Vulcania Mania

Vulcania, an underground, educational amusement park is situated in a cave created by the lava flow of a now-extinct volcano!

Over 80 extinct volcanoes make up the Chaîne des Puys in the Monts Dômes range.
The tallest of these, with a height of just under 500m, is Puy de Dôme. The youngest of the volcanoes in the range, it is said to have last erupted in 5000BC! Important geological equipment is located on its summit, as well as TV and radio antennae.
In the picture above, one can see a volcanic (igneous) rock with one of the extinct volcanoes in the background. This area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018.

A fifteen-minute drive from Clermont-Ferrand, the capital of the Auvergne, lies Vulcania; a sleeping monster, awaiting an awakening!Nowadays drones are used by volcanologists to survey hotspots, provide photographs and analyse volcanic gas so that people don’t have to get too close. We saw an ode to the French volcanologist couple, Maurice and Katia Krafft, who died while documenting Mount Unzen in Japan in 1991.

The park offers 4D simulations that are both entertaining and educational.

Réveil des géants d’Auvergne” subjected us to three possibilities that could occur with the reawakening of the giants of the Auverge. The first was “une grosse bombe volcanique” (a big volcanic bomb); an explosive eruption that can send huge boulders flying 600m from the vent. The second, “une coulée de lave” (a lava flow) also known as an effusive eruption, is less frightening and fatalities are rare. The lava moves at most at “la vitesse d’un cheval au galop” (the speed of a galloping horse) but, with temperatures of up to 1000C, engulfs everything in its path. The third is the most dangerous: “des nuées ardentes” (fiery clouds) of “gaz volcanique” (volcanic gas) also known as a pyroclastic flow – that can travel at speeds of up to 500km/hr and reach temperatures of up to 500C – are produced. The only way to escape this disaster is by evacuation prior to the emissions. Because of their appearance, they are known as “volcans gris” (grey volcanoes).

Although destructive, volcanoes have benefits; they provide us with the precious stones with which we adorn ourselves and they produce fertile soils that cause plants to thrive.

The first plants to appear in volcanic soil are mosses and lichens followed by the emergence of ferns.

Below are pictures on board the “Abyss Explorer” a submarine dive to discover the underwater volcanoes on the ocean floor:

We were subjected to a strict safety briefing before embarking on our journey.

Portholes provided a 360 degree view of our descent. The photograph above shows a view on the surface before our deep dive.

We saw many interesting creatures including “des requins” (sharks), “des baleines” (whales – one of which we accidentally ‘bumped into’), and “une baudroie” (an anglerfish with its beguiling light displayed on a long tendril; luring unsuspecting prey). We also bumped into rocks and tumbled down submerged cliffs along the way. I couldn’t take any photos because I had to hold onto the railing with both hands!

We stopped when we reached “les fumeurs noirs” (the black smokers) at a ‘depth of 2500m’.

Black smokers or hydrothermal vents, provide warmth and nutrient-rich bacteria that convert hydrogen-sulphide into organic matter. They therefor attract and nourish many sub-marine critters including “des ténias” (tubeworms); “des moules” (mussels); “des escargots de mer géants” (giant sea snails); “des poissons rose hydrothermal” (pink vent fish); “poulpes de haute mer” (deep sea octopuses) and “des crabes kiwas” (kiwa crabs – these strong, hairy crustaceans were originally known as Hasselhof crabs as a tribute to Baywatch’s David Hasselhof).

The park not only focuses on volcanoes but also explores many other geological phenomena…

… such as “tremblements de terre” (earthquakes).

The first seismoscope : two thousand years old.

This ingenious, artful apparatus was invented in China by Zhang Heng in the year 132AD. It was made out of porcelain and was 1.83m in diameter. There were eight dragons, orientated according to the eight cardinal points. Each dragon held a copper ball in its mouth. Beneath each dragon was a open-mouthed toad. Inside the porcelain jar there was a mechanism that, when triggered, would cause one of the dragon’s mouths to be opened, releasing the ball into the mouth of the toad below. The toad holding the ball was the one that was closest to the epicentre of the earthquake. From all over the immense Chinese Empire, representatives could jump onto horses to reach the province that was affected. They could then assess the damage, inform the emperor and offer support.

“Ouragans” (hurricanes) were also a topic of exploration.

We watched an IMAX-type of movie on “le écran géant” (the big screen). A film about fictional Hurricane Lucy that begins as a sandstorm in Senegal, brings heavy rains and flooding to New Orleans and unleashes its full fury as a tsunami in Puerto Rico. The footage was accumulated over four years from 12 actual tropical storms.

Thankfully we could listen to the English version via a headset in order to gain full understanding. The original French was more poetic and narrated in the first person. The film ended with the words: “je suis un monstre mais je ne suis pas tout mauvais” (I am a monster but I’m not all bad) referring to the rejuvenation that occurs after the raging storm has ravaged its environment. It almost seems to be a necessary evil.

Terre en Colere” (Angry Earth) subjected us to three thrilling simulations requiring audience participation. Out of six options, we each voted for our favourite one and the top three were chosen. We had the opportunity to experience: “une météorite” (a meteorite) striking our city; “une vague dévoyée (a rogue wave) out at sea that sank our ship; and “une tornade où un ‘twister'” (a tornado or a ‘twister’) that torn through our town.

For generations, before the advent of scientific enquiry, people came up with their own myths to explain mysterious and “bizarre” occurrences. Dragons “Les dragons” were commonly associated with volcanoes.

Another tale was “Le Namazu: poisson-chat japonaise” (Namazu: a Japenese catfish). According to the legend; there was a catfish dwelling deep underground. It had been put there by a benevolent “dieu” (god) to protect the people. “De temps en temps” (from time to time) the god “s’endormirait” (would fall asleep) and his captive would take this opportunity to try to “échapper” (escape); causing the “séismes” (earthquakes) they endured.

In this picture, from the 19th century, Namazu is using its influence to force “un homme riche” (a rich man) to give money to “les pauvres” (the poor).

Pictured above is a man-made geyser at Vulcania. Unfortunately I reacted too late and captured the scene after the event!

Steamboat” in Yellowstone National Park is the largest active geyser, shooting a spray of hydrogen-dioxide over 110m high. Waimungu in New Zealand was recorded to have an effusive emission measuring 450m but it has not erupted since November 1904.

The main message that we took away with us that day was that scientists are not really sure how, where or when new volcanoes could emerge and even whether these extinct dragons of the Auvergne are really just hibernating … We were left with the feeling that we couldn’t turn our backs on these fearsome beasts! So we snuck away silently to let sleeping dogs lie.

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