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Rosaly LopesOctober 3, 2010

First view of Piton volcano, Reunion Island

Planetary volcanologist Rosaly Lopes has just embarked on a field expedition to the active volcano Piton de la Fournaise, on Reunion Island, and is sending us updates for the blog. Thanks, Rosaly! --ESL

Reunion is indeed similar to the Big Island of Hawaii. I had a good view of the volcano and the island on the local flight from St. Denis (were the Paris flight landed) to St. Pierre (where the meeting is being held). Piton is a very active volcano, but parts of the island look very old, with deep canyons cut into the flanks of the volcano. There has been a lot of collapse here of various parts of the volcanoes that make up the island. In terms of geology, it is a very interesting place.

There are about 60 volcanologists here at the meeting and we are wondering if the volcano is going to erupt and, if it does, what we will be able to see. It seems that the civil defense people here are very cautious and even us professionals may not be able to get close. There are helicopter tours here, that might be a possibility.

La Reunion is the tip of a seven-kilometer-high oceanic shield volcano which started growing about five million years ago. There were two main active volcanoes, Piton des Neiges and Alizes, but since Piton de La Fournaise sprung to life about 530,000 years ago, Alizes stopped erupting. Since about 12,000 years ago, Piton de la Fournaise has been the only site of activity on the island. It is interesting that Piton des Neiges, as the name implies, can have snow at its summit. This island is nearly on the equator and the volcano is less than 3,000 meters high.

My talk is tomorrow morning, so I need to get some rest. We have some field trips which will be fun I'm sure.

Here is a website with some spectacular photos of Piton de la Fournaise (text is in French). Thanks to Luke Dones for the link.

Read more: Earth, geology

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Rosaly Lopes

Senior Research Scientist/Manager for Planetary Science for Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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