Wednesday, June 01, 2005

More information on volcanic eruption in India

After lying dormant for over a decade, India’s only active volcano on a lonely island in the Indian Ocean has woken up to spit lava—reaching as far as three km from the crater.

A routine Coast Guard patrol on Saturday witnessed eruptions on Barren Island—a thickly vegetated, three-km-wide strip with a history of volcanic activity dating back to 1787. Inhabited mostly by rats, birds and feral goats, this island lies 135 km north-east of Port Blair on the inner arc extending between Sumatra and Myanmar.

‘‘We spotted thick black smoke even 10 nautical miles away from the island,’’ S Basra, commander, Coast Guard (Andaman & Nicobar) told The Indian Express from Port Blair.
Lava from the 1.6 km-sized crater is reportedly ending up into the sea from the western side of the island. ‘‘When we landed, we saw red fireballs every few seconds and fresh lava on the ground,’’ says Basra. ‘‘In the past we have gone up to the crater. But this time it was so hot we could not go beyond 50 metres from the landing site.’’

Senior officers of the Integrated Command who conducted an aerial survey of the area on Saturday confirmed the volcanic activity.

The signal sent by the Naval Area Coordinator this morning issued an advisory to defence establishments to maintain a minimum height of 1,000 metres while flying over the island.
Basra’s team returned with lava samples that would interest geologists. ‘‘We managed to collect only small samples, because they were too hot,’’ he says, adding that barely three months ago the island was peaceful but for ‘‘miniscule’’ smoke.

A joint team of Indian and Italian scientists led by D Chandrasekharam from IIT Mumbai’s department of earth sciences were the first to camp on Barren Island for four days in February 2003.

‘‘Barren Island is a northward extension of the Java-Sumatra volcanic belt. So violent eruptions are natural,’’ says volcanologist Chandrasekharam. The expedition discovered two fresh water springs there.

‘‘We also observed hot steam vents,’’ Chandrasekharam recalls his visit to the island, which has a summit elevation of 305 metres. ‘‘But when India’s only active volcano erupts, it is thrilling and very significant for geologists.’’

The last eruptions were recorded in 1994-95 but the island is also remembered for belching lava for six months in 1991. A close watch is being maintained on the island and the Geological Survey of India has already been informed of the volcanic activity.

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