Mother Nature is usually very patient when she needs to get something done. Erosion, continental drift, tides, wind, and water all work powerfully to mold and shape the world around us but they work very, very slowly. When she needs to move a mountain in a hurry Mother Nature lights off a volcano.
A volcanic eruption is arguably the most spectacular and terrifying natural phenomenon one could ever witness. Even a relatively minor lava flow is fascinating; it’s the nearest thing to an irresistible force we’re likely to ever see in real time. Unfortunately getting close enough to see volcanic activity is quite dangerous. Professional vulcanologists are constantly on guard for signs of dangerous outbursts of lava, steam, ash, and other deadly volcanic effects as they study these burning mountains. Whenever possible scientists use remote sensing and monitoring instruments to study volcanoes from a safe distance. Now, thanks to the Internet, some of those instruments are accessible to the rest of us.
A number of active volcanoes around the world have one or more Web cameras focused on them, giving near real-time views of everything from steam quietly rising from a snow-capped peak to red-hot lava flowing from a vent. It’s almost as good as being there and it’s a lot safer.
Here are some links to volcano webcam sites around the world. As you visit them remember a few things:
1) Volcanoes perform when they feel like it. A webcam may show nothing but rising steam every day for months, then one day show the aftermath of a lava dome collapse.
2) Volcanoes are scattered around the world. At any given time some will be in darkness while others will be in daylight. I’ve tried to list here a selection from around the world so no matter what time you visit at least a few will have daylight.
3) Volcanoes are mountains and experience typical mountain weather. You may see a camera view obscured by clouds, fog, snow, rain, or insects. Keep checking back – the weather will eventually change and you’ll be welcomed with a sparkling sunlit scene.
4) Most volcano webcams are in remote environments that are hostile to electronics. A camera and associated equipment may fail frequently and it can take days to months before someone can visit the site to repair or replace it.
5) Most volcano camera Web sites have "best of" collections where you can see some of the more interesting images their camera has produced. Looking at collected images gives a quick summary of what the volcano has been up to over the past weeks or months.
6) Most volcano webcams display the date and time at which the current image was taken but the display may either be in local time or UTC (Coordinated Universal Time or GMT). The time display can help you determine if it’s currently nighttime at the volcano or if the camera is offline.
And now, the links:
Mt. St. Helens, Washington, USA. Possibly the most famous volcano in North America. The huge gap in the crater wall was created during a massive eruption in 1980.
Pu`u `O`o vent, Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, USA. One of several volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Moku’aweoweo caldera, Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii, USA. Another volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa ("long mountain" in Hawaiian) is the largest volcano on Earth.
Various volcanoes, Alaska, USA. Alaska has many volcanoes scattered over its entire territory but the Aleutian Islands are one long chain of active and dormant volcanoes.
White Island, New Zealand. New Zealand’s most active volcano. A sulfur mine was opened here in 1885 but was closed about 30 years later when an eruption destroyed part of the facility.
Mt. Vesuvius, Italy. Vesuvius is possibly the best known volcano on Earth because of its eruption in 79 AD which destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The modern city of Naples is about nine kilometers to the west of the volcano.
Klyuchevskoy Volcano, Kamchatka, Russia. At 4833 meters Klyuchevskoy is the tallest volcano on the Eurasian continent. The ash plume from its eruption in 1994 crossed a number of busy airline routes from North America to the Far East.
There are many more volcanoes around the world under the steady gaze of webcams. A quick Web search will uncover them. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch Mother Nature in the act of building a new mountain.