Japan's Fuji seen with clouds and snow blowing at the summit on March 6, 2004. Image: Gabuchan/Flickr It seems we've entered the DOOOOM season in the media this month. I'm not sure what triggers this cascade of apocalyptic thinking, but once it gets going, it is like a game of "telephone." What starts off as a benign report about some piece of volcanologic research ends up with the media running around like this (NSFW: language). Sure, I'm not naive enough to think this isn't about getting people to read the articles, but when it comes down to it, it does a great disservice to the science and the ability of public officials to convince people when a real danger appears. So, what has got the interwebs all worked up? Fuji, Japan News like this has the tendency to reappear when you least expect it, like a zombie in a horror movie. Just after the Sendai earthquake in March 2011, I had to try to dispel some rumors that Fuji was going to erupt because it "always" erupts after a very large subduction earthquake in Japan. Guess what? It doesn't. So, why do we suddenly have all this "news" claiming otherwise? Well, some well-meaning researchers in Japan claim that the Sendai (and following) earthquakes exerted pressure on the magma chamber, which will lead to an eruption. Within days, the news was "Mt. Fuji will blow due to new tectonic pressures that are higher than when the volcano last erupted more than 300 years ago. Estimates say the eruption will affect more than 400,000 people and cost over $30 billion." Now, much of the primary information on this is in Japanese, but from what I can gather, the study looked at how much additional stress any magma body under Fuji may have felt during the earthquakes. Remember, Japan is part of a subduction zone, where two tectonic plates are colliding, so overall, the stress regime is going to compression. Earthquakes can add or release stress along the subduction zone, depending on where you are along the zone and the earthquake itself can cause momentary changes in the stress field as all that energy is passed through the rocks. However, there is currently no way to directly measure the pressure in any magma body under a volcano. This is doubly so for the past - one article claimed that the pressure today was 305 times that of the last confirmed eruption in 1707. How could we possible know this? We can't just stick a probe down the throat of the volcano and say "Aha! 16 MPa!" These pressure estimates are models based on the motion caused by the Sendai and other earthquakes and the rock strength in the area by Fuji. However, that is all they are: models. Some models can accurately predict the future, but other times, we just don't know enough to say that this increase in pressure will lead to an eruption. Now, some of the reporting of this research has been downright appalling. The Wired UK article claims that "steam and gases are being emitted from the crater, water eruptions are occurring nearby, massive holes emitting hot natural gases are appearing in the vicinity and finally, the warning sign that pushed the professor to make the announcement, a 34km-long fault was found underneath the volcano." I honestly don't even know what this means - steam and gas are normal from many active volcanoes, even when an eruption isn't imminent. However, the fumaroles at Fuji are weak at best, so this is wrong. I have no idea what a "water eruption" is - maybe phreatic explosions - let alone "massive holes emitting hot natural gas". Do they mean methane? Has this writer been in the same room as a geologic textbook? I highly doubt it. The 34-km fault comment is perplexing as well as Japan is covered in faults, so locating a fault under Fuji should be no surprise (and probably very likely as some researchers postulate that faults are part of the control for the location of volcanoes in subduction zones). The real danger with any fault under a volcano isn't the triggering of an eruption, but rather causing massive landslides from the slopes of the volcano. The article also says that modeled stress of 16 MPa is "nearly 16 times the 0.1 megapascals it takes to trigger an eruption". There is NO EVIDENCE that 0.1 MPa will "trigger an eruption". This is completely made up or a misinterpretation of what the original research said. This is not to say that Fuji isn't a threat. It is an active volcano that will very likely erupt again. The Japanese government is preparing for such an event and will test an evacuation plan for the area around Fuji in 2014. The volcano felt a series of earthquake swarms over a decade ago, meaning that magma was likely intruding under Fuji. However, little is known about how much magma or whether it is eruptible, so as of right now, there are no signs that an eruption will happen soon at Fuji - next week, next month or even over the next few years. Santorini, Greece Meanwhile, halfway across the planet, attention is turning back to Santorini in Greece. A new study in Nature Geoscience has shown that the caldera is inflating at an impressive rate between 2011-2012, producing a surface inflation of 8-14 cm. Not surprisingly, this inflation coincided with an increase of earthquake as the magma made it way into the upper parts of the magmatic system. Now, the volume of magma that could be responsible for this inflation (which depends on the modeled depth of the magma) is ~10 to 20 million cubic meters, only a tenth to possibly a half of the most recent dome eruptions (i.e., NOT the Minoan eruption that formed the modern caldera). However, the study does make it clear that this information does not reveal if the volcano is headed towards an explosive or dome-forming eruption (or any eruption at all) - just that magma is rapidly coming in under Santorini. Mostly, the news coverage of this study has been relatively restrained. Both Wired UK and Discovery News throw in a healthy undercurrent of DOOOOM, but never come out and say that an eruption is coming soon. The Examiner suggests an eruption will come soon in the headline, only to also dispel it there. Business Week tries to make the researchers from the study into the doomsayers, with a quote from the Greek Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration saying that all in "normal" at Santorini. Nevertheless, some places like the Huffington Post has latched onto the "giant balloon of magma" (you know, 15x bigger than an Olympic swimming pool isn't all that much magma) or my favorite from the Metro UK: "Giant Magma Ball Threatens Greek Island Santorini." As usual, the main point of the research - that inflation is occurring at Santorini, suggesting magma on the move - quickly becomes portent of the destruction. Volcanoes are active, dynamic places that we are only beginning to measure their day-to-day (well, year-to-year) activity at fine resolution, so these changes in activity may be common. We definitely don't need to go screaming into the streets every time we find out a little more about the restlessness of volcanoes.