Volcanic Planet

Volcanic Planet

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- [Narrator] We live on a volcanic planet. There are volcanoes all over the earth, from Northern Russia to Antarctica. They are found on every continent. They are the wildest forms of nature.

Untamable, dangerous and dramatic. They're still being found. The largest volcano in the world was discovered in 2013. A massive undersea mountain off the coast of Japan. It's not the largest with know of, that would be Mons Olympus on Mars.

Nor is it the largest ever on earth, that was likely an Indonesian volcano that 70 thousand years ago almost wiped out mankind. Leaving less than 1000 breeding pairs of humans to continue our race. The biggest is yet to come.

The Yellowstone super volcano erupts every 600 thousand years, the last eruption was 648 thousand years ago. So it's now long over due. When it erupts it will likely be the largest natural explosion in the history of the earth. Equivalent to about 1000 nuclear bombs.

Or a one kilometer asteroid hitting the earth. It will drop world temperatures by 10 to 20 degrees and will eventually likely trigger the end of civilization. - [Narrator] There's thankfully no active volcano today comparable with Yellowstone. But the one that perhaps comes closest is Nyiragongo.

Deep in central Africa, considered the most dangerous volcano in the world. Its last major eruption a few years ago killed many people, ran a river of lava right through the city of Gama and made refugees out of over 120 thousand people. We went to climb this large towering volcano to see the power of it and the risk it presents to the people and wildlife of the Congo.

It's a long way to get there, flying first to London England, then to Adusababa Ethiopia, then to Kigali Rwanda, then by land across Rwanda crossing the border into the Congo. The sprawling rough scrabble town of Gama is our last stop before base camp. To put it mildly Gama is not Geneva.

How poor is the eastern Congo? In Gama they make their own bicycles out of wood. And when I start handing out Congolese Franks to my photographic subjects, it almost causes a riot. That's me in green, besieged by this mob of urchants. Above the crazy street scenes of Gama lurks smoking Nyiragongo volcano.

In 2002 it had a major eruption that sent a river of lava right through the city of Gama. The disaster bought more hardship to a city that has suffered war and poverty for decades. We met with Jacques Durieux French scientist who's been studying the volcano for 30 years. - During the last eruption in 2002 we have been extremely lucky because where lava flows, (mumbles) were moving at the speed between five and eight kilometers per hour allowing the people to run away. If we do have in the city lava flows at a speed between I don't know 20 to 40 kilometers per hour it will be a huge catastrophic. That eruption just occurred after 11 years of war.

And the volcano was more impressive to the people than the 11 years of war. - [Narrator] In 2002 the lava flowed so fast that cars and trucks were engulfed before they could be moved. And they're still there today. A permanent reminder of the power and unpredictability of an active volcano. See that boy peeking out from the back of that rusted truck? Hard to believe it but that's his home now.

If Nyiragongo blows its stack again who knows what will happen to this (mumbles) town and the people who live in it. We prepared to climb to see the state of the volcano today. - So we're here now and I'm told we will go up to the (mumbles) and then up to the fracture. - [Narrator] And so we begin the six hour trek straight up the steep volcano. Our Congolese porters were incredible.

This is a challenging climb, and these guys do it carrying everything from heavy cans of water to tents, to my camera, to an AK47 to protect us with. And do it with speed. Some of them also have pretty amazing stories to tell about their experiences with the volcano. (speaking in a foreign language) - [Narrator] I thought it would be interesting to try and get down inside the volcano.

Not interesting enough for me personally you understand, but perhaps interesting enough for one of the geologists traveling with us. - (mumbles) pull and it locks. Squeeze and it's free. I'll place the (mumbles). What's it like? - [Narrator] But eventually he too decided discretion was the better part of valor. - [Geologist] It get's pretty tough to take after awhile.

- [Male] Not worth going any deeper? - Not without an air conditioned suite. - [Narrator] There are a lot of holes leading deep into the lava. - When the lava flowed through here in 2002 this was actually a rain forest and you see a lot of these casts from the trees that used to be here.

The lava flowed around the trees and then burned the trunks out. So you've got these holes all the way up the path to the summit. - [Narrator] Our team continues to trudge up the hill. (panting) By the end of the day we're staggering up the 40 degree slope. - I can't wait to get to the top of this thing.

- [Narrator] I know that climbing beside him with my heavy camera I feel just the same. - Come on up, have a look. - We finally make it joining our compatriots at the summit. - [Male] Oh this is great. Oh man that is awesome. Congratulations guys we made it.

That's what I'm talking about, look at that. - [Male] Welcome to the top. - [Narrator] After five years of planning, five days of traveling and five hours of climbing...

(gong vibrating) Completely sucked in by thick clouds and then wicked thunderstorms that lasted for three days, when it finally cleared we got a chance to get out and witness and photograph the worlds larges lava lake. (upbeat music) Now we wait for darkness to witness one of the rarest and most spectacular sights on the planet. Mount Nyiragongo.

(upbeat music) It's a window into the core of the earth. 2000 degrees of molten fury. It's an amazing sight and a reassuring one. The boiling coldron of lava actually means the volcano is comfortably venting off its energy.

For now it seems 600 thousand people of Gama are safe. But who knows what tomorrow will bring to this corner of darkest and hottest Africa. (dramatic music) Not all volcanoes are found in places as wild as the eastern Congo. Costa Rica for instance is a peaceful, tropical, paradise. With lush rain forests, great waterfalls, and all kinds of opportunities to see and photograph nature in the raw. It's also an adventure playground with thick rain forest, wild rivers, untouched jungles and especially an array of active volcanoes running from north to south.

(explosions) Costa Rica is part of the Pacific ring of fire. A 40 thousand kilometer band of seismic activity that has created 100s of volcanoes. Many of them clustered on this small country.

Over the last century many spectacular eruptions made Costa Rica a hotbed of volcanic activity. Being in this ring of fire also makes the country prone to earthquakes. The 2009 quake was dramatically captured in the middle of local live news coverage.

Although Irazu has erupted 23 times in modern history, the show it gave the US president John Kennedy is considered most infamous. (dramatic music) Lasting over two years the volcano dumped a huge amount of ash over central Costa Rica. Even covering the runway that air force one had to land on.

(dramatic music) The built up ash and heavy rains combined to produce flash floods that caused tremendous damage. Irazu was now a national park with 10000s of visitors coming each year to see the volcano that did so much damage to their country. Although inactive at the moment, Irazu is developing fishers that indicate it could blow its top anytime.

The real action though is Mount Arenal Costa Rica's most active volcano. With a well populated town right below it. Scientists are trying to predict what the big hill might do.

We got a chance to climb up it and look at it with them. The first half of the climb was the easy part. - From here we walk.

- [Narrator] The international team of geophysicists from Ireland, Italy and Costa Rica are installing seismic imaging equipment that will help them understand but more importantly predict the underground magma movement in the volcano. - We're just taking out the cables for connecting the instrument, the siesmometer needs to be connected to a computer onto a global positioning system for the time signal. So we're just gathering together all those cables so we can bring them up into the field with the sizemometers and connect everything up.

One, two. - [Narrator] Climbing volcanoes especially with scientific or camera equipment on your back is usually a hot strenuous task and Arenal is no exception. There's no real trail, just a steep field of rocks and lava bombs from bast eruptions. - We already hear rocks coming down the side of the mountain. - [Narrator] The area we are exploring today is well within striking distance of Arenal 's molten hot lava and paraclastic flow.

Like this one that killed two visitors here in 2000. - All right we've arrived at the site. - [Narrator] Once at the high optimum measurement site, the scientists and technicians with some assistance from my climbing partner George (mumbles), lay out the piles of cable and wire. Precisely measuring the field and installing and calibrating the instruments. Chris Bean the leader of the expedition fills me in on what it's all about.

- What we're doing is we are trying to understand the nature of the seismic sources on the volcano. All volcanoes make noise and as a seismologist we put out instruments on the surface of the volcano to record those sounds that the volcano makes. Much like a medical cardiograph except we're look at acoustic signals rather than electrical signals. And so what we're doing is putting out these instruments to try and understand what those signals are telling us about how fluids are moving in the subsurface in a volcano. - [Narrator] Underneath Arenal and every volcano is a labyrinth of underground chambers.

Where 1200 degree magma flows. - That's how level it is. - [Narrator] These tests help them understand where the magma is moving and where and when it might erupt. - We're putting out 10 instruments in what's called an array, so they're just out in a semicircle and we are installing those individual siesmometers.

And each siesmometer records ground vibration. So they are continuous, even though we can't feel it here because we're not so sensitive to ground vibration. There are continuous vibrations as we stand here.

These instruments are sensitive enough to detect those and we can use some techniques to turn that information into a knowledge of what the near surface variability of structure of the volcano is. So that's today's job. [Narrator] Arenal's a serious piece of work. And even seasoned volcanologists get nervous working on this mountain. - We'll we're only going to stay here for as short a time as possible.

I'm going to put it that way. - [Narrator] You don't to linger here? - I wouldn't camp over night at this particular location. I wouldn't linger.

I mean it's nice to be here. It puts an edge on it but you know it can be dangerous as well so we'll get in and out as quickly as we can. - [Narrator] On the other side of the world, the other side of the ring of fire lies Indonesia. With more than a 150 sites.

One of the most volcanic places on the planet. (upbeat music) Indonesia is full of history, color, fire and mysterious creatures. The island (mumbles) is also home to many of the worlds great volcanoes. (dramatic music) We managed to get close to many of them. (mumbles) Bromo. Semeru.

And the mother of all volcanoes (mumbles). (dramatic music) On August 27th 1883 (mumbles) erupted with a force never seen before. 100's of villages were wiped out by the explosion and huge paraclastic flows. (dramatic music) Even more devastating (mumbles) produced a 40 meter high tsunami that claimed 36 thousand lives. So powerful it sent ships three kilometers inland in the massive surge. We're heading for the island of Ricotta, once part of (mumbles).

Now a smaller island where we should be able to get a good view of the very active remaining volcano. Now know as Anak Krakatau. Guiding us is Indonesian volcanologist Doni Wijayanto. - [Male] How's it going Doni? - I'm fine thank you. - [Male] Where are we off to today? - Today we're going to go to Krakata. The original Krakatau and camp there.

- [Male] Excellent. - Super (mumbles) awesome dude. - [Narrator] Doni may not be you're stereotypical scientist but he knows volcanoes. And he starts by taking us to the Krakatau observetory to show us the latest seismic activity on the islands.

We arrive at the exploding hour. Just as it is sending a huge ash cloud 100's of meters into the air. (water splashing) We set up a camp that gives us a front row seat on what was once the most destructive volcano in human history. Our crew begins preparing diner, setting up tents and complaining about the weather. - Super blady maximum hot. - [Male] It is hot isn't it.

- Yeah. - [Male] Not quite as hot as over there on the other island. - Yes because it's windy on the island.

- [Male] Windy? Oh yeah there's also hot rocks flying out of it. (dramatic music) - [Narrator] What a site for a swim. Late in the afternoon we get onto Anak Krakatau and try to get close to the top of the (mumbles).

(dramatic music) - This is going to be tough determining how close is safe on this one. I like this mountain. Well it's starting to get late in the day, the sun's going to be going down soon enough so it's best to just get off the mountain, go and observe from a safer area because when it starts getting dark and these things start heading for ya, game over man. - [Narrator] Krakatau's slowly rebuilding itself with these new eruptions.

It's a fascinating volcano but not by any means the only one in Indonesia. Next Doni leads up to Papandayan volcano on western Java. - So the flow came down from the crater here.

- Yeah. - And then it extended how far down? - [Narrator] Telling us of the (mumbles). - 4.5 kilometer down. - Really? - Yeah. And then some of the rock that fly into the other side in (mumbles).

- [Male With Backpack] Right over the other side of the mountain. - [Doni] Right on the side of the mountain. - [Narrator] He also tells me about his fascination with volcanoes.

- Volcano is amazing. You never know what's going to happen, because mother nature is a big power. I like to learn about it. - [Male With Backpack] So up here u said that there's a (mumbles) that sounds like a jet engine. How far away is that? - About 500 meter from here.

- [Male With Backpack] Ooh this is steep here, isn't it? It's not just steep... - Super blady maximum steep. - You see Doni learned most of his english from Eddy Murphy movies. - [Narrator] As well as bad language, there were also bad, bad smells coming from the sulfuric vents of Papandayan.

- Not that sounds like a rocket engine. (dramatic music) - [Narrator] The sulfur is hot and liquefied. And the gasses are not something any of us want to get into our lungs.

- Let's go take a look. (dramatic music) That's so amazing, there's so much liquid sulfur in that one spot. It's just bubbling away. Inside these vents is a pond of liquid sulfur. And in it's liquid form it's orange. And when it comes up through the gas it crystallizes and forms these yellow deposits that you see everywhere here.

But the gas is so toxic. - [Narrator] So toxic that it's not a good idea to try to talk. At the other end of Java is another volcano that has been turned into a real hell on earth. (mumbles) is also rich in sulfur deposits that are in this case dug out of the ground by hand and lugged over the mountain by miners working for (mumbles).

It is back breaking work done by men with only basic tools, no safety equipment and no protection. Once they have dug the sulfur from the volcano they lug loads some up to 100 kilograms out of the crater. The journey continues with a back breaking hike to the peak and down the other side to the weigh station. Each miner makes this grueling trip twice a day. Back in the mine I convince George to try out the load himself, for the camera.

- [George] Okay? - [Miner] Yeah okay. - Oh my god. Yes it's as heavy as it looks.

Wow. Super strong. These guys are superman, I don't know how they do it. And then it's not just a matter of walking 10 feet, oh no, they have to go all the way up there to the top of the crater.

Four kilometers. And it's not flat. It is steep rugged volcanic terrain. - [Narrator] Now that we've seen the strength of the Indonesians we hire another 20 of them to help us get to the top one of Javas highest, most active and most dangerous volcanoes. Mount Semeru. - Looks pretty far.

- [Narrator] It's a long two day hike, that starts pretty flat and increasingly becomes steeper and steeper. As we hike through the jungle, we can occasionally catch glimpses of the volcano looming in front of us. It's a long hot, tough climb just to get to the base of the remote volcano.

But the reality of volcano exploration is, if you want to see the good eruptions you've got to work for it. - I don't know how these guys do this everyday. You know when I'm sitting at home I love talking about climbing mountains. But when you're half way up the side of one it's amazing how the opinions change. This is one intimidating volcano.

The idea today is to get to the base of the cone and then when you look and you see the cone and realize that's what I have to climb tomorrow. - [Narrator] There are a number of things that make Semeru a particularly difficult volcano to climb. First of all quite simply it's very steep. - And this is the easy part. It gets much harder from here. - [Narrator] You have to be off the mountain by 10 AM.

So you have to start the summit push at midnight and climb in the dark. It is very high which means two things, you've got a long way to climb and the higher you climb the more out of breath you get. There's a knife edge ridge you have to cross before you get to the main part of the mountain. And when you do get there you find it's covered in loose scree, so your boots are full of stones and for every two steps you take forward, you'll slide one step back.

- It's incredibly steep. - [Narrator] Of course on top of all that there's the other little matter that the mountain is continually exploding. - Almost to the top. Hopefully really soon. Semeru is the highest point on all of Java.

It's over 3670 meters high. And pretty soon I'm going to be on the top of it. Hopefully, if I don't die between now and then.

- [Narrator] At 5:30 the sun makes its first appearance. In the thin air the sunrise provides a good excuse to stop climbing, try and catch ones breath and admire the view. - Wow beautiful. Got to keep going. Oh the glorious last few steps. Uh huh the summit.

- I'm never going to do it again, the same as I said last time. - [George] Never do it again. Funny I was saying the same thing to myself. - [Narrator] Ignoring the danger signs we head for the action. (dramatic music) And we get it.

Maybe a bit too close so we retreat a little to wait for a big eruption. And Semeru doesn't disappoint. - Oh big one look at that. Wow. Ah, billowing up huge dark clouds.

Oh and rocks, look at the impacts. Wow. Now that was worth the trek up here.

Perfect conditions, blue sky, very active mountain. - [Narrator] You've seen a lot of my climbing partner George (mumbles) here and you might start to think that I'm almost married to him. I'm not, Michelle Shubert is. And that's because I helped convince him to ask her to marry him.

- Yes, oh my god. - [Narrator] On the lip naturally of an exploding volcano. I organised the volcanic wedding to take place at Vanuatu and island paradise in the South Pacific. With the very impressive Yasur volcano on one of the old islands. - Nice, real nice. Yasur volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

- [Narrator] So we set out to explore it. And the two of us set out ropes so that I can film George descending towards the crater. (upbeat music) - Right now the plan is to propel down into the crater of the volcano and still make it out for my wedding day. (explosions) Oh look at that. Oh big bombs, big bombs.

I got to be real careful, this is a bit treacherous. - [Narrator] We drive stakes into the ground for the safety lines and George asks me to drag his limp body back in case he should be knocked out cold by a flying lava ball. - As long as I'm squeezing it, I can go down. As soon as I let go I'm attached to it you can pull me up on the rope.

(dramatic music) - [Narrator] I film Georges last minute dressing into a full fire proof suite. - So far so good, I'm about 50 meters inside the volcano now the lava is really starting to glow bright orange. It's starting to get dark. Whoa. Big explosions behind me.

Huge gotta keep going. (upbeat music) Okay I'm 60 meters down into the volcano and this is as far as I can go safely because I'm at the end of my rope. As a safety precaution I don't want to go any further. The rocks around me are smoking and I'm totally surrounded by relatively fresh lava bombs. This is crazy. (coughing) Okay I'm getting blasted with sulfur dioxide now.

I'm going to put my mask on. (explosions) Oh big eruption. Noisy eruption. This is not a place that's conducive to life for very long. I can't stay here long. (dramatic music) - [Narrator] From my vantage point I can see the eruptions begin to increase in size.

So I urge George to ascend. (dramatic music) At that point though George spies a huge bomb that has landed behind him and determines to get it. From high above George's bride to be operating a fifth camera observes the crazy action. On the walkie-talkie I call to George.

Half egging him on, half calling him back. Fortunately George hears more of the enthusiasm than the warning in my voice and gets to a brand new lava bomb. However just as he starts to return there is another major eruption. Only when reviewing the footage later do we see how close the lava bombs were falling. (dramatic music) - It's hot.

Brand new bomb from Yasur. I saw where it hit, ran out to get it. Whoa look at that.

Still glowing. Feel the heat coming off of this. - [Narrator] But spying his fiance watching from the top of the hill, George remembers why he came to Vanuatu. - All right here I come I think I've pushed my luck enough today. It's hot.

All right enough messing around. It's time to get married. (explosions) (singing in foreign language) - [Narrator] The night before the wedding we celebrate with members of the John From Group, the strange cargo cult that worships a mythical US marine they believe will be their Masai.

The next day... - Thank you for coming all the way from (mumbles) to get married. So I'd just like to welcome you and say thank you for coming this far. - [Narrator] As Pastor Isaac leads them through the ceremony the volcano gives some spectacular eruptions. - In the presence of the Almighty God, that you promise to take this woman as your wife.

- [George] I promise to take this woman. - [Pastor] To care and to support her. - To care and to support her, in good times and in bad times. I'm so happy the many years that we've had and I look forward to many, many more sharing our lives together.

- You may now slip the ring into the brides finger. - You have been my supporter, my wall, my rock. And if we're not careful we might melt into one. - I have this great honor to pronounce you husband and wife. And you may now kiss your bride.

Let's ask the band to give a little song to finish of this ceremony. (singing in a foreign language) (cheering) - Thank you. (explosion) - Oh the volcano's just going again. - [Narrator] In my career as a cinematographer it's the first wedding I've filmed, and a very memorable one. But for the moment I've lost my climbing partner.

With George and his new bride off on honeymoon shark diving in the Bahamas, I decide to head to Guatemala, one of the most volcanic ally active countries in the Americans to see the volcanoes there. This time I have a new group of climbing companions, 13 youngings all of them under the age of 27. Guatemala volcano exploration is unique in that it can all be done from one central place. The classic and colorful colonial city of Antiga.

(upbeat music) Antiga was the capital of Guatemala in the colonial era. But was twice destroyed by earthquakes. It has been restored today into one of the most pleasant towns in central America. Though it is still threatened by underground action.

Look down any of Antiga's streets on a clear day and you'll see one of the four active volcanoes that surround it. Naturally it is home base for the countries best volcano guides. We decide to climb with OX tours, who assign us their top guide (mumbles) - Well it's just a long, it's just because getting here, I want to get to this campsite with enough time to set camp and then get (mumbles) before sunset.

- On this expedition I'm trying out a new tool. A drone helicopter camera that I hope to fly into the craters of the volcano. Everyone warns me of the possible problems I may have there but no one guesses the real reason why the drone won't work on the big mountains.

We start with a climb up Pacaya, an active but modestly sized volcano we can manage in a day. But while the volcano is smoking the clouds and mist swirling round the peaks make the job of filming it a challenge. (upbeat music) However we do get the drone in the air and out into the first of Pacaya 's craters. Where it shoots some video. (upbeat music) And I safely get it back.

We then take on the high and challenging Mount Acatenango, sister peak to smoking Mount Fuego. It's another long tough climb helped until the steepest sections by pack horses carrying our gear. This was a bit of a killer climb, we've been climbing since about 9 'o clock this morning, it's now two or so and we've been climbing all this time. The end is in sight.

We've got people spread out all over the last corner of the mountain here. There's a girl behind that's not feeling well, I hope she doesn't drag the back end down. We got about three people ahead of us and we're here, not too far to go. Back there we got mount Agua. Beautiful looking stratovolcano.

It's apparently dangerous to climb for (mumbles), so it isn't climbed but it is a perfect looking volcano. It looks as nice as Mount Fuji in Japan, doesn't it. It's a really prefect volcano. It looks like it's got some kind of a TV tower or something on top of it. And where, are we above it? Yeah we're about level with it.

I think when we get to the top here we'll be above it, because this is one of the highest volcanoes in central America that we're climbing today. As it gets higher, it gets steeper. My daughter Briana handling second camera is one of the first to the top. 20 minutes later I join her at the peak. - [Male] Your here.

- On the top. This is it. This is the summit. I can see smoke coming off Fuego over there. So it was time to set up are drone camera and send it over into the crater.

But it wasn't to be. That was a total bummer. The whole plan was to come here with the drone and get some shots into the crater. Seems the air is too thin up here.

Doesn't have enough strength, the battery power, it worked fine lower down, worked fine on Akaya but up here this thin air, it just doesn't have the humph, to get it up in the air and control it. So I can't get any height out of it. What a pity. And so we have to be satisfied with filming the volcano in the conventional manner.

Not so bad, as the sun sets behind us we have a great vantage point of it. (singing in a foreign language) (explosions) The explosions induced great enthusiasm from my youthful climbing companions. (upbeat music) (explosions) As the evening clouds roll in and the sunsets we prepare for a cold, colorful and noisy night beside exploding Mount Fuego.

(upbeat music and explosions) Perhaps the most famous volcano in history, Mount Vesuvius in Southern Italy exploded on April 24th 79AD completely covering the major city of Pompeii with ash and lava. For two days and nights the volcano laid ruin to the city and killed almost every inhabitant. After the eruption Pompeii was lost and forgotten for more than 1500 years. The late ash of the pyroclastic flow of the volcano had the effect of perfectly preserving Pompeii.

Completely covering it so that once it was dug up, starting in the 1740's, an amazing window into the Roman empire was created. The archeologists of the 18th century not only uncovered the architecture, sculpture, art and housewares of the Roman era. Created at the the height of the empires power, but they were also able to carefully create casts of the bodies of dozens of Roman citizens caught in their moment of death at the hands of the volcano. They also uncovered a Pompeii brothel, complete with stone beds and Frescoes well protected by the ash. (mumbles) the variety of offered services. For those of us who like to explore active volcanoes it is sobering to see how these dangerous forces of nature can wipe out the lives and industry of people in an instant.

And well Pompeii is gone, Vesuvius is still here. It had a major eruption in 1944 at the height of World War II. And it now threatens not just the roads and villages surrounding it but the major city of Nepal's now expanding into the flanks of the volcano. But Nepal's is not the only city in Italy threatened by volcanoes.

So we head further south to the biggest volcano in continental Europe Mount Etna. We meet with one of the worlds leading experts on the volcano. Professor Carmelo (mumbles). - It is, actually Etna is know for being an effusive volcano.

So for giving rise to mostly (mumbles) meaning eruptions with a lot of flow. - [Narrator] (mumbles) shows us some of the images shot of Etna in its many recent eruptions. (mumbles) (upbeat music) One of the most active volcanoes in the world Etna is in a state of almost constant activity. Known for large lava flows and major damaging eruptions. (upbeat music) When it blows its top, it destroys everything in its way.

With dozens of major eruptions over the last century it poses a serious threat to the nearby ski resorts, people and towns. (upbeat music) We headed out to see the volcano. But at this time of the year Etna is not really interested in greeting visitors. Who knew we could expect such conditions at the southern tip of Italy.

Certainly not our car rental company that gave us an under powered car with no snow tires. - Let's go. - [Narrator] While I drive George shouts instructions and pushes.

But the steep slush covered volcano is too much for the little car. So we have to abandon the climb. - [George] It's not about getting to the top anymore it's about getting back down. Damned you Etna.

Damn you. - [Narrator] It is disappointing for us, but we have a very promising alternative to tackle. Mount Stromboli rises 1000 meters out of the Terrainian sea off the coast of Sicily. Beneath Stromboli a village of 700 people goes about its business seemingly unphased by the threat of living in the shadow of one of the worlds most active volcanoes. Our guide Zaza drives us in his micro bus.

We navigate the incredibly narrow streets up to the base. The starting point for the 1000 meter trek to the summit. (upbeat music) The caution sign tells us to, beware do not trespass this limit. Risk of landslide and volcanic eruption.

Which is pretty much what we came for so undaunted we keep trekking up the hill. This is where the climb gets tough. With steep terrain and tricky footing. But Zaza and his trustee dog Pille know the way.

- [George] This looks like the steep part. - [Narrator] Like most volcanoes Stromboli soon becomes a 30 to 40 degree climb. Eventually we make it high above the ocean at the summit.

As the sun sets over Stromboli I begin to find camera positions for the evening light show. (speaking in a foreign language) Zaza tells us of his passion for exploring this explosive volcano. (speaking in a foreign language) As darkness falls I get set to film my climbing partners take on this spectacular show. - Well tonight it looks like there's four different vents that are active on Stromboli.

This one down here behind me is spitting out a lot of gas, it's glowing but it's not really exploding. If we get really lucky we'll get one of these vents shooting a huge plume of magma into the air. - [Narrator] And right on cue I get one. - [George] Oh yeah see, that's what I'm talking about. That is a big eruption. - [Narrator] And that's why around the world regular explosive eruptions are known as Strombolian eruptions.

Because night after night, day after day Mount Stromboli has been kicking them out for as long as mankind can remember. Unlike Italy a rich fertile land dotted with a few scattered volcanoes, Iceland is a vast bleak landscape of volcanic rock. Covered for much of the year in snow and of course ice. We drive far out into the Icelandic wilderness to see the volcanic bonanza. Including its most distinctive feature, hot water vents, fumerals and gysers. This one Geysir gave the phenomenon its name.

Following an earthquake in 2000 Geysir although still boiling has become a bit dormant. Nearby it though is Stroker which erupts regularly. Of course we had to get much closer to it than you're really supposed to be.

- I cannot recommend anyone getting this close to a gyser. Because it's very, very dangerous. I've been watching it and timing it.

I'll step back when it gets time to erupt. Just want to get in close for a couple of pictures. - [Narrator] Warmed by the eruptions of boiling water we head across the frozen landscape for a short sea passage across a rough stretch of the North Atlantic to take us to the off shore Island of (mumbles).

There are a number of possible impediments to exploring volcanoes. Add sea sickness to the list. We begin driving across the windswept tiny island. Where in the middle of the night on January 23rd 1973 the earth exploded. At 2 AM completely without warning the dormant (mumbles) volcano violently erupted.

A three kilometer (mumbles) in the earth opened up and out poured red hot lava. Flowing at the speed of 199 cubic meters per second threatening the people, buildings and livestock of the island. Amazingly calm and well organized the people led by emergency services mobilized within minutes to mount the largest air sea evacuation in Icelandic history. 5000 people were transported off the island within hours. The flowing lava and tons of volcanic ash begun burying the town.

Once people were safely off the island, the major threat was to (mumbles) most important feature, the harbor. The massive lava flows threatened to seal off the channel entrance. A plan was devised to stop the flow by cooling the lava with sea water.

For months millions of gallons of cold seawater were pumped onto the lava. Eventually the Icelanders stopped the flow and (mumbles) thrives today 25% larger than before. As we head up to explore the top of the volcano we run into the remnants of some Icelandic weather. - [George] Oh no.

Okay the car has sort of bottomed out. - [Narrator] So we abandon the van for now and head up to the crater on foot. A crater that was only a short time ago an inferno. Not long ago over 1000 degrees, today it is covered with wind scoured ice and crusty snow.

- Here's the crater of the volcano, this is the source of all the lava that flowed into town. It's so unbelievably windy right now. - [Narrator] Today the big danger is getting blown off the mountain.

And if George is having trouble standing upright, imagine the issues I'm having with the camera and tripod. - It really is like hell on earth. Another planet entirely. - Let's go to Turkey now where we find some rather ordinary looking volcanoes. All of them either extinct or dormant that have created one of the worlds most extraordinary landscapes.

Massive volcanic eruptions 300 million years ago laid down a deep layer of weak volcanic (mumbles). With an overlay of harder ash from a second series of eruptions. Years of erosion have created the wildly shaped (mumbles) known as fairy chimneys seen today. Geothermal activity seldom has a positive result. The many Roman ruins throughout Turkey are a good example.

Many are now wrecked by earthquake damage. (mumbles) is quite different for here the remains of volcanic activity have been turned over 100's of years into an extraordinary collection of dugout houses, churches and even underground cities. The churches and Monasteries are especially impressive with most of the volcanic cave walls painted with (mumbles). Many of these (mumbles) are still in excellent shape, others defaced by graffiti from the 19th century.

The people of Capadocia carve not just houses, barns and churches but also elaborate underground cities from the soft volcanic rock. This is the (mumbles) underground city. This is the storage room, the second room in. They didn't really make them for people my size. Especially not those tunnels. This is the first floor, going down three or four more floors.

So believe it or not people who lived in these caves and built these caves were so paranoid about strangers coming in to steal their wine or attack them that they built and placed these giant rock wheels to roll across in front of the entrance ways so that they could protect themselves from strangers attacking them. (upbeat music) One of the most iconic symbols of the area today are the whirling (mumbles). A traditional cult like dance movement that appears to mimic a cross between a human volcano and a human tornado.

As always the rich volcanic soils provide great opportunities for agriculture. Thank you. The grape pickers were willing to share their rich harvest bounty with me. But like a lot of photographic subjects eventually began to wonder how many shots I needed to take of them.

Undeterred I head into town to film their sisters boiling down the grapes over a wood fire into jam. Today people are finding all kinds of new opportunities to mine a living from the volcanic landscape. Omar (mumbles) turned a collection of ancient cave dwellings into the extraordinary Museum Hotel.

- This is the first concept and the first luxury concept in the area. And the reason because I restore the natural caves, which is being used at 1000's of years and turned it a luxury accommodation. Plus we have lovely pools and restaurants and great stuff. And then lovely clients. - You may be in a cave in this hotel, but it's the most elegantly appointed cave in the world.

With this hotel completed (mumbles) is now exploring the potential for geothermal energy creation, using the volcanic ally heated steam and water deep beneath Capadocia. - No body believe me (mumbles). The main things now first of all outside the national park area, I'd like to build electric power stations. Because we have a (mumbles) nearly 750 kilometers squared and through that where we're going to put our drilling and find the hot waters to electric energy, green houses and thermal hot houses.

This is going to be one of the best thermal spa hotels area in the world probably. And then we're going to have lots of electric. - [Narrator] Hot water geothermal energy is (mumbles), but the hot air balloon industry is booming. The volcanic flames and heat that created this wild landscape have been replaced by burning gas, also of course created deep inside the earth, the fuels the 100's of hot air balloons now floating over Capadocia. (upbeat music) Every morning flames light up the sky as the balloons drift eastward like phantoms through the fairy tale landscape.

(upbeat music) - [Pilot] If the walls of the caves are flat then it's meant for people. But if it's with arches and columns, especially like the one you see the little car, grey car over there, you see how beautifully arched the entrance is? That's a sign that there's a church or a chapel behind that one. (upbeat music) - [Narrator] Our pilot fills me in with two theories about the volcanoes that created Capidocia.

- Mount (mumbles) in the clouds over there on the east side, Mount Hasan and the other argument is that there were dozens of volcanic eruptions in this area, it's small eruptions. - [Narrator] And with that he creates a small eruption of his own. Hot air balloons and micro helicopters allow us to get above terrestrial volcanoes.

Submersibles allow us to get down to witness them under the ocean. They have enabled scientists to make one of the most surprising discoveries in the history of oceanography. Underwater hydro thermal volcanic vents.

The Canadian underwater explorer and adventurer Phil Nuytten remembers the extraordinary find made in 1977. - The discovery of the heat vat is certainly well known to me. A couple friends of mine were onboard the vessel and the submarine that found the very first heat vent of the Galapagos and they were, too say blown away is a complete understatement.

- [Narrator] Until then no one knew there were volcanoes venting deep in the oceans. But the scientists made an even more amazing discovery. Colonies of life never before thought possible, in such an extreme and hostile environment. - Life without sun, here we have life that is not based on sunlight.

It's based not on photosynthesis but on chemo-synthesis taking the energy and the fuel directly from the heat vent. - [Narrator] The remarkable discovery turned the science of marine biology upside down. - The incredibly exciting thing about this environment these animals are found in, the black smoker environment, is how phenomenally hostile this environment is. It is a place that is hot and cold, hot like 700 or 800 degrees, cold like close to freezing a few centimeters away. It's an environment that's toxic, hydrogen sulfide is coming out under extreme pressure, and this is a gas that'll kill you dead if you breathe it.

Now what's intriguing is until this ecosystem was discovered only 30 years ago, really this wasn't, there was no understanding that animals could possibly live under such hostile conditions. - [Narrator] Of course what is truly exciting this to scientists like Chris Harvey Clark is that it opens up much broader possibilities for life on other planets. - Well in the deep sea vents hydrogen sulfide is energy and so we have the sort of upside down ecosystem. Up here we've got sun coming down, down there we got hydrogen sulfide and other energy rich compounds coming up out of the magma, really the mantle of the earth. - [Narrator] It is of course extremely difficult and expensive to visit undersea volcanoes. But from time to time volcanoes burst forth from the sea and create brand new islands.

When I heard that a new one had been created in Tonga I determined to see it. I traveled there through New Zealand, where we first checked out some more established Polynesian volcanoes. In order to get a better sense of what to expect on the brand new volcanic island of Tonga we visited a small volcano off the coast of New Zealand called White Island.

This rugged island is brimming with gas vents, fumerals and giant mud pools. White island is one of the most active volcanic sites in New Zealand. And the energy is vented with astonishing power.

This is one of the most intense fumerals I've ever seen. We wanted to get in closer to it. Out guide has a sense of how close one can get to it. - [Guide] Pretty much as far as we can really go.

- [George] Really, can't get a little closer? - [Guide] You can but you can go by yourself. - You can go it by yourself. Meaning I'm not going the hell up there. All right well I'll go to the end of the sulfurous rocks here. - Yeah if that steam does turn, put on your gas mask. - Oh I'll put on my gas mask now, just in case.

Taking each step very carefully. - [Narrator] The terrain here at the White Island volcano gives glues as to what the new Tongan volcano may look like. The cracks on the ground give a sense of how unstable the land is. The power of the steam pouring out of the ground is enormous.

- I'd love to get a bit closer but the ground all around all around this (mumbles) is all very soft and very unstable. - [Narrator] And we soon discover how unstable. (explosions) - Oh man part of the crater wall just broke away. - [Narrator] While we film the fumeral there was a little seismic shift and a landslide of rocks fell down this cliff. Nothing like a volcanic rock slide to liven up your day.

New Zealand is located on the volcanic ring of fire, and there's evidence of geothermal activity everywhere. The hotbed for New Zealand volcanism is the area of (mumbles) on the North Island. Full of gysers, mud pools and exploding fumerals.

They even cook their food here from the intense heat that flows from the earth. The most spectacular piece of New Zealand volcanism is the (mumbles) gyser. (mumbles) means explosion (mumbles) and that's what it does about 20 times a day.

Blasting boiling hot water over 35 meters into the air. From New Zealand we fly north to Tonga to board the fishing boat that will take is out to the new island. And try to figure out how we will actually get onto this some what forbidding piece of land.

Little did we know at that point that, that is the option we'd be using. The big swells of the Pacific send my volcano chasing partner to his bunk. Well I film the crew bailing out the leaky old fishing boat. As the long bumpy voyage drags on George has even bigger problems. (dramatic music) - Just hit a big wave and I rolled off the side and my eye went right into the corner of this table.

If it had been two centimeters lower it would have gone right into my eye. Holy cow the whole bench fell over. - We administer some first aid with the island finally in sight. - We're trying the edge of this one here and have a look at it. - [Narrator] As we approach the island yet another problem.

The ships boat has broken free and the crew must retrieve it. (dramatic music) Finally we get it back, get aboard, with the usual difficulty get the motor started. We head for the new island but as predicted since we can't land in the surf we have to swim to shore.

George lands first and films me swimming in, using a stylish backstroke. Soon like Robinson Crusoe, we're leaving new footprints of the freshly minted beach. The crusty lava bombs look like solid rock but are very easily broken into dust. In theory at least it's probably one of the most unstable and dangerous places on earth.

It could easily begin to erupt again. And the still warm lava could just slide back into the sea. The air filled (mumbles) that created the new island is still very unstable.

Any seismic event could smash it to pieces. The crusty lava bombs look like solid rock but are easily broken into dust. We discover a crater filled with near boiling water that is the epicenter of the volcano. - Despite all the problems and difficulties getting here, what a rush, being on the newest land on earth. - [Narrator] Only four people had ever visited the island before George and I went on it.

More people have been on the surface of the moon than had at that time visited Hunga Ha'apai. As a volcano to visit I can't really recommend Hunga Ha'apai. It's almost as inaccessible as the spectacular but famously difficult to see volcanoes of (mumbles) in eastern Russia. Know if you want spectacular volcanoes, fairly safe and easy to visit, the place to go is The Big Island of Hawaii. In fact the two largest ones (mumbles) you can drive to the top of.

They're along way up so be prepared for the effects of high altitudes. In fact measured from its base at the bottom of the ocean Mauna Kea is 33 thousand feet high, much higher than Mount Everest. Both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are scientific observatories.

Picked for their high altitudes and clear air. Telescopes peer into the heavens, while an array of instruments monitor conditions here on earth. Mauna Loa the largest volcano on earth erupted most recently in 1984.

Since the million year old Mauna Kea is dormant the explosive dangers there are non existent. However there is considerable protest and controversy over the use of what are considered sacred volcano peaks for this (mumbles) purpose. When it is flowing which it's been doing for the last 30 years Kilauea is quite possibly the most spectacular volcano in the world. And you can see it by helicopter. We take to the air hoping to get a unique perspective on some moving lava. One can really get a sense from up here of how massive and destructive this volcano is.

Kilauea is a shield volcano, rather than creating a cone like a typical stratovolcano, the vary viscus lava of Kilauea spreads over a wide area. The volcano destroyed a subdivision, many roads and today flows through in rivers of lava and erupting lava fountains to the sea. But the only way to get close to Kilauea is by walking. It's a five hour hike carrying your camera gear with you. And I assure you the tripod I was carrying was about 20 times heavier than that little one. (dramatic music) You can see from the distant smoke plumes, how far we still have to go.

It is well worth the long walk, when you get to the spot where the hot lava enters the pacific, and even better once darkness falls. (dramatic music) Hawaii's big island is a fascinating struggle between the forces of volcanic creation battling the conflicting forces of marine erosion. Since you can get so close it also offers the opportunity for volcano (mumbles) to do some dumb and silly things.

- My boot caught on fire. It's unbearably hot here. This lava is 2000 degrees. I'm getting dry roasted just standing next to it. - [Narrator] And to take in one of the most magnificent sites of nature. (upbeat music)

2021-09-10 04:05

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