Planet Of The Apes

Planet Of The Apes

The primate family, most closely related to humans, is in danger of becoming extinct. This is largely due to the activities of the nearly seven billion humans inhabiting the earth. These harmful activities include the cutting down of the rainforest, the bush meat trade as well as the pet trade. While a large majority of primates exist within three continents: South America, Africa and Asia, others only remain in smaller areas or one specific country.

LemurThe Lemur

The lemur exists only on the island of Madagascar and many are protected in Ranomafana National Park. The lemur evolved separately from other primates over 50 million years ago, when Madagascar separated from the African continent. Over sixty different species are recognized today. One of the most rare species that exists today is the Golden Bamboo Lemur, a shy animal, which feasts on a diet solely of bamboo and is under increasing threat.

Lemurs have evolved to cope with an extremely seasonal environment and their adaptations give them a level of diversity that rivals that of all other primate groups. Until shortly after humans arrived on the island around 2,000 years ago, there were lemurs as large as a male gorilla.

Roosmalens’ dwarf marmoset, also known as the black-crowned dwarf marmoset, was discovered in the Amazon in the 1990s. The dwarf marmoset is known to exist in Nova Olinda. It is a small (four inches from head to tail) New World monkey native to the Amazon Rainforest, on the east bank of the lower Madeira River, and the west bank of the Aripuanã River, in Brazil. They live in large groups up to thirty and it is the second smallest monkey. The dwarf marmoset has the smallest distribution of any primate in Amazonia. It is considered unusual among marmosets in that it gives birth to only a single baby instead of twins, the norm for marmosets. Marmosets are often very territorial, though this is not the case among Roosmalens’ dwarf marmoset, where it is common for multiple females in a group to have young, instead of one dominant female.

"Macho mandrill" by Tambako The Jaguar Drills And Mandrills

The Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) is a primate of the family Cercopithecidae (Old World monkeys), closely related to baboons and most closely related to mandrills.  The drill is a short-tailed monkey up to 70 cm (28 in) long, similar in appearance to the mandrill, but lacks the bright blue and red on the face of the mandrill. It has high sexual dimorphism in weight, with males weighing up to 50 kg (110 lb) and females up to 12.5 kg (27.5 lb). The body is overall a dark grey-brown. Mature males have a pink lower lip and white chin on a dark grey to black face with raised grooves on the nose. The rump is pink, mauve and blue. Female drills lack the pink chin.

Furthermore, drills are the most endangered species of the African primates due to the fact that they are hunted to serve on the dinner table. According to British vet and former head of the Limbe Wildlife Center, Felix Lancaster, there are only 3,000 drills remaining. Hunters get approximately $1000 per drill when they sell them to different restaurants.  Due to this harsh reality, the health of these animals is crucial. The Limbe Wildlife Center is a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. The project collaborates with state and national governments, communities and other international and local NGOs in order to protect habitat and endangered species.

Cameroon is the ideal location for the wildlife centre because it has one of the most diverse ranges of any plant and animal species of any country in the world. To be exact, the centre nurtures fourteen species of primates from gorillas and monkeys to reptiles and birds.

The mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) is a primate of the Old World monkey family, closely related to the baboons and even more closely to the drill. It is found in southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. Mandrills mostly live in tropical rainforests and forest-savanna mosaics. They live in groups called hordes. Mandrills have an omnivorous diet consisting mostly of fruits and insects.Their mating season takes place from June to October. Typically there are four to five hundred mandrills in their group, making them one of the largest groups of animals. The female population of mandrills outweighs the male population, but the male can be five times larger than the female. Often times, it’s rare to see mandrills in the wild. They travel three miles per day feasting on fruit trees, seeds and insects.

Lope National Park

Lope-National-Park,-Gabon-by-jbdodane

Lope National Park, which is mainly rainforest, is located in Gabon and is the best place to see mandrills.  This park was the first protected area in the country after the creation of the Lope-Okanda Wildlife Reserve in 1946. Mammal species include the forest elephant, western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, forest buffalo, sun-tailed guenon as well as several species of birds.  The wide range of animals that are living here are under constant threat from hunting and ivory poaching as well as commercial logging, therefore a training center has been established to train young African conservationists and a good educational program functions throughout the bordering villages to inform them more about wildlife issues.

"Baboon Hygiene" by Gary Simmons Baboons

Baboons are widespread, found mostly in Africa and Arabia and as long as there is a plentiful amount of water, baboons can be found living in a range of habitats. These include: savanna, scrub, rocky deserts and rainforests. Although, they are more adaptable at living alongside humans, conflict between humans and baboons is quite common and despite their large quantities, they still need to be protected.

There are five different species of baboons and they are some of the world’s largest monkeys. Depending upon their species, male baboons range in weight from 33-82 pounds. It’s known that the most powerful male baboons have a highly active sex life.

Like other old world monkeys, baboons do not have prehensile tails or tails that grip but they are still able to climb trees for the purposes of eating, sleeping or to look out to see what’s happening below. Even though baboons have tree-climbing skills, they spend the majority of their time on the ground. The baboon diet consists of a wide variety of plants and animals as well as parts of trees, such as bark. They also eat fruits, grasses, seeds and roots and have a strong fondness for meat. Additionally, birds, rodents, and even the young of larger mammals, such as antelopes and sheep are part of a baboon’s diet.

A baboon’s strength can be terrifying. Baboons can become dangerous if they are provoked or feel that their territory is threatened.

They can also be dangerous when they have been socialized to associate humans with food. Males will often show their large front teeth as a warning sign. If you don’t take note of this, they can charge at you. Baboons can also vocalize sounds of alarm when they feel threatened. If a baboon is threatened enough to charge and then bite you, its bite can easily break bones or even kill, as male baboons have long, sharp incisors and incredibly powerful jaws.

Two macaques holding each other IV" by Tambako The Jaguar Macaque

The macaques are the most widespread primate genus, living in places from Japan to Afghanistan and, in the instance of the barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus), to North Africa and Southern Europe, however they are native to North Africa and Asia.  Twenty-two macaque species are currently recognized.  Some of these include: the barbary macaque, the crab eating macaque, the bonnet macaque, the Japanese snow macaque, the Japanese macaque, the rhesus macaque, the Tibetan macaque, among many others.

The lion tailed macaque is considered the rarest and most threatened of the primates.

Their range has become increasingly isolated and fragmented by the spread of agriculture and tea, coffee, teak and cinchona, construction of water reservoirs for irrigation and power generation, and human settlements to support such activities.

They do not live, feed or travel through plantations. Destruction of their habitat and their avoidance of human proximity has led to the drastic decrease of their population. However, according to an article in “The Hindu” in June 2013, the lion tailed macaque was no longer on “‘The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates’ list, after the international body compiling it determined that the State governments had acted positively to protect it.

The Macaque And Coconuts

These monkeys are employed and trained to pick coconuts. There is even a monkey school in Thailand to fully train the monkeys. The long–tailed or pig-tailed macaques are used to farm coconuts on plantations. Although the monkeys can live for over 25 years, they need to be specially trained at an early age if the main goal is to become coconut pickers who work at heights of twenty meters or more.

In Surat Thani, Southern Thailand, the Monkey Training College has been in operation since 1957 when the late Somporn Saekhow started his monkey training school. Somporn’s training methods were considered unconventional and strange in the late 1950s when he first started training macaques to climb trees, pick coconuts and toss them down to the ground. Instead of punishing the monkeys for bad performance like some of their owners had done, Somporn’s method was training them through love and positivity.

The training is divided into three parts: During the first term, the macaques were trained on how to choose ripe coconuts and spin them free from their stems as well as how to free themselves if their rope attachment becomes entangled in the trees. Secondary school training comes next. The monkeys are taught to collect all of the coconuts that have fallen on the ground and place them into sacks or load them onto a truck. This saves the handlers from paying out excessive labor costs. The third part of training is high school, where the monkeys finish and the trainers teach to the owners’ specific requirements. Compared to a fit, experienced human, who can pick approximately 100 fruits in an eight hour day, a well trained male coconut monkey can pick over 1,000 per day.

Lopburi-Monkeys-Chris-GusenLopburi

Monkeys rule the streets in Lopburi, a town in Thailand that has an extremely overwhelming monkey population. The monkeys in Lopburi will steal food at any opportunity and raid restaurants and private houses.  Due to the fact that Buddhist and Hindu tribes hold the monkeys to be sacred, the monkeys are greatly protected. Consequently, the monkey population has actually boomed.  However, the monkeys are only worshiped when on temple grounds.

These important tree dwellers are among the most threatened primates on Earth. Their habitat is disappearing at a swift rate, and they are often captured and sold as pets or killed for use in traditional medicines. All but one species of gibbon is listed as endangered or critically endangered. Gibbons are a crucial part of maintaining the health of the jungle. Due to the fact that gibbons live in the trees and graze on fruits and seeds, they drop seeds in various areas as they trek through, helping the various tree species to spread and multiply.

In Phuket, gibbons are exploited for cheap tourist thrills, which results in four years in prison. They are also hunted often for food. Hunters capture the animals to sell to people who keep them as pets and others parade them around popular tourist areas, insisting tourists have their photos taken with the gibbons – for a fee. Every year, Thailand loses 3,000 gibbons to hunters. Other tragic examples that have taken place include: a gibbon being force fed whiskey and beer, which resulted in becoming an alcoholic as well as gibbons being drugged with amphetamines to keep them awake.

There is some hope for the gibbons, since the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center stepped in and began to make great strides to get them out on their own once again. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Center in Phuket rescues these poor primates from their ‘owners’ with the goal of re-release back into the wild. Not all of the gibbons will be successfully rehabilitated. Some are too far-gone and are too reliant on humans for their survival.

Munda Wanga

Munda Wanga in Zambia is an Environmental Park that is comprised of an Environmental Education Center, a Wildlife Park and Sanctuary as well as a botanical garden that strives to educate the population from young to old. They come to learn about the threats, the ways to conserve and the ways to benefit from the natural resources that are available in our environment. They are also taught how to use these resources without depleting them and to use them in a sustainable way. Munda Wanga also embraces over forty five different animal species. Besides keeping animals as ambassadors of their species, the Sanctuary houses a large number of animals that are brought in from the illegal pet trade, or that were found injured due to poaching or other ways of animal-human conflict. Most animals are rehabilitated and are than released back to the wild in an area where they will not be harassed by humans and where they can live a life in the wild.

Nikola-Koba National Park

Nikola-Koba National Park is a World Heritage Site and natural protected area in south eastern Senegal near the Guinea-Bissau border. It is in a well-watered area along the banks of the Gambia River, the gallery forests and savannahs of this Park have a very rich fauna. These include: Derby elands (largest of the antelopes), chimpanzees, lions, leopards, panthers, hyenas and a large population of elephants, as well as many birds, reptiles and amphibians. While at the park, the animals’ behavior is studied.

Although it was established as a reserve in 1925, Niokolo-Koba was declared a Senegalese national park on January 1, 1954.  One attempt at preserving and healing the inhabitants of the land came in the 90s, when the Senegalese and Guinean authorities initiated a major EU-financed project, supporting management of Niokolo-Koba National Park and the adjoining Guinean park of Bandiar. This was apparently able to stop and reverse the downward slide in large mammal populations, and some of the more common species have been able to recover. However, this didn’t last forever. Currently, the site has been under threat for a long time from poaching and encroachment of human population and wandering livestock. Other threats are the proposed Sambangalou dam and a large basalt quarry. The numbers of large mammals have dropped to under 900, according to UNESCO.

Apes

Apes are known as man’s closest genetic relative and native to Africa and South-east Asia.  They have larger brains than monkeys, no tails and longer arms to swing through the trees. They are highly endangered mostly due to human activity, such as rainforest destruction and hunting for bushmeat. Apes are called Hominoidea. Other primates within the group include orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and hominids. Except for gorillas and humans, hominoids are agile climbers of trees. Their diet is best described as vegetarian or omnivorous, consisting of leaves, nuts, seeds and fruits, including grass seeds, and in most cases other animals, either hunted or scavenged, along with anything else available and easily digested.

Orangutan

Bukit Lawang - Sumatran Orangutan with Baby ready to Jump" by Drriss & Marrionn
The Orangutan is a long-haired, orange/reddish primate, found only in Sumatra and Borneo. Orang-utans have an enormous arm span. A male is able to stretch his arms about 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip—a reach considerably longer than his standing height of about 5 feet. When they are standing upright, their hands nearly touch the floor. With four toes and an opposable big toe, orang-utans can grab things with their feet as well as their hands. They are also extremely strong – about eight times stronger than the average human. Orang-utans are more solitary than other apes and the males are loners. When they move through the forest they make heaps of rumbling and howling calls to guarantee that they stay out of each other’s way. The “long call” can be heard 1.2 miles away. They are the largest tree living animal and they are astonishingly relaxed and sensitive creatures.

Mothers give birth approximately every eight years. They have to be taught how to climb and training can last three to four years. Due to the strong bond between a mother and her young, the child stays with the mother for six or seven years until they develop the skills to live independently. Asia’s rainforests are being chopped down at an increasing rate, and because of the pet trade, the Orangutan’s existence is extremely threatened.

Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary

The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is located about 25 kilometers west of Sandakan in the state of Sabah, East Malaysia. It was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate orphan orangutans. The orphaned orangutans are trained to survive again in the wild and are released as soon as they are ready. The site is 43 sq km of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Today around 60 to 80 orangutans are living free in the reserve.

Bukit Lawang

Bukit Lawang is a small tourist village at the bank of Bahorok River in North Sumatra province of Indonesia and is known for the largest animal sanctuary of orangutans, called the Bohorok Centre for ex-captive Sumatran orangutans. This centre was established in 1973 by two Swiss zoologists, Regina Frey and Monica Boerner. Funding for this organisation was through the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the World Wildlife Fund. However, in 1980, it was taken over by the Indonesian government and hasn’t received any outside funding since. More than 200 orangutans were released into the Gunung Leuser National Park. The centre has been closed to admitting more orangutans since 1996, as it no longer met modern standards of species re-introduction.

Chimpanzees

"Two young chimpanzee playing" by Tambako The Jaguar Chimpanzees are the closest living relative to humans and according to research by Mary-Claire King in 1973, she found 99% identical DNA between humans and chimpanzees, however, since that time, the percentage is perceived at 94% after newer studies were completed. Chimps are known to live in Tanzania and Zambia.  They live in social communities of several dozen animals, and can adjust themselves to African rain forests, woodlands, and grasslands. They walk on all fours, which is called, knuckle-walking, where they clench their fists and support  themselves on their knuckles.  Chimpanzee feet are better suited for walking than are those of the orangutan because the chimp has broader soles and shorter toes.

A chimpanzee is recognized by his dark coat, hairless face, fingers, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet and the chimp is tailless. The exposed skin of the face, hands and feet varies from pink to very dark in both the common chimp and the bonobo, but is generally lighter in younger individuals and darkens as they mature.

One notable skill of chimpanzees is their ability to utilize tools for survival. They are only one of a few species that are capable of doing this. Chimpanzees shape and use sticks to retrieve insects from their nests or dig food out of logs. They also use stones to smash open delicious nuts and use leaves as sponges to soak up drinking water. Chimpanzees can even be taught to use some basic human sign language.

Chimpanzees live in large multi-male and multi-female social groups, which are called communities.  Within a community, the position of an individual and the influence the individual has on others dictates a definite social hierarchy. Chimpanzees live in a leaner hierarchy wherein more than one individual may be dominant enough to dominate other members of lower rank. Typically, a dominant male is referred to as the alpha male. The alpha male is the highest-ranking male that controls the group and maintains order during disputes. Female chimpanzees also have a hierarchy, which is influenced by the position of a female individual within a group. In some chimpanzee communities, the young females may inherit high status from a high-ranking mother. Dominant females will also ally to dominate lower-ranking females: whereas males mainly seek dominant status for its associated mating privileges and sometimes violent domination of subordinates, females seek dominant status to acquire such resources as food.

Gombe Stream National Park

Gombe Stream National Park  was established in 1968 and is located in western Kigoma Region, Tanzania.  It is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks, only accessible by boat and is home to a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat. The chimpanzees here were made famous by the work of Jane Goodall, who traveled here in 1960 to study more about chimpanzee behavior and community structure. Goodall’s research eventually proved that chimpanzees have intellectual and emotional sophistication. With enormous support of renowned anthropologist Louis Leakey, Goodall set up a small research station in Gombe Stream in hopes of learning more about the behavior of our closest relatives.

The biodiversity of Gombe Stream National Park is primarily threatened by human intrusion. Although 25% of Tanzania is set aside in parks and reserves, wildlife populations are still diminishing. This is mainly due to the lack of collaboration between park management, government sectors, and rural communities. Village lands often lie between parks and become obstacles for animals traveling between protected areas. Without motivation to protect the animals, rural communities will hunt them for food or kill them for safety reasons. Poverty also increases the demand for bushmeat and forces farmers to clear increasingly large sections of forest for productive soils.

Chimfunshi Wildlife Organization

Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage is an orphanage and sanctuary for chimpanzees, located in Zambia’s Copperbelt  Province. This sanctuary began when Sheila Siddle received a chimpanzee in 1983 that had been seized from Zairean poachers. Although the chimp wasn’t expected to live, Siddle nursed the animal back to health. Due to Siddle’s generous act of kindness, this pivotal moment turned Chimfunshi into an internationally recognized sanctuary and rehabilitation center. In fact, it is the only successful center of its kind in the world; surviving on the persistence and resourcefulness of David and Sheila as well the financial support of well wishers. Chimfunshi is home to over fifty chimpanzees housed in two enclosures – one walled and the other solar power electric fencing – with cages for the new introductions. With these new introductions, Chimfunshi is outgrowing itself and expanding to save and rehabilitate more animals.

Mountain Gorilla

Mountain-Gorilla-by-Joachim-Huber

There are approximately 700 mountain gorillas left roaming Earth. Nearly half live in the forests of the Virunga Mountains in central Africa. These gorillas live on the green, volcanic slopes of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and continue to face major threats from habitat loss and poaching. Physically, mountain gorillas have longer hair and shorter arms than their lowland cousins and are a tad larger than other gorillas. Although gorillas can climb trees, they are typically found on the ground in communities reaching up to 30 individuals.

It’s common that the older male gorilla, who leads the pack, is known as a silverback because of the strip of silver hair that decorates his otherwise dark fur. The leader organizes the gorillas’ basic activities of the day: eating, nesting and moving about in their home, which is commonly 0.75-to-16-square-mile.  Gorillas have great strength and power but are generally calm and nonaggressive unless they are bothered. Furthermore, their eating habits are vegetarian, consisting of several foods, including: roots, shoots, fruit, wild celery, tree bark and pulp.

The only known enemies to the gorilla are leopards and humans. In western Africa, gorillas are commonly hunted for meat or in retaliation for crop raiding, but in eastern Africa they have been the victims of snares and traps set for antelope and other animals. Poachers have also destroyed entire family groups in their attempts to capture infant gorillas for zoos, while others are killed to sell their heads and hands as trophies.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi National Park is located in south-western Uganda in East Africa. It encompasses approximately 128 square miles of jungle forests. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. The forest is one of the richest ecosystems in Africa, and the diversity of species is a feature of the park. The park provides habitat for some 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos and many endangered species. The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, chimpanzees and many birds. However, it is most notable for the 340 Bwindi gorillas, half the world’s population of the significantly endangered mountain gorillas.

Prior to Bwindi’s gazetting as a national park in 1991, the park was designated as a forest reserve and regulations about the right to access the forest were more liberal and not often enforced. Local people hunted, mined, logged, pit sawed, and kept bees in the park. It was announced as a national park in 1991 because of its rich biodiversity and threats to the integrity of the forest. Its designation as a national park gave the park higher protection status and state agencies increased protection and control of the park.  Due to the fact that many mountain gorillas have been habituated to humans, they can get very close to the gorillas. Tourism is encouraged because this helps and protects the gorillas from bushmeat hunters. Gorilla tracking is the park’s main tourist attraction. Tourists wishing to track gorillas must first obtain a permit to do so. Selected gorillas families have been habituated to human presence and the number of visitors is tightly controlled to prevent degradation of the habitat and risks to the gorillas. Gorilla tracking yields much revenue for Uganda Wildlife Authority and the gorillas seldom react to tourists.

Western Lowland Gorilla

The western lowland gorilla is quite similar to its relative, the mountain gorilla; however, even though they are endangered, they are more common than their relatives. Western lowland gorillas tend to be a bit smaller than their mountain cousins. They also have shorter hair and longer arms with a brown-grey coat and auburn chest. Additionally, they have wider skulls and more pronounced brow ridges and smaller ears. The western lowland gorilla is the most numerous and widespread of all gorilla subspecies. Populations can be found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea as well as in large areas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

With wildlife refuges protecting the various primate families, there is hope for the continuation of all of these endangered species. From monkeys, apes, baboons, chimpanzees to gorillas and more, these creatures are important to our environment and must be viewed as a part of our world, not as simply food, attractions or prized possessions.

More Information

Safari Bookings
The largest online marketplace for African safari holidays

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Volcanoes have fascinated mankind for generations – their enormous beauty and destructive power revered in awe. They have been worshiped, immortalized in folklore and voraciously studied by geologist throughout the centuries.

Volcanoes have also contributed to an enormous amount of destruction of life from early records of primitive man fleeing from lava flows, or even further back in time when the Permian–Triassic extinction occurred 250 million years ago caused by volcanoes in Siberia which pumped out almost ten giga-tonnes of carbon as carbon dioxide during its eruption. The global warming that followed wiped out four fifths of all sea life and it took 5 million years for the planet to recover. Nonetheless, it looks like volcanoes are here to stay with approximately 15,000 volcanoes accounted for today all around the world!

The earliest known recording of a volcanic eruption may be on a wall painting dated to about 7,000 BCE found at the Neolithic site at Çatal Höyük in Anatolia, Turkey. This painting has been interpreted as a depiction of an erupting volcano, with a cluster of houses below shows a twin peaked volcano in eruption, with a town at its base.  However, archaeologists now question this interpretation. The volcano may be either Hasan Dağ or its smaller neighbour, Melendiz Dağ.

Types Of Volcanoes

When thinking of a volcano, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a colossal, cone shaped mountain that emits massive amounts of lava. However, various types of volcanoes exist beyond this common perception.

A fissure volcano has no central crater at all, but rather, giant cracks open in the ground that eject immense amounts of lava with typically no explosive activity.  This lava spreads far and wide distances to form gigantic pools that can cover almost everything around and can cause flood basalts and lava channels. Hawaiian volcanoes produce what’s known as “curtains of fire” because of the lava fountains that erupt along a portion of the fissure.

Cinder cones or scoria cones are simple volcanoes, which have a bowl-shaped crater at the summit and steep sides. These volcanoes are glassy and contain numerous gas bubbles “frozen” into place as magma explodes into the air and then cools quickly. Cinder cones range in size from tens to hundreds of meters tall and Cinder cones are made of pyroclastic material.

In a cinder cone, lava erupts from a small vent in the crust and ‘sprays’ melted rock fragments into the air where they then fall back to earth in a pile. These rock fragments are glassy, gas-filled chunks of lava called cinders or scoria that cool swiftly as they float through the air and land next to the vent opening, gradually accumulating in the geometric shape of a cone. Two famous cinder cones are Paricutin in Mexico and the one in the middle of Crater Lake in Oregon.

Shield volcanoes are usually built almost completely of fluid lava flows. They are named for their large size and low profile, resembling a warrior’s shield lying on the ground. They are tall and broad with flat, rounded shapes and have low slopes and almost always have large craters at their summits. Shield volcanoes are the largest volcanoes on Earth that actually look like volcanoes.

The Hawaiian shield volcanoes are the most famous examples. The largest is mauna loa on the Big Island of Hawaii; all the volcanoes in the Hawaiian Islands are shield volcanoes. Shield volcanoes are almost exclusively basalt, a type of lava that is very fluid when erupted. They are characterized by low-explosive fountaining that forms cinder cones and spatter cones at the vent, however 90% of the volcano is lava rather than pyroclastic material. Other shield volcanoes are also found in Washington, Oregon and the Galapagos Islands.

Composite volcanoes are much more explosive than shield volcanoes. These large and characteristically cone-shaped volcanoes form along plate boundaries called subduction zones where one of the Earth’s plates moves below another. They are built of alternating layers of lava flows, volcanic ash and cinders.  A few famous composite volcanoes include Mt. Fuji in Japan, Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington state as well as Mount Etna in Italy.

The Geology Of Volcanoes

The surface of the Earth is made up of rigid plates that move at a rate of a mere few centimetres each year. Upon colliding with each other, one plate can be pushed beneath another. As the plate descends it heats up and dehydrates, which allows for water to be released from minerals and cracks in the submerged plate. This water is hotter than the surrounding rocks and rises up into the mantle. Then, the accumulation of these hot fluids lowers the pressure and causes the mantle rocks to melt. This molten rock then escalates and erupts on the surface building up a volcano.

"Tectonic plate boundaries" by Jose F. Vigil. USGS - [1]. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, volcanoes also form when plates move apart. Magma ascends up and erupts on the surface as lava in the area that the plates separate. Due to this reason, volcanoes are often found along plate edges. These areas include: the Pacific plate, North and South America, Japan and the Philippines. Sometimes volcanoes can form in the middle of a plate like Hawaii. Hawaii is there because of a hot mantle plume, which rises up from very deep in the mantle, bringing hot magma to the surface. A mantle plume is defined as an upwelling of abnormally hot rock within the Earth’s mantle.

These two types of volcanic formations can be found in the Mid Atlantic Range, where the tectonics plates are diverging from each other. On the other hand, Pacific Rim of Fire is an example of a volcano caused due to the convergence of tectonic plates.

The Ring Of Fire

The large chain of underwater volcanoes (some active) surrounding the Pacific Ocean are referred to as being part of the Ring of Fire, and notorious for frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The ring of fire is a horseshoe shaped area in the Pacific Ocean, which extends from South America and North America to Eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand. This area is famous for its regular seismic activity and because of the quantity of active volcanoes that can be found here. 75% of dormant and active volcanoes are found in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

It is alleged that the Pacific Ring of Fire has a total of 452 volcanoes. Kilauea is located in this area and is classified as the most active volcano in the world. Other noteworthy volcanoes are Mt. Fuji in Japan, Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Rainier in the American North West, Krakatoa in Indonesia, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, Galeras in Colombia and Sangay in Ecuador.

Some volcanoes are more dangerous than others and would cause greater consequences for the land and people surrounding the area if one of these volcanoes erupted. For example, if Mt. Rainier were to erupt, the 2.5 million people in the area surrounding Seattle and Tacoma would have to evacuate fast.  The snowy cap of the volcano could possibly add to the danger and make things worse.

Mt-Rainier-Washington-by-Ron-Reiring

Mount Rainier, Washington by Ron Reiring, Flickr Creative Commons

The Santa Maria Volcano in Guatemala proved its extreme power in the 20th century and was identified as one of the most tragic eruptions, occurring in 1902. If an eruption were to happen again in the present, due the increase in population, a much greater percentage of the people would be impacted.

One additional mountain, Mount Yasur in Vanuatu is labeled a stratovolcano and has been erupting for a hundred years. Even though this volcano represents a great deal of danger, tourists continue to flock to this crater despite the toxic gases and lava flows that are emitted. In fact, this volcano has already claimed a few lives from tourists and a tour guide who infiltrated this danger zone.

Today, the Pacific Ring of Fire is much different than it was thousands of years ago due to the changes caused by tectonic plates. The Pacific Plate will hit other plates nearby, which causes them to sink. Then, the crust melts and produces the magma that nourishes the various volcanoes or creates new volcanoes.  Additionally, the tectonic plates are also the cause for the multiple vicious earthquakes in all of the pacific.

After the Ring of Fire, the next most seismically active region is the Alpide Belt. This belt extends from Java to Sumatra through the Himalayas, the Mediterranean, and out into the Atlantic. This region contains 5% of earthquakes and 17% of the world’s largest earthquakes. Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the third most leading earthquake belt.

Iceland

In few places on earth, geology and human history are so closely connected to volcanism as on Iceland. The island owns its existence to a large volcanic hot spot sitting on a mid-oceanic ridge, which is a rare locale. Iceland is also known to contain volcanoes and earthquakes. Shattering earthquakes occur at longer intervals than the volcanic eruptions.  Some of the most terrible earthquakes devastated huge areas of southern Iceland in 1784 and 1896. The central plateau contains over a hundred volcanoes, which have not erupted in the past thousand years and approximately 30 to 40 that are active and have erupted within the last few centuries.

Mount Hekla by Finnur Bjarki Tryggvason, flickr commons

Mt Hekla by Finnur Bjarki Tryggvason, Flickr Creative Commons

Iceland’s three chief volcanoes include: Hekla, Katla and Grimsvotn – lie along this boundary. Offshore volcanic activity has resulted in the creation of separate volcanic islands.  One of these, named Surtsey appeared fairly recently in 1963.  Mt. Hekla has erupted 18 times since 1104 and 2000 was the last recorded eruption.

Icelandic volcanoes have a reputation for drawing tourists from across the globe, ready to catch a glimpse of a pillar of smoke or an impressive lava flow. However, there have also been disastrous events. Eruptions at the eastern volcanoes of Grimsvotn and Laki from 1783 to 1785 produced a lava flow, which consumed vast strips of land, dulled out the sun and killed a quarter of the population through poisoning or famine.

Even volcanoes that were assumed to extinct a long time ago and had not been active for approximately 5,000 years, unexpectedly in 1973.  Moreover, Heimaey is the largest of the Vestmanneyjar Islands and the sole one that is inhabited.  Heimaey, a fishing town with a population of 5,300 was just 200-300m away from the eruption.  This eruption began at night on January 23 and almost all of the inhabitants were evacuated, while only a few hundred stayed behind.  This eruption lasted five months and although the village was practically destroyed by lava, ash and fire, two-thirds of Heimaey was saved by using barriers and huge jets of water to cool down the lava.  Surprisingly, when the eruption came to an end, the town’s harbor was even better than before, providing greater protection from wind and water.  Eventually, people began to move back and resume life as it once looked.

Additionally, other well known eruptions in Iceland include a submarine eruption that occurred on the Reykjanes Ridge in 1963, which formed a new island, Surtsey, which forms part of the same archipelago as Heimaey.  Lakagigar, located southwest of Vatnajokull, discharged 3 cubic miles of lava, which was known as the peak lava flow observed on Earth.  Many of the animals died from the poisonous gases and the extended famine resulted in the deaths of 20% of the population.

One positive thing that volcanoes produce in Iceland is that they supply an continuous supply of geothermal energy.  Just over 90% of housing in Iceland is heated by natural geothermal heat.  This is one of the cheapest and cleanest forms of energy.  Due to this clean energy; Iceland remains the most unpolluted country.

Krakatoa

The eruption of Krakatoa occurred on August 26, 1883 in the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia. Then, on August 27th, two thirds of Krakatoa collapsed in a sequence of epic explosions, which destroyed most of the island and its surrounding archipelago. This seismic activity continued to be reported until February 1884, but this information was later rejected. This eruption was one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events recorded in history. The destruction culminated in at least 36,417 deaths. They were classified as the result of the eruption as well as the tsunamis it created.

Mt Krakatoa by Michael Newman, Flickr Commons

Mt Krakatoa by Michael Newman, Flickr Creative Commons

Several months earlier, inhabitants of the coastal plains of Java and Sumatra would witness spectacles of explosive noise and churning clouds of black to glowing ash and pumice. From a distance, the largest of these natural displays impressed these local inhabitants, which created an almost festive environment.  However, they did not realize that these tremendous displays were only a prelude to one of the largest eruptions in historic times.

Kīlauea

Kīlauea is a shield volcano located in the Hawaiian Islands. This is the most active volcano out of the five that compose the island of Hawai’i. This volcano is also the second youngest creation of the Hawaiian hotspot and is the current eruptive center of the Hawaiian Emperor seamount chain. The makeup of Kīlauea has a large, fairly recently formed caldera at its summit and two active rift zones, one that extends 125 km east and the other one is 35 km west, as an active fault line of unknown depth moving vertically an average of 2 to 20 mm per year.

Presently, Kīlauea volcano is still having one of the most long-lived eruptions known on earth.  Not only is it the most active volcano in Hawaii, it is also the most active volcano in the world. Many of the eruptions are well known in Hawaiian Polynesian legends and written documentation about its activity date back only to the 1820s due to the fact that it started to attract interested visitors from all over the world and became one of volcanology’s hot spots.

Lava lake inside Kilauea volcano,Hawaii by tom Pfieffer, flickr commons

Lava lake inside Kilauea volcano, Hawaii by Tom Pfieffer, Flickr Creative Commons

Many of the members of Hawaii Centre for Volcanology are working on Kīlauea or have gained insights into the nature of volcanoes upon visiting it. In contrast to most other active volcanoes, Kīlauea is approachable. It has been called the “drive-up” volcano because of the ease of access to many of its areas of volcanic activity, especially the summit caldera.

The eruption of Kīlauea volcano continues from two locations. In the park, the summit eruption of Kīlauea within Halema’uma’u Crater continues to offer the greatest, safest, and easiest eruption viewing. The second location stems from from the Pu’u ‘Ō’ō vent in the isolated east rift zone, with all flows in dangerous forest reserves that are closed to the public (the Kahauale‘a 2 flows.) Currently there is no reported lava flowing into or in the direction of the ocean.

Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi in Ecuador is one of South America’s most famous volcanoes and one of its most active ones.  It reaches 5911 meters high and with its incredible height, Cotopaxi ranks among the world’s highest volcanoes, coming in at number 26.  The grandiose snow covered, proportioned stratovolcano is located on the Eastern Cordillera of the Ecuadorian Andes.  It’s located 60 km south of Quito and 35 km northeast of Latacunga.

Mt Cotopaxi by Dave Lonsdale, Flickr Commons

Mt Cotopaxi by Dave Lonsdale, Flickr Creative Commons

It’s a known fact that Cotopaxi erupted more than 50 times since 1738. The most violent historical eruptions of Cotopaxi volcano were in 1744, 1768, 1877, and 1904. Its eruptions often created pyroclastic flows and disparaging mud flows (lahars). Some lahars have travelled more than 100 km and reached the Pacific to the west and the Amazon Basin to the east. Presently, it has been inactive for over 70 years, which is an unusually long interval in its recent history.

There have been numerous eruptions of this volcano.  One ancient eruption in 1534 caused the inhabitants to interpret the reason behind the eruption in a surprising way. The conquistadors were at war with the locals for control over Ecuador. It is described that during a battle on the flanks of Cotopaxi, the volcano started an eruption and packed the air with “hot ash.” The locals interpreted the event as a divine sign from their god and took off in fear. The Spanish who had no experience with volcanic activity were frightened and followed suit. Several other eruptions followed in 1742, 1768, 1877, 1907 and quite a few more in between.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, standing at 3,776 meters or 12,380 feet and an icon of the country. It is also the 35th most prominent mountain in the world. It contributes to Japan’s physical, cultural and spiritual geography. This active volcano sits on a “triple junction” of tectonic activity.  The three plates are: the Amurian plate, which is associated with the Eurasian tectonic plate, the Okhotsk plate, associated with the North American plate and the Filipino plate all unite in the region beneath Mount Fuji.  Surprisingly, it is very close to Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, stretching a mere 100 kilometers or 62 miles away.

Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchiko by Guilhem Vellut, flick commons

Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchiko by Guilhem Vellut, Flickr Creative Commons

Each year, more than 200,000 people climb to the top of Mount Fuji.  The first known ascent was by a monk in 663.  The first known Westerner to climb this mountain was Sir Rutherford Alcock in September of 1860. Following the first ascent, only men regularly climbed the peak. Women were not allowed on the summit until the Meiji Era in the late 19th century and the first woman to pave the way for others was Lady Fanny Parkes in 1867.

During the climb up, there are huts that accommodate climbers. These huts provide refreshments, basic medical supplies, and room to rest. It is common that climbers begin their ascent during the night to be able to catch the sunrise from the summit, which also coincides with Japan’s nickname, “the Land of the Rising Sun.” This sunrise is labeled Goraiko.

In 2004, a Japanese government simulation verified that in the worst-case scenario, a major eruption of Mount Fuji would result in ¥2.5 trillion in economic damage. The most recent eruption occurred back in 1707, which began with an earthquake of an 8.4 magnitude in Honshu, Japan. Several less significant earthquakes occurred after, followed by an eruption, triggered on December 16, 1707 on the south east flank of the volcano joined with pumice fall. After a long six hours the pumice fall switched into scoria fall. On the first day of the eruption, 72 houses and three Buddhist temples were ruined in the town of Subassiri 10 km from the volcano.

Even today in 2014, volcanoes are continuously monitored by scientists to determine their activity. There have been many studies about whether or not volcanic eruptions can help with cooling down the earth and assist in combating global warming.

When volcanoes erupt, they can emit hefty amounts of sulfur dioxide, which acts to make the atmosphere more opaque, thus shielding the planet from some of the sun’s incoming radiation. This effect can hypothetically offset some of the influence of manmade greenhouse gases, which trap heat inside the atmosphere and warm the planet. However, there have been studies that dispute this and others that support it. One scientist, Ryan Neely claims that “tropical eruptions are usually more effective at cooling the climate compared to a high latitude eruption that is the same size, because it has the potential to impact both hemispheres and the aerosol topically stays in the atmosphere longer”.  Today, scientists continue to monitor and study volcanic activity, however the way these volcanoes will unfold in the next decade is still uncertain.