Times change, weather remains the same

HOUSTON - From here on my perch in Texas, it's hard to imagine what a volcano in an ocean creating new land would look like. The heat, steam, crackle, acrid smell of sulfur and burning rock -- and the sight of ... waterspouts?! 

When lava emerges from the earth and interacts with sea water, it super-heats it to a boil. As that steam interacts with the atmosphere above, it rises rapidly and spins. This creates ample opportunity for waterspouts to form at the site of the volcano, adding to its overall mystique!

I was reminded by this when reading about the Azores (island off of Portugal) and came across a 19th century artistic depiction of a volcano breaking the surface along with a waterspout! This can't be, I thought!

I was doing some research on the history of the islands (as Subtropical Depression #1 formed near there today) and came across this drawing. I speculated that the artist's addition of the waterspout was just an indulgence -- taking license to make it look even more dramatic. But after going back to my meteorology books on a hunch, I verified that this happens all the time when volcanoes and sea interact. In fact, while times have changed, it's always happened -- weather remains the same.

This history with this image is equally fascinating: While volcanism formed the Azores eons ago, eruptions have been rare to nonexistent in modern history -- at least since they were settled in the 15th century. That changed when a British ship called the HMS Sabrina sailed upon a brand new island being formed in 1811, just as an underwater volcano broke the surface. After they found a lava-cooled spot, they planted a Union Jack flag in the new ground and called it a sovereign part of Britain. This caused a major row with the Portuguese who claimed it as their own as they had all surrounding islands, but ultimately the volcano, "failed" and the fledgling island -- with lava primarily still soft -- sank back below the surface. All claims sank with it, but the illustrative this depiction of a waterspout form from the volcano-heated water rose up and certainly exists today!

Hey, you learn something new every day. Times may change, but the the thermodynamic rules of hot water interacting with a cooler atmosphere remain the same.

-Brooks
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