Thursday, April 20, 2006

Volcanic eruption...a real threat to the population

One of the world's most active but least known volcanoes may be threatening a wave of destruction on the densely populated Indonesian island of Java.

The volcano, pictured here on April 15, is a 9,700-foot (2,900-meter) peak whose barren cone rises above the island's lush tropical landscape.

Called Merapi, meaning "mountain of fire" in Javanese, the peak has lived up to its name by erupting more than 60 times in the past 500 years. It's one of the most active of Indonesia's estimated 130 active volcanoes.

It's also a particularly dangerous one, says Lee Siebert, a volcanologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

"A lot of people live and work right on the flanks of the volcano itself," Siebert said.

The mountain occasionally produces explosive eruptions, but more commonly its growing lava domes collapse in searing avalanches of hot rock and gas that sweep down into populated areas.
The last of these cataclysmic avalanches—known as pyroclastic flows—occurred in 1994, killing several dozen people. A bigger eruption in 1930 killed 1,369 people, according to the Indonesian government.

"Merapi has probably had more pyroclastic flows than just about any other mountain on Earth," said Carolyn Driedger, a hydrologist at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.

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