George Kourounis and his spouse Michelle have been married atop an erupting Mount Yasur in Vanuatu in 2006.
As they exchanged wedding ceremony vows, video captured steam and rock being blown out from the volcano’s lake of lava under — and never that far off within the distance.
In gentle of the current tragedy in New Zealand, the place a volcano on White Island all of the sudden erupted, killing not less than eight individuals and injuring greater than 30, it would look like a frivolous and unnecessary danger to take.
However that is what Kourounis does for a residing: The Toronto man is an excessive adventurer. He chases hurricanes and tornadoes, and he visits — and typically conducts excursions of — volcanoes.
He is descended the Marum crater on Ambrym Island in Vanuatu, burned his footwear at Kilauea in Hawaii and watched lava bombs explode close to the sting of the Italian volcano Stromboli within the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Kourounis is aware of there’s hazard concerned, however to him, it is value it.
“I am fascinated by Mom Nature, and significantly the extremes of Mom Nature. I feel these are the issues that compel individuals,” stated Kourounis.
However he added: “In all these years of doing this, I perceive — totally — that issues can go pear-shaped fairly rapidly.”
Not all volcanoes are equal
Because the White Island eruption, questions have been raised as as to whether individuals ought to have been allowed to go to the privately owned island after the alert degree had been raised to 2 (on a scale of zero to five) by GeoNet, New Zealand’s geological hazard monitoring company. The tour went on regardless of that.
Volcanologist Erik Klemetti, of Denison College in Granville, Ohio, instructed CBC Information that he has particularly averted White Island.
“White Island is hard,” he stated. “As a volcanologist, I felt prefer it was type of my responsibility to not really feel like I ought to assist tour operations which are going to doubtlessly put individuals at risk like that.”
However Kourounis, who has been to White Island himself, says that although the realm is pretty lively, there are different spots which are much more lively, the place individuals dwell and go to, like Italy’s Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.
“There is a ski hill on Mount Etna,” he stated. “There is a gondola that has been destroyed quite a few instances by a volcanic eruption.”
However not all volcanoes are created equally.
Individuals know to count on common eruptions from Etna. However volcanoes which are solely mildly lively would possibly take individuals abruptly, as White Island did on Monday.
“Every volcano has a distinct persona,” stated Kourounis. “It is the quiet ones you need to watch out of.”
Whereas scientists could possibly inform that an eruption might happen, monitoring tremors produced by strain and motion, volcanoes and their exercise fluctuate broadly.
“There are lots of kinds of volcanic eruptions, and a few of them come actually with out warning,” stated Klemetti. “It might be a steam-driven explosion [where] there aren’t actually any indicators forward of instances.”
One such occasion, he famous, was the 2014 eruption of Japan’s Mount Ontake, the place 63 individuals in the end died.
That occasion was a phreatic eruption: steam-driven explosions that happen when water beneath the floor of a volcano (or typically on the floor itself) is heated by magma or sizzling rock. The unimaginable warmth causes that water to boil and all of the sudden flash to steam, creating a robust explosion.
However there’s little to no warning with a phreatic explosion — and a few consider this can be what occurred on White Island.
“White Island has a crater lake within the summit, within the space the place individuals tour, so there’s lots of water. And if that water will get into the volcano, it may blast into steam,” stated Klemetti.
A historical past of maximum tourism
Individuals have had a protracted historical past of wanting to go to doubtlessly harmful, but fascinatingly stunning websites, Kourounis notes.
Yellowstone Nationwide Park, for instance, is house to a quiet supervolcano in Wyoming — and it was the primary nationwide park established within the U.S. in 1872.
New Zealand additionally has one of many oldest nationwide parks on the planet, Tongariro Nationwide Park, established in 1887, the place there are three lively volcanoes.
“Individuals love to go to locations like [White Island]. It is this little spot of land the place you’ll be able to seemingly return in time thousands and thousands of years and see the method that fashioned the Earth. And most of the people do not get to see that,” Kourounis stated.
“So right here was this little place … you’re taking a ship experience on the market, and all of the sudden you are on what appears to be one other planet. You go to for a few hours and then you definately go away. You’re taking that have away with you, and it is fascinating.”
There are methods to make such excursions safer, he stated, together with re-examining if excursions ought to go to websites which are at a Stage 2 on the eruption scale.
Kourounis himself has a steadfast rule: “Danger equals proximity instances time.” So lowering your time within the space and holding your distance can decrease your danger.
Nonetheless, he is aware of that as an excessive adventurer, he is typically placing his life in danger. And it is one thing that folks taking these excursions also needs to notice, he says, although, “you by no means suppose it’s going to occur to you.”
After 21 years of maximum journey, Kourounis says he is completely happy to report he is by no means had a damaged bone or an in a single day keep at a hospital. However he additionally acknowledges that he has no management over what occurs.
“Mom Nature is in management,” he stated.” And if she decides at this time’s the day, at this time’s the day.”