Monday, February 20, 2006
Mount Fuji may display some volcanic activity soon
Mount Fuji's impressive peak is possibly one of the most photographed mountains in the world. It holds a special place in the hearts of Japanese people, being the nation's highest mountain and one of its most recognisable natural attractions.But Fuji is not a benign lump of granite to be looked at and admired; it's an active volcano, although it hasn't erupted in nearly 300 years.
Associate Professor Kaji Doi (phonetic) is with the University of Tokyo's Volcano Research Centre.(sound of Kaji Doi speaking in Japanese)"Mount Fuji has not had strong volcanic activity in the past 300 years," he says. "On the surface it's a very quiet mountain, but in the past there were a few large-scale eruptions. These had lava flows and volcanic ash coming out from the mountainside.
There have been very powerful activities, so we consider Fuji as a very active volcano, and we think it will erupt in future."How far into the future is the question. Geologists think Fuji erupts every 300 years or so. The last eruption was 298 years ago.Professor Doi says the eruptions are difficult to predict, but there's no sign of anything happening soon."In the most optimistic standpoint we can tell a few days in advance," he says.
"For example, earthquakes will occur frequently from about one to two weeks before any eruption will start. However there is the possibility that smoke would come out without any warning signs. In either case we can look for signs like earthquakes or small changes in the shape of the mountain, to tell if an eruption is coming."Mount Fuji and its surrounds are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. People come for the views and the thermal hot springs the geological activity provides.
The region received its first volcanic scare around five years ago, when the number of low-level earthquakes increased dramatically, pointing to possible movement of molten rock below the surface.Kikuo Sanada (phonetic) is a disaster prevention chief with Fujiyoshida City, at the base of Mount Fuji.(sound of Kikuo Sanada speaking)"Little by little people are becoming aware," Mr Sanada says."But as the experts say, if you don't see it with your eyes, then it's not a mountain that's going to erupt immediately.
So on one side they still think it's okay and won't erupt at this very instant."Mr Sanada says towns and governments around the mountain are working together to build awareness and preparations."We need to think about where to evacuate people to, the evacuation route, a safe shelter and the system to receive them," he says.
The region is learning from the experience of Miyake Island, the site of Japan's last major volcanic eruption in 2000, which required the evacuation of nearly 4,000 residents.But it's also taking care not to be alarmist, given the difficulty in predicting when the eruption might happen.