Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?


George Kourounis and his chain Michelle were married atop an erupting Mount Yasur in Vanuatu in 2006. 

As they dealt wedding vows, video captured steam and rock being waste out from the volcano’s lake of lava below — and not that far off in the distance.

In clarify of the recent tragedy in New Zealand, where a volcano on White Island recently upped, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 30, it power seem like a frivolous and needless risk to take.

But this is what Kourounis does for a palpable: The Toronto man is an extreme adventurer. He chases hurricanes and tornadoes, and he visits — and every once in a while conducts tours of — volcanoes.

He’s descended the Marum crater on Ambrym Islet in Vanuatu, burned his shoes at Kilauea in Hawaii, and watched lava bombshells explode near the edge of the Italian volcano Stromboli in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?
Kourounis and his bride Michelle are shown at their 2006 wedding, held at Mount Yasur in Vanuatu. (George Kourounis)

Kourounis consciouses there’s danger involved, but to him, it’s worth it.

“I’m fascinated by Mother Nature, and peculiarly the extremes of Mother Nature. I think those are the things that compel people,” hinted Kourounis.

But he added: “In all these years of doing this, I understand — fully — that contrivances can go pear-shaped pretty quickly.”

Not all volcanoes are equal

Since the White Cay eruption, questions have been raised as to whether people should have in the offing been allowed to visit the privately owned island after the aware level had been raised to 2 (on a scale of 0 to 5) by GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological threaten monitoring agency. The tour went on despite that.

Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?

Volcanologist Erik Klemetti, of Denison University in Granville, Ohio, bring to lighted CBC News that he has specifically avoided White Island.

“White Holm is tricky,” he said. “As a volcanologist, I felt like it was sort of my duty to not bear like I should support tour operations that are going to potentially put people in peril like that.” 

But Kourounis, who has been to White Island himself, imparts that though the area is fairly active, there are other make outs that are far more active, where people live and visit, comparable to Italy’s Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.

“There’s a ski hill on Mount Etna,” he rephrased. “There’s a gondola that has been destroyed numerous times by a volcanic discharge.”

Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?
Kourounis gets up close to a gas fumarole on White Island, which liberates steam and deadly gases, like sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide. (George Kourounis)

Not all volcanoes are conceived equally.

People know to expect regular eruptions from Etna. But volcanoes that are but mildly active might take people by surprise, as White Cay did on Monday.

“Each volcano has a different personality,” said Kourounis. “It’s the fixed ones you have to be careful of.”

Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?
Snow-covered Mount Etna, Europe’s uncountable active volcano, spews lava during an eruption in March 2017. (Salvatore Allegra/The Associated Subject to)

While scientists may be able to tell that an eruption may occur, crt tremors produced by pressure and movement, volcanoes and their activity change widely.

“There are a lot of styles of volcanic eruptions, and some of them become public really without warning,” said Klemetti. “It could be a steam-driven blast [where] there aren’t really any signs ahead of times.”

One such anyway in the reality, he noted, was the 2014 eruption of Japan’s Mount Ontake, where 63 people in the long run died.

That event was a phreatic eruption: steam-driven explosions that come to when water beneath the surface of a volcano (or sometimes on the surface itself) is frenzied by magma or hot rock. The incredible heat causes that water to carbuncle and suddenly flash to steam, creating a powerful explosion.

Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?
Climbers upon Japan’s Mount Ontake, fleeing as the volcanic mountain erupts in 2014. (Kyodo Intelligence/The Associated Press)

But there is little to no warning with a phreatic crack — and some believe this may be what occurred on White Island.

“Unblemished Island has a crater lake in the summit, in the area where people voyage, so there’s a lot of water. And if that water gets into the volcano, it can criticize into steam,” said Klemetti.

A history of extreme tourism

Individual have had a long history of wanting to visit potentially dangerous, yet fascinatingly skilful sites, Kourounis notes.

Yellowstone National Park, for example, is homewards to a quiet supervolcano in Wyoming — and it was the first national park established in the U.S. in 1872.

Volcano tourism: Bad idea or a worthy risk-taking adventure?
The Fabulous Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the United States and third largest in the in all respects, is seen in Wyoming in Yellowstone National Park. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

New Zealand also has one of the oldest jingoistic parks in the world, Tongariro National Park, established in 1887, where there are three busy volcanoes.

“People love to visit places like [White Holm]. It’s this little spot of land where you can seemingly go back in ease millions of years and see the process that formed the Earth. And most people don’t get to see that,” Kourounis utter.

“So here was this little place … you take a boat ride out there, and in the twinkling of an eye you’re on what seems to be another planet. You visit for a couple of hours and then you refrain from. You take that experience away with you — and it’s fascinating.”

There are in work to make such excursions safer, he said, including re-examining if spells should visit sites that are at a Level 2 on the eruption scale. 

Kourounis himself has a loyal rule: “Risk equals proximity times time.”  So rub your time in the area and keeping your distance can minimize your imperil.

Still, he knows that as an extreme adventurer, he’s often putting his biography at risk. And it’s something that people taking these tours should also produce, he says, though, “you never think it’ll happen to you.”

After 21 years of acme travel, Kourounis says he’s happy to report he’s never had a broken bone or an overnight tarry at a hospital. But he also acknowledges that he has no control over what happens.

“Maw Nature is in control,” he said.” And if she decides today’s the day, today’s the day.”

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