Orbital View: A Snow-Covered Volcano

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

#NewZealand. I want to touch your #volcano. #YearInSpace #earth #space #spacestation #iss #photo

A photo posted by Scott Kelly (@stationcdrkelly) on

The consensus among Kelly’s commenters is that it’s Mount Ruapehu, an active stratovolcano on the North Island of New Zealand. One writes:

It’s like 3 hours away from me but we have problems with it randomly spitting out ash and it can wreck cars and stuff when it’s really bad.

Ruapehu is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, yet it’s also the site of New Zealand’s two most popular ski areas. (It’s also the site of several Mordor scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) The last eruption occurred in 2007, and it caused a schoolteacher’s leg to get crushed. Below is some dramatic footage of much larger eruptions in ‘95 and ‘96:

Some details from those eruptions:

The Department of Conservation immediately issued hazard warnings and advised people to keep off the mountain, thus ending the ski season. The eruption cloud disrupted air travel, occasionally closing airports and the central North Island airspace. Black sand-like ash fell on surrounding farmland and stock had to be moved. The ash also entered streams and was washed into the pen stocks and turbines of the Rangipo power station causing rapid corrosion on the turbine blades which had to be rebuilt. Episodic eruptions continued until the end of November 1995.

Within hours of a major eruption during the night being reported on 25 September 1995, news media were trying to get live video of the eruption and amateur photographers had published eruption images on the World Wide Web. A web camera, dubbed the world’s first “Volcano Cam,” was set up. Since then Ruapehu has been monitored by at least one and sometimes several volcano cams.

Another, smaller, eruption phase began on the morning of 17 June 1996. Despite a series of small eruptions that spread thin layers of ash across both Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas, the ski fields opened for the 1996 season.

One of Kelly’s followers reflects:

I can’t imagine what’s it’s like to wake up each day and process such beauty and frailty. We tend to get accustomed to the beauty in our own surroundings. But I don’t see how these kids of views could ever be routine.