Shop Windows to the Universe

The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
This image illustrates two different ways that rotation can happen in a volcanic plume.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of the Zina Deretsky/NSF, after Chakraborty et al., Volcanic mesocyclones, Nature, 3/26/09

Tornado-like Rotation is Key to Understanding Volcanic Plumes
News story originally written on March 23, 2009

Scientists have observed that in some volcanic eruptions, a rotating, column of dust and gas forms and causes the volcanic plume to rotate on its axis. This rotation causes the formation of lightning and creates waterspouts or dust devils.

This phenomena has not been seen very much. It was photographed during the 2008 eruption of Mount Chaiten in southern Chile. In addition, scientists have found a paper written by a sea captain in 1811. In the paper, the captain reported that he saw a volcanic vent coming out of the sea that had a plume coming out of it. The plume rotated on the water like a wheel and there were continuous flashes of lightning and a lot of waterspouts.

The scientists that worked on this project think that the rotation of these volcanic plumes is the primary cause of tornadoes, waterspouts, and lightning that have been seen in the plumes. They also think this process is similar to how a strong thunderstorm creates a tornado. The plume contains a column of hot gases and dust topped with an "umbrella."

Last modified May 19, 2009 by Becca Hatheway.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes books on science education, classroom activities in The Earth Scientist, mineral and fossil specimens, and educational games!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Thunder and Lightning

Lightning is the coolest thing about a thunderstorm. In fact, it is how thunderstorms got their name. Wait a minute, what does thunder have to do with lightning? Well, lightning causes thunder. Lightning...more

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are one of the most exciting and dangerous types of weather. Over 40,000 thunderstorms happen around the world each day. Thunderstorms form when very warm, moist air rises into cold air....more

Triggers of Volcanic Eruptions in Oregon's Mount Hood Investigated

Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. Adam Kent, a geologist at Oregon State University, says this...more

Oldest Earth Mantle Reservoir Discovered

The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core. The mantle is made up of many different reservoirs that have different chemical compositions. Scientists...more

It’s Not Your Fault – A Typical Fault, Geologically Speaking, That Is

Some faults look strong and like they wouldn’t cause an earthquake. But it turns out that they can slip and slide like weak faults causing earthquakes. Scientists have been looking at one of these faults...more

Lower Solar Activity Linked to Changes in Sun's Conveyor Belt

The sun goes through cycles that last approximately 11 years. These solar cycle include phases with more magnetic activity, sunspots, and solar flares. They also include phases with less activity. The...more

Growth Spurt in Tree Rings Prompts Questions About Climate Change

Studying tree rings doesn't only tell us the age of that tree. Tree rings also show what climate was like while the tree was alive. This means that tree rings can tell us about climates of the past. Two...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF