big hill (which would add height), the setting around it made a natural amphitheater for people who would view the “eruption” and it had good vibes!

We fixed the size of the volcano

We wanted the volcano to be big, but erm, we had to build it. So we decided that the volcano should at least be “taller than the tallest dad” so that we could impress small children. We fixed the height at 2.6 m, with a vertical exaggeration of 2.5 which gave us a volcanic diameter of just under 7 m. This is us checking that it would fit!

pacing it out

We got some real data

One of the first steps we took was to get a virtual model of the volcano that had real elevation data. This was relatively easy (UEA has many people working on this type of data) and then we extracted contours from this.


We made a template

At first we were going to scale up an A3 version of the contours to the full 6.8 m diameter of the volcano by hand. This led to a minor breakdown – just think of sheets upon sheets of paper, rulers that aren’t long enough, pencils that kept on breaking… so we went back to the drawing board. We managed to get the template printed on to 48 sheets of A0 paper for a reasonable amount, but then we had to stick those 48 A0 sheets of paper back together and then cut them out! This required 7 PhD students (no comment), lots of coffee and bribery with cookies – but we got it done, And here’s the video of us doing it:

We found someone (crazy enough) to take on the task of building the volcano

At first we thought that we at Norfolk Firework Volcano could build the volcano ourselves. Give us a hammer, some nails and we’d get it done, right? Well, no. The scale of the volcano needed someone with building experience, otherwise it wouldn’t look right. Luckily for us, a friend of the team (Rob Dickson) came up with a plan and committed to building the volcano with the help of two other local builders: Lewis Jaggard and Adam Killingback. 

We got all the bits we needed to build the volcano

Plywood (two kinds), hundreds of nails, timber, a tonne of ballast, cement, bonding coat, dustsheets, chicken wire, tools… other bits and bobs. Check!

We built it

Wow, that statement doesn’t even begin to describe what the build process was like. First we got Rob and Lewis to cut the plywood, it’s a shame that we didn’t get a photo of them making pirate swords out of the left over bits of plywood….


We then took them on to campus (on a wet and windy day) and started building it!

2013-09-14 11.54.58

2013-09-14 13.21.46

2013-09-14 12.09.59
We’re English, of course there was tea…

2013-09-14 17.18.13

The finished volcano “sunbathing” – Rob even designed a ladder so that we could decorate the top!

We put some “clothes” on it

By that I mean that we covered the skeleton frame with chicken wire and then coated that with dustsheets soaked in a dyed cement mixture.

volcano 019

volcano 021 volcano 022volcano 029 volcano 031

 We’ve still got a few finishing touches to add, but most of the hard work is done. Make sure you come on Saturday to see the eruption!

Five Reasons for our Firework Volcano Choice

So why did we choose Mount Merapi as our firework volcano? We had a number of volcano choices including Surtsey and Soufrière Hills, but Merapi just stood out from the crowd – here’s why!

Mt Merapi from Mt Merbabu
Mt Merapi from Mt Merbabu
(1) Merapi is simultaneously unique and representative of stratovolcanoes.

Lots of drawings of the inside of a volcano look a bit like this:

BBC GCSE 'bitesize' cartoon of a volcano
BBC GCSE ‘bitesize’ cartoon of a volcano

In fact its a lot more complicated than that. Volcanoes don’t grow in neat alternating layers of lava and pumice coming from one crater (‘Mmmmmm; I had lava the last eruption so this time, must be an explosion!). ‘Stratovolcanoes’ are a complicated melange of often jumbled blocks, belched out to completely fill one valley and ignore another from one eruption to the next. Magma likes to follow the path of least resistance on the way to the surface and that doesn’t mean it always comes out in the same place, nowhere near it. All this combined with the double-jeopardy of tectonic activity means that many of these volcanoes are prone to slough off entire sides sending hundreds of millions of cubic metres of material hurling downslope in one go: called a collapse or ‘sector collapse’.

This is taken from Kemmerling’s 1921 paper on Merapi activity and shows a cross-section of a small portion of the volcano. Topography has changed again. There have been many eruptions since this cross-section was drawn. It illustrates the complex interlayering of different thickness and types of deposit. Taken from *

Merapi is no exception. Photo’s of Merapi often show the scar (running between the vegetated area and the more barren upper peak) from one of its latest collapse events; the new activity has filled in and outgrows the scar!  For more discussion see our Topography Blog and Katies’ blog about Merapi activity.

(2) Society and culture have been responding to this volcano for thousands of years

Norfolk in 700- 900 A.D was part of the Kingdom of the East Angles living in wooden houses and fending off Viking Invasions. Meanwhile, the population around Merapi were building magnificent copper-inlaid stone temples to celebrate their Gods. Much like Medieval or Tudor England there was lots of fighting between families focused around wealth, religion and power. Temples were both Buddhist and Hindu and were mysteriously abandoned shortly after construction.  The products from larger eruptions of Merapi punctuate periods of construction and its not clear whether politics or pyroclastic flows precipitated the shift of power away from this region**.

The Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia with Mount Merapi in the background. Image by ctsnow.
The Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia with Mount Merapi in the background. Image by ctsnow.

Even today this beautiful, fertile countryside is a living  embodiment of the ways in which volcanic eruptions both provide for and tamper with the lives of the people, plants and animals who inhabit their slopes.

(3) It erupts in spectacular (although sometimes devastating) ways

Lava dome during the 2006 eruption of Merapi. (AP Photo)
Lava dome during the 2006 eruption of Merapi. (AP Photo)

We are, after all, trying to rise to the challenge of creating a spectacle by trying to mimic nature! See Katie’s post for more details of Merapi’s eruptions. We think this is the first time someone has tried to collaborate with a ‘firework-maker’ to try and re-create an eruption in as realistic a way as possible.

Jenni Barclay and Ed Samkin from Events FX when he came to visit us on Campus to talk about the sequence for the Firework Volcano. Ed was born in Norwich as his dad started out as a pyrotechnician. Our eruption and final flourish will be a collaboration between him and his dad. The Fireworkmaker's Son! For reference this is Jenni's * excited face*.
Jenni Barclay and Ed Samkin from Events FX when he came to visit us on Campus to talk about the sequence for the Firework Volcano. Ed was born in Norwich as his dad started out as a pyrotechnician. Our eruption and final flourish will be a collaboration between him and his dad. The Fireworkmaker’s Son! For reference this is Jenni’s * excited face*.

(4) Researchers at UEA work on Merapi

Kinahrejo village was destroyed by pyroclastic surges on 26 October 2010, killing more then 30 people. Photo taken in Feb. 2011 (K. Preece)
Katie Preece’s photo of the destruction from the 2010 activity.  Our NERC Urgency Grant and Katie’s NERC-funded PhD project have demonstrated that new pulses of magma have different characteristics that can be related to the ferocity with which the magma erupts and so used to interpret the driving forces for these eruptions (Preece et al., 2013 and in prep.)

We have been working in collaboration with Ralf Gertisser at the University of Keele to use the erupted rocks to understand some of the important changes that happened in the run up to the most recent eruptions in 2006 and 2010. You can read more about that here.

(5) ‘The Fireworkmaker’s Daughter’ and relevance to other volcano myths, beliefs and literature

Merapi and it’s rich history provided an awful lot for our literary analysts to get their teeth into. Remarkably, an inscription from 842 A.D. .read .’so long as the underground fire-breathing heat remains, as the wise see, unsuppressed through the openings which are in its control…’ **. Seems just like Ravjani in Tom’s description of the Firework Maker’s Daughter!

Even now some legends and beliefs would have that the eruption of Merapi is related to the consummation of marriage, between the God of the Mountain and the Goddess of the South Seas. It seems its not just the Icelandic Giants in BJ’s post  that literally make the Earth move !

…and that seems a great note to finish on!


These references are hidden behind paywalls, sadly

(*) B. Voight, E.K. Constantine, S. Sismowidjoyo, R. Torley Historical eruptions of Merapi Volcano, Central Java, Indonesia, 1768–1998 Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 100 (2000), pp. 69–138

(**) C. Newhall, S. Bronto, B. Alloway, N.G. Banks, I. Bahar, M.A. del Marmol, R.D. Hadisantono, R.T. Holcomb, J. MCGeehin, J.N. Miksic, M. Rubin, S.D. Sayudi, R. Sukhyar, S. Andreastuti, R.I. Tilling, R. Torley, D. Trimble, A.D. Wirakusumah 10000 years of explosive eruptions of Merapi Volcano, Central Java: archaeological and modern implications Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 100 (2000), pp. 9–50

The quotation from that paper is attributed to another source paper.

Preece, K., Barclay, J. Gertisser, R and Herd, R.A. Textural and micro-petrological variations in the eruptive products of the 2006 dome-forming eruption of Merapi volcano, Indonesia: implications for sub-surface processes. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 261 (2013), pp98-120

If you follow this link you can find a version of one of the scientific papers that  summarises the observations and interpretations from the most recent activity.

Merapi: Mountain of Fire

The Indonesian archipelago is dotted with 145 active volcanoes, more than half of which have erupted since human records began. Most of these volcanoes belong to the Sunda arc, a volcanic island chain formed by the subduction of the Indo-Australian plate beneath the Eurasian plate which underlies Indonesia. In the heart of the Sunda arc, about 30 km north of the city of Yogyakarta, lies the majestic peak of Merapi volcano soaring to an altitude of nearly 3000m.

Map of Indonesian subduction zone system showing the distribution of active volcanoes and the location of Merapi. Figure is modified after Gertisser + Keller (2003) Journal of Petrology 44, 457 - 489
Map of Indonesian subduction zone system showing the distribution of active volcanoes and the location of Merapi. Figure is modified by K. Preece after Gertisser & Keller (2003) Journal of Petrology 44, 457 – 489

Merapi, literally meaning ‘Fire Mountain’ in the local language, is arguably Indonesia’s most dangerous volcano, with a history of deadly eruptions. The volcano is frequently active, with eruptive episodes occurring every few years posing a threat to more than 1 million people living on the slopes of volcano. Over the last century, eruptions at Merapi have typically consisted of the gradual and effusive growth of a sticky plug of lava called a ‘lava dome’ on the summit of the volcano, which eventually collapses gravitationally when it grows too large, generating pyroclastic flows. This type of activity has occurred frequently in past years, including recently in 1992, 1994, 1997-98, 2001-02 and 2006, usually lasting for a few weeks or months each time. In fact, this type of pyroclastic flow has become so synonymous with Merapi in recent decades, that they have been termed ‘Merapi-style’ pyroclastic flows. Most recent eruptions have been classed with a volcanic explosivity index (VEI) of 2 or 3, on an open-ended scale, with the largest ever volcanic eruptions in worldwide history assigned a VEI of 8.

Lava dome during the 2006 eruption of Merapi. (AP Photo)
Summit lava dome growing during the 2006 eruption of Merapi. (AP Photo)

On 26 October 2010, Merapi violently erupted spewing flows of hot rock and gas (pyroclastic surges and  pyroclastic flows) kilometres away from the summit and devastating the surrounding area. Further explosions continued daily, for approximately two weeks, before activity started to decrease in the middle of November. At the peak of activity on 5 November, pyroclastic flows travelled 16 km (about 10 miles) from the summit, destroying everything in their path. In stark contrast to other recent eruptions at Merapi, no lava dome grew before the eruption and there was little warning time before the first high-energy explosion tore across the southern flanks.

Residents evacuate as pyroclastic flows sweep down the flanks of Merapi on 1 November 2010.  (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate as pyroclastic flows sweep down the flanks of Merapi on 1 November 2010. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

During the 2010 eruptive episode (VEI 4) more than 300 people were killed, making this most recent eruption the greatest volcanic disaster at Merapi in 80 years. Over 300,000 people were evacuated from their homes within a 20 km radius of the volcano and moved to temporary shelters in safer areas away from the fiery reaches of the volcano. Thanks to the detailed geological monitoring and timely warnings by the Indonesian Centre of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation and the resulting rapid evacuations, it is estimated that 10,000 – 20,000 lives were saved.

Kinahrejo village was destroyed by pyroclastic surges on 26 October 2010, killing more then 30 people. Photo taken in Feb. 2011 (K. Preece)
Kinahrejo village was destroyed by pyroclastic surges on 26 October 2010, killing more then 30 people. Photo taken in Feb. 2011 (K. Preece)

Merapi is a complex volcanic edifice, with a long history of eruptions dating back at least 170,000 years. The currently active part of the complex is a younger cone referred to as New Merapi, which is only a few thousand years old. This has gradually grown on top of the remnants of an older volcanic edifice (Old Merapi), which was destroyed by one, or possibly several, large Mount St. Helens-style collapses, forming the horseshoe-shaped crater that can be seen today high on the eastern flanks of the volcano. In contrast to the mainly effusive dome-forming activity of the 20th Century, rocks preserved in the geological record shows that during the Holocene different types of volcanic activity were commonplace at Merapi. Larger explosive (sub-Plinian) eruptions with a VEI 3 or 4 were common, as well as pyroclastic flows formed by the collapse of eruptive columns or fountains of hot gas and rock debris.

Merapi's complex edifice with the younger active cone of 'New Merapi' and the remnants of 'Old Merapi'. Photo taken in 2011 (K. Preece)
Merapi’s complex edifice with the younger active cone of ‘New Merapi’ and the remnants of ‘Old Merapi’. Photo taken in 2011 (K. Preece)

So what does the future hold for Merapi and the people living on its hazardous slopes? Will future eruptions consist of relatively benign lava dome growth, will they be marked by sudden explosions like in 2010, or will they be on an even larger scale such as those evidenced in the geological record? Scientists face a challenge to unravel the driving forces behind Merapi’s activity. Past eruptions hold the key to future eruptive style, so unlocking the secrets of what lies behind Merapi’s activity will help volcanologists to prevent further catastrophes occurring.

Volcano cakes 101

The Norfolk Volcano Team has a problem – we’re slightly obsessed with cakes. In fact we are so obsessed that we wanted a volcano cake competition to be part of the Norfolk Firework Volcano legacy (and we wanted to eat cake). Baking is a great way of demonstrating scientific principles and getting kids excited about science, we think that the sugar might help! We’re getting Tim Kinnaird, from Norwich’s very own Macarons & More to judge the competition, and if you want to enter the competition, all you have to do is register your entry by emailing your name, age and the name of your edible creation to 50years@uea.ac.uk before the Festival and then show up on the day by 12.15. Registration closes on Friday 20th September, so to get you thinking about “volcano cakes”, here are some ideas for some truly volcanic baking…

1) Bake your cake… with lava

Now, in no way do we at Norfolk Firework Volcano endorse risky behavior around volcanoes – if it’s not necessary, don’t do it! Nonetheless, people have used the heat from cooling lava to cook food. Cremated chicken isn’t really our thing, but people have cooked more tasty looking things using the heat from a dormant volcano.

Not what we want...
Not what we want…

This suggests that we could bake a volcano cake using an actual volcano, but to be honest, it probably wouldn’t taste any better or look any prettier than if it were cooked in a conventional oven! So back to things we can actually do from the comfort of our kitchens.

2) Make a volcano cake a.k.a chocolate fondant a.k.a yum!

Chocolate Fondant
Chocolate Fondant, need we say more??
If you need further justification after that picture, you need to see a doctor. In the UK  these are called chocolate fondants, but in the USA they actually have the right idea and call them volcano cakes. As far as we are concerned, they are basically small domes of lava that show the transition from ductile to brittle behavior that lava shows when it solidifies. If you put lava under stress, it will simply flow. On the other hand, if you apply enough force to a solid, cold rock it will fracture. Make this cake, get a spoon and you’ll see!

You can find a supposedly perfect recipe for a chocolate fondant here. We think a bit of raspberry sauce might be useful for the purposes of “realism”.

3) Make  some transitional fudge

Aa next to pahoehoe lava at Craters of the Moon
Two types of lava at Craters of the Moon, USA

Can you spot the two different types of lava in the above picture? On the left hand side (the smooth looking rock) we have pahoehoe and on the right (the more angular looking rock) we have a’a. They look different because they were formed from different types of lava. More fluid lavas tend to form smooth bodies of rock, whereas thicker (more viscous) lava flows form blocky, angular lumps of rock. Well, we can recreate these different textures… using fudge! The way minerals grow in lava, as it cools, is similar to the way in which sugar crystallizes. When fudge cools quickly with little stirring, its surface looks smooth, but inside it is gritty because the sugar crystals have been allowed to grow (pahoehoe). When the fudge is stirred, this causes the sugar crystals to grind against each other, creating smaller crystals, but with a rough surface (a’a).  There has been an excellent paper written about it, and further details and pictures can be found in this New York times article.

4) Make your volcano cake erupt

There are a number of ways to do this, some involve baking powder and vinegar (not very tasty), others involve coke and mentos (a big mess). The video below uses gelatine and dry ice, which although not easy to find, gives a great result!

5) Make lava lollies

This is a great way of decorating a cake to create a “I just froze midway through an eruption” look. You basically boil sugar with red food colouring and then splatter explosion shapes onto a cool surface. As can be seen from the picture below, it looks really impressive! More details on how to make lava lollies can be found here.

A volcano cake decorated using lava lollies from spoonful.com

6) Go crazy with icing

Healthy eating is great, but to recreate lava flows on a cake  we need sugar, and lots of it. Make some icing with a bit of red or orange food colouring in it, and hey presto, you have lava! And if you’re very smart, you’ll combine it with one of the above ideas to make something truly  spectacular – just like the picture below, and in this recipe.

RAWR dinosaur-collection-image13
Molten lava cakes by wantsandwishes

This post was inspired by Jenni Barclay and her love of volcanoes and cake. Tweet us your ideas for more volcano cake based experimentation and follow us on Facebook!

Volcanoes in Literature: Mt. Etna in Rose Tremain’s Journey to the Volcano

Cover of "Journey to the Volcano (Piper)&...
Cover of Journey to the Volcano (Piper)

We recently looked at Philip Pullman’s The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, and some of the ways in which volcanoes might be portrayed in literature. Mount Merapi was featured in quite a fantastical sense: it was home to Razvani the Fire-Fiend, who granted a young girl the secrets of firework-making. This time, we are taking a different approach to volcanoes in literature, looking at the ways in which volcanoes can be portrayed realistically whilst still remaining a literary device. We are turning to Journey to the Volcano: a story featuring Mount Etna in Sicily, written by the UEA’s current chancellor, Rose Tremain.

George’s parents are separated. His father is English, and his mother is Sicilian; she moved to England with George’s father and insists on calling her son “Giorgio”. One day, George’s mother arrives at his school and steals him away to Sicily. His grandmother, Violetta, doesn’t have long to live, and his mother wants the whole (Sicilian) side of the family to be together for when the time comes. George must adapt to his new life in Sicily where everything about the culture is strange to him, and live in the shadow of Mt. Etna, which rumbles continuously in the distance…

Mt Etna and Catania1
Mt Etna, with Catania in the foreground by BenAveling
Mt. Etna is not home to any Fire-Fiends to help George in his situation, but nevertheless, the volcano still interacts with the story in a number of interesting ways. Upon arriving, it is quite clear that the Sicilian way of life is entirely unfamiliar to George. The volcano helps to illustrate that the environment is just as hostile to George as his Sicilian family seems to be.

“It was still early morning, but the sun was fierce. A pebble hit George in the shoulder. It had been thrown at him by Fabio. He ignored it. Guido jumped down from his rock and laughed. […] Smoke from the fire now rose way above the rock walls of the den. It was like a tiny imitation of the smoke that came from the volcano a few miles above them.”

Towards the end of the story, the Mt. Etna erupts. In spite of the eruption being described in a literary sense, as opposed to a scientific account, the novel is scientifically accurate and records the cultural impact of such an eruption perfectly.

“A slight earth tremor had been felt here. Cracks had appeared in some of the buildings. People were loading their possessions into cars and onto carts and barrows. The place wasn’t safe, they said. The buildings could fall. Another earthquake could follow.”

However, the eruption is not simply present in the story for excitement. Mount Etna forces George and his Sicilian family to band together in order to escape the lava flows. Upon witnessing the eruption on television, George’s father makes an attempt to fly to Sicily and reconcile with George’s mother. In this sense, the eruption acts as a plot device- it forces aspects of the story that were previously at odds or in conflict to come together and move forward. Much like The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, the volcano in this story enables the protagonist to come to some form of character-building realisation. However, this time the volcano is not inhabited by any mythological creatures, nor does it interact with the characters directly. It is not even a respect for the volcano that allows George and his family to reconcile, but rather the dangerous situation that they are thrown into by its activity.

Cole Thomas Mount Etna 1842
Mount Etna from Taormina 1842 by Thomas Cole.
Rose Tremain’s Journey to the Volcano was published in 1985 by Hamish Hamilton Ltd.