Smoke – Phantosmia

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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I have some nice sunrise shots for you today, some a little out of the ordinary, and I am going to whine a little. There’s nothing like whining to a large audience to make one feel better. First, a sunrise. When I first started processing this one, I wondered what happened to the trees on the other side of the harbour. Then I remembered that there was a line of towering cumulus way off on the horizon. It took a little bit of fiddling to separate them from the black shadows of the town:

Two months ago today I wrote about losing my sense of smell, a condition called anosmia. I’d love to report that it has come back, because I miss smelling Eunie’s perfume in the morning. It has  come back, sort of. But the way it has come back is not useful at all. My anosmia has now transmogrified into its grimmer cousin, phantosmia, smelling things which don’t exist.

Let me pep this up with another sunrise. This one is the widest panorama which I have ever done, I think. It was seventeen exposures. The original file is 27,000 pixels wide. I’ve put this one up on the server at 4,000 pixels, so it might be amusing to click on it:

Phantosmia is characterised by olfactory hallucinations, involving smelling odors that are not derived from any physical stimulus. In my case, from my first moment of consciousness in the morning until I fall asleep at night, I smell smoke.

It would not be so bad if it were the aroma of a comfy forest campfire or a yummy barbecue. I only wish. No, it is a nasty trash-fire, a refuse dump set aflame. It’s not nice at all. And, it is strong. If you were caught in a breeze wafting this odor to you, you would move away smartly.

Here is my neighour’s haus win  (a little thatched roof with a platform under it) in the morning sun:

You can see Sheba, our mutt, over at the right.

As you can imagine, this is not only unpleasant and inconvenient, but it could be hazardous as well. If I smell smoke all of the time, how can I detect a fire which might endanger me? Moreover, I can smell nothing but  smoke. Got a gas leak, don’t count on me to warn you. We’ll all blow up if you wait for me to offer, “Hey, I smell gas.”

Here’s one of my “lucky” shots. It would be a pretty ordinary shot of Kar Kar Island  volcano in the sunrise if it were not for the two canoes:

I was using a fairly low shutter speed here, so there is a bit of motion blur in the arms of the canoeists.

The prognosis for any kind of anosmia isn’t particularly encouraging. There are many treatments suggested on the web, but none promise consistent or significant improvement. Most information indicates that, if there is no improvement within a year, the condition is probably permanent. I’m not looking forward to smelling smoke the rest of my life.

Here is another version of the super-wide sunrise above:

I’m going to try to see an ear, nose and throat doctor while I’m in Australia later this year to see what he has to say. From what I’ve read, the fact that I’m smelling something  now may indicate that my normal sense of smell may return. There may be some re-wiring going on and it’s simply not worked out yet.

Of all of the health problems that I might  have at my age, I suppose that I should be grateful that smelling smoke is the worst of them.

Hey, do you smell smoke?

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The Day That Kar Kar Volcano Did Not Erupt

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 4th, 2009 by MadDog
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A little over a week ago, we were surprised to learn that our highly respected (feared!) Kar Kar Island  volcano had erupted most significantly. I say that we were surprised because I could stand on my veranda and see it floating calmly on the warm sea. In case anybody wonders about the potential ferocity of this volcano, have a look at this satellite image:

Satellite image of Kar Kar Island

That’s a fairly large hole there. A lot of misery could come out of that.

I first learned of the alleged eruption when my good mate and fellow amateur scientist Richard Jones called me from Port Moresby to tell me that there was a 13,000 metre ash cloud over Kar Kar Island.  I carried my cell phone out to the veranda and told him that I was staring right at the volcano and could see nothing. It was slightly obscured by clouds, but I was certain that if anything that large were happening, I could see it.

Here is the report that came from the Australian Government’s Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre:

Received FVAU0295 at 23:32 UTC, 25/11/09 from ADRM
DTG: 20091125/2332Z
VAAC: Darwin

VOLCANO: Karkar 0501-03
PSN: S0439 E14558
AREA: New_Guinea NE_of


OBS VA DTG: 25/2315Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0435 E14510 – S0520 E14540 –
S0435 E14600 MOV W 15KT
SFC/FL450 S0435 E13745 – S0525 E13225 – S1030 E13235 –
S0950 E13820 – S0435 E13745 MOV W 25KT

FCST VA CLD +6HR: 26/0515Z
SFC/FL300 S0440 E14600 – S0425 E14445 – S0530 E14525 – S0440 E14600

FCST VA CLD +12HR: 26/1115Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0425 E14415 – S0540 E14500 – S0435 E14600

FCST VA CLD +18HR: 26/1715Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0420 E14345 – S0605 E14435 – S0435 E14600


I put it in tiny type because I doubt if anybody will actually read it. It’s pretty opaque unless you’re an expert, which I am clearly not.  The interesting bit is in bold type. It mentions an ash plume that was observed at FL 300 (that’s Flight Level 300 or 30,000 feet in aviator-speak). Funny, nobody here saw anything like that.

Here is an image of Kar Kar Island  from the inlet near the Memorial Lutheran Church. Madang Resort Hotel is on the right. This is a strong telephoto shot, so it makes the island appear much closer than it is in reality:

Kar Kar Island as seen from Madang (telephoto shot makes it look closer)

I should mention at this point that we got some help from two sources to figure out what happened (or rather what didn’t  happen). One is the Volcanism Blog where you can see the original report and my comments below it. The other is Eruptions where you can again see the results of my meddling in the comments.

How does such a peculiar mistake happen? Heaven knows, I’d rather have a false positive report of a volcano erupting in my front yard than no report at all, However, having lived here a long time (nearly half my life now), I shudder to think of what might have happened if this report had become fuel for the usual bonfire of terror that sweeps through the population when the rumours start flying like lava bombs.

Okay, having dealt with that potential disaster that wasn’t, let’s calm ourselves by contemplating the lovely purple Finnisterre Mountains  in this morning’s early sun:Finisterre Mountains in the early morning sun

Hmm . . . I’m feeling a little bliss creeping in around the edges.

It just got better as I drove into the office this morning. Here’s the pretty scene at Coconut Point:

Coconut Point SunriseNever mind about the volcano that didn’t erupt.

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Three Small Stones from Hell – The Manam Island Volcano

Posted in At Sea, Dangerous, Under the Sea on September 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday evening after work, as is my custom, I sat down with a cold one, a cheap cigar, a book and petted Sheba, my dog. I was reading in Analog Magazine  a short story about a descent into an extinct (they thought) volcano. It was a good story, but that’s not my point. It got me thinking about the strange stones that were in a basket of seashells right next to my chair. I reached over to look at one of them and began thinking of how I can tell the story of how I found them.

These stones, each smaller than your fist, were belched violently from the huge volcano at Manam Island.  I’ve written about Manam before here and here. Though I’m certainly no expert, I think the these are pieces of pumice, an almost fluffy mixture of liquid rock and gas. Think of it as very hard Champaign:

Three bits of volcanic pumice belched from the Manam Island volcano

Guessing again, I think that the strong red colour probably comes from a high iron content. Rust is red, eh? The sea floor where we were diving only a few kilometres away from the coast of the island was littered with these red stones. It was very obvious that they had not long been on the sea bottom. There was nothing growing on them. This means that they could not have been there more than a few weeks at most, since everything is soon covered by living organisms that are desperate to find something on which to attach themselves.

Here’s an interesting Google Earth view of Manam Island:

A Google Earth image of Manam Island

Here’s one from directly above. You can clearly see the brownish chasms left by lava flows:

Another Google Earth image of Manam Island

The strange discontinuity at the left is caused by the merging of images from two different satellite images.

Here’s a shot of Manam Island  volcano having a leisurely smoke just to show you that it is not very sleepy:

The red light of sunset lights up the eruption of Manam Island volcano

I got the image above on the same excursion during which I collected the stones. I have to admit that, while I was diving, I wondered what a big eruption would be like underwater. Not much fun, I think. I have felt earthquakes underwater and seen the flash of lightning while on night dives. Neither is to my liking – too creepy. I once heard the nearby explosion of dynamite when some [expletive deleted] were blasting the precious reef for a bucket full of fish. I thought that my dive buddy’s tank had exploded. I turned around quickly and saw her covering her ears with her hands. It was very  loud.

While I was fiddling with Google Earth today, I discovered a way to make a picture that looks almost exactly the same as what you would see if you were landing at Madang airport:

A nice Google Earth rendering of Madang Town showing my house

You can see Madang out on its peninsula and the airport over at the upper right.

I probably should note that there is no giant sign out in Binnen Harbour that says, “My house”. I painted that in the image.

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Manum Island – a Not-So-Sleeping Giant

Posted in At Sea, Dangerous on December 3rd, 2008 by MadDog
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I shook my head in disgust as we approached Manum Island aboard Miss Rankin in the early morning. Every trick of weather and lighting was conspiring against me to prevent any serious photography. The sky was blank white. The air was furry and rich with the odor of burnt rock. It looked as if the US Air Force had dropped a fifteen-thousand pound bomb on the top of the mountain.

The scientists were going ashore to climb the mountain. Better them than I. Ancient tsunamis have thrown huge blocks of living coral high onto the sides of tropical island mountains. That was the treasure that the scientists were looking for.

The balance of isotopes of certain elements can be compared to living coral to determine, with a fair degree of accuracy, the frequency and magnitude of tsunamis that pre-date historical records.

All of the activity was very interesting, but contributed nothing to relieve my agony concerning the poor lighting. We each have our own worries.

I took such photos as I could. Here we are approaching Manum Island. You can just make out the smoke coming from the crater:

An absolutely horrible shot of the Manum Island volcano

As we got closer, we could see a few details in the crater area and some of the damage from recent lava flows:

A slightly less horrible shot of the Manum Island volcano

Closer yet, and the black lava flows stand out clearly. The yellow areas between the black and the green are bands of heat and gas damaged vegetation:

A nearly tolerable shot of the Manum Island volcano - Jan Messersmith

I did manage one fairly good shot of the crater after Tony and I finished diving:

A bit of detail in the collapsed side of the Manum Island crater

If you click to enlarge, you will see the fine filigree pattern of lava layers in the collapsed side of the crater.

On our dives we found beautiful pieces of deep red pumice that had been thrown out of the crater into the sea. I collected a large bag of them.

As evening approached and we prepared to depart, I was pleased by the change of conditions for photography.

The evening sun ignited the greyish smoke rising from the crater:

The evening sun ignites the tower of gas rising from the Manum Island crater

And, as we motored away, I thought to myself, “Papua New Guinea. You Beauty!”

Volcano magic at Manum Island - Papua New Guinea

All’s well that ends well.

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The Strange Mr. Hattersley’s Excellent Volcano Adventure

Posted in Dangerous, Guest Shots, Humor on October 6th, 2008 by MadDog
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In 2005, Trevor Hattersley travelled to Rabaul on business. He captured some excellent shots of the volcano erupting. The photography is his. I only mildly Photoshopped them to prepare them for the web.

Here’s a nice one along the road to the volcano:

The volcano as seen from the approach road

Since I’m playing journalist these days, I thought it might be fun to interview Trevor about his experiences. I had my notebook out on the boat and I managed to get his attention away from Karen long enough to extract the following nonsense:

Q – Okay, Trevor. What were you doing in Rabaul?

A – I was there to sell delicious, non-gritty Globe products to the hungry masses.

Q – Nothing different there, eh?

A – Right.

Q – Did you see any evidence of volcanism while you were there?

A – I looked around for Mr. Spock, but he wasn’t there.

Q – Ah . . . okay. Actually, I meant volcanoes. Did you see any of that stuff?

A – Oh, yeah. I took some snapshots of the volcano from the balcony of my room at the Queen Emma Lodge. Nice place. Great bar.

Q – Did you get close to the action?

A – I ran into Susie Alexander at the Hamamas Hotel.

Q – Uh . . . yeah. I mean did you see the volcano up close?

A – Yeah, yeah, we drove to the base of the volcano. There was a hot spring there.

Q – What was that like?

A – It was hot.

Q – And . . . ?

A – There were boulders the size of Volkswagens falling on the side of the volcano. You could hear them thumping all around. And lightning too . . . thumping. And flashing.

Q – Wasn’t that a little dangerous?

A – I reckon.

Q – Did you take a dip in the hot spring?

A – I thought about it, but then I cooked some eggs instead.

Interview Terminated.

If the above sounds a little bizarre, don’t be concerned. It’s only because you’ve never tried to get a straight answer out of Trevor Hattersley.

Ask anybody.

So, here are some of Trevor’s shots. The volcano huffing:

The volcano huffing

And puffing:

The volcano puffing

A distant shot from Trevor’s lair (quite nice, actually . . . good show, Trev):

Distant shot from the lair

And closer up:

The volcano closer up

Beautiful shot, that one.

And closer still, the sun lighting up the plume of noxious stuff belching out:

And REALLY close

And there you have it.

Nice job, Trev.

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Book Report #2 – Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World

Posted in Book Reports, Dangerous on March 14th, 2008 by MadDog
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When the earth quivers and bounces we take notice. You know that strange half-panic, half-amused state in which you’re waiting…waiting to see how bad it’s going to get? Body tensed for flight, senses finely tuned. I know that when I’m sitting in my lounge watching my furniture being randomly rearranged, I don’t expend a lot of effort wondering about the science of it. I’m only looking to see how far the coffee table in front of me moves so that I can decide if I’m going to flee from the house.

But later – after it’s over. Have you ever wondered exactly what causes all that commotion? When the earth rocks and rolls, it’s of no small interest to me what causes it – not that I can do much about it. Oh, by the way, like many Madang residents, I can look out my front door and clearly see one of the most potentially dangerous volcanoes on the planet: Kar Kar Island. And it’s close enough to erase my existence if it’s of a mind to do so.

Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World

These two books, Krakatoa (primarily about the 1883 eruption which was the most powerful in recorded history) and A Crack in the Edge of the World (mainly about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) will answer all your questions and show you a good time while doing so. Never more will you yawn knowingly and say something like, “Ah yes, those subduction zones. They should do something about them.” Terms like tectonic plates and strike-slip faults will no longer be irritating when some know-it-all throws them out for the enlightenment of ordinary dullards like us.

Simon Winchester has given us a couple of books that will both entertain greatly and solve the puzzle of why earthquakes and volcanoes happen at all. More interesting is why they happen so very much more often in certain places. They are, in short, a sound read in seismology and geology for the layperson. The science is delivered in clear and simple terms and is always tied to the events and the stories of people somehow connected to them.

Thanks to my friend and fellow diver, Michael Wolfe, for lending them to me.

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