volcano

A pink dinosaur has made a volcanic island off the east coast of New Zealand one of the hot spots, as it were, of the web.

For the few weeks, a plastic version of Dino, Fred Flintstone’s pet, has been a constant companion for the solar-powered camera on White Island and its image has turned up on websites all over the world. At the peak of his popularity, Dino’s image on the GeoNet website was receiving 1500 hits a minute.

“No one could have predicted that the appearance of a small plastic toy on a remote New Zealand island would have made such a splash internationally,” says John Callan, spokesman for the organization, the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS), that owns the volcano camera. “In terms of outreach, Dino has been brilliant. His flair for promoting earth sciences has amazed us.”

No one has come forward to claim responsibility for sticking the plastic toy to a rock in front of the volcano-cam. GNS has no plans to separate Dino from his rock, with staff having become quite fond of Dino. Nonetheless, Dino’s fame — and continued existence — is likely to be only fleeting.

“In due course, the acidic environment on the island will probably bring about his demise. This could take several months, but we’re not making any firm predictions,” says Callan.

The White Island volcano-cam is housed in a strongly built box that is bolted to the remains of an old sulphur factory on the island. Sulphur was extracted on White Island from the 1880s to the 1930s. The operation was abandoned in the 1930s when world prices took a tumble and it became uneconomic to ship sulphur from the island.

Exploring the remains of the old sulphur factory is part of the visitor experience. The GNS volcano-cam and its solar panel are fairly obvious to those who explore the eerie structure. “In the past, we’ve seen faces, hands, and other body parts in front of our volcano-cam. Unlike Dino, they have been fleeting images,” says Callan.

The camera is elevated and about 700 metres from the most active part of the crater. It gives the viewer a good perspective while keeping a respectable distance from the steam, ash, and ballistic missiles that the crater sometimes produces.

White Island is an active volcano 50 kilometres offshore from the Bay of Plenty on the eat coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The volcano is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old, although the land above sea level is only about 16,000 years old. The uninhabited, privately owned island continuously steams, and erupts every few years. At its angriest, White Island’s crater has hurled football-sized rocks into the sea, a distance of one kilometre.

The GeoNet group of GNS monitors volcanic activity on all of New Zealand’s active and recently active volcanoes. Using the volcano-cam, GNS scientists on the mainland have an hour-by-hour visual check on what their seismic instruments on White Island are telling them. As well as helping scientists understand how volcanoes work, there is a public safety angle too. Tourism operators take clients to White Island almost every day.

Other GNS volcano-cams — at mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Taranaki — have not, so far, been visited by small pink plastic dinosaurs.

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