Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Volcano eruption in the Comoros

Molten lava simmered in the main crater of the only active volcano in the Comoros yesterday, however, experts said there was little risk to humans from Mount Karthala’s weekend eruption.
As nervous residents in the capital cast wary glances at the imposing mountain, which erupted twice last year, vulcanologists said there was no immediate threat to either the city or villages in its shadow.

“There is a bubbling lava lake (but) all the activity is confined within the crater,” said Julie Morin, a volcano expert from the nearby French island of Reunion who was in several reconnaissance flights over the mountain.

“We flew around the crater four times and we saw that all the activity was in the Chahale crater,” she said.

Mount Karthala erupted late on Sunday, creating a red cloud over its crater as lava glowed through the night sky, but there was no gush of molten rock or the ash and dust that have accompanied previous eruptions.

“It was a mild magma eruption,” said Mount Karthala National Observatory head Hamidou Nassor.
He said, however, that scientists could not rule out the possibility of increased activity in the coming days.

The 2,361m high volcano lies just 15km from Moroni, the capital of three-island Indian Ocean archipelago on the main isle of Grand Comore.

It last erupted in November, spewing a huge ash cloud into the air.

Volcano in the Comoros may erupt soon

Lava bubbled from a volcano in the Comoros on Monday, frightening thousands on the Indian Ocean archipelago's largest island who feared a full-blown eruption as they waited to see where the molten rock might flow.

An early-morning reconnaissance flight over the crater of 2,361-meter (7,750-ft) Mount Karthala -- one of the world's largest active volcanoes which dominates the island of Grande Comore -- gave no new clues.

"The information we have is that the lava is flowing. The crater is full of lava. We don't know which direction it will flow," Col. Ismael Daho, head of the emergency management team for the Comoros archipelago, told Reuters.

He said the lava was covering an area about 3 km square (1.2 miles).

Residents were nervous, but the volcano's periodic past eruptions, which have rarely have caused a major disaster, have tempered some on the island of 300,000 against panicking.

"Everyone is scared. No one could sleep the whole night," Jimmy Mohamed, from the village of Nvouni on Karthala's western slope, told Reuters. "But we all stayed and no one left. We're used to this."

Until the observation flights -- flown by African Union troops still on the island after monitoring the May 14 presidential election -- determine where the lava might flow, authorities urged people to wait for evacuation instructions.

The lush green slopes of Karthala, covered with vanilla and ylang ylang plantations, form most of the largest island of the three in the Comoros chain, 300 km (190 miles) off the coast of east Africa.

Karthala has rarely punished Grande Comore harshly.

The worst disaster on record came in 1903 when 17 died from noxious fumes that seeped from cracks.

The last big eruption, in April 2005, sent thousands fleeing in fear of poisonous gas and lava. That was the first eruption in more than a decade, but the volcano has erupted on average every 11 years over the past two centuries.

In November, Mount Karthala fired clouds of ash and sparks across the island, blanketing the capital Moroni and other villages in gray dust.

Moroni is about 15 km from Karthala's crater.

Lake turns red as Mount Manaro shows signs of activity

Volcanologists were puzzled today about why a lake atop a rumbling volcano on the South Pacific island of Ambae has changed color from blue to bright red.

Mount Manaro, one of four volcanos currently active in the island nation of Vanuatu, has been showing signs of erupting for only the second time in 122 years.

"We are still ... trying to understand this change of colour in the lake from blue to red," Geology and Mines Department director Esline Garae told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the Vanuatu capital, Port Vila.

She said two scientists on Ambae Island were monitoring Lake Vui, as well as seismic activity on the 1,500-meter Mt Manaro.

"If the change of color ... comes from new activity in the ground or just a chemical change in the lake- these are two things I want to know from those guys before I can say anything" about the danger posed by the volcano, she said.

Mt Manaro last erupted in November 2005, forcing half the island's 10,000 inhabitants to evacuate their villages but causing no injuries. The eruption before that, in 1884, killed scores of villagers.
Three other volcanos in Vanuatu- Lopevi, Yasur and a two-crater volcano on Ambryn Island called Marum and Benbow- have spewed rocks, ash, smoke and steam over the South Pacific island nation in recent weeks.

However, activity has slowed in recent days, Garae said.

Experts fear massive eruption from Mount Merapi!

A SERIES of powerful aftershocks hit the Pacific basin’s volatile Ring of Fire yesterday giving rise to fears that the Mount Merapi, the smouldering volcano, could erupt.

The aftershocks follow the powerful earthquake that struck the island of Java early on Saturday morning.

More than 450 aftershocks have been recorded in the area, underlining the volatility of the region, an area at the mercy of faultlines and home to the world’s highest density of active and rumbling volcanoes.

The first big aftershock, with a magnitude of 6.2, was recorded shortly after 3am yesterday about 117 miles off the coast of New Britain, an island off Papua New Guinea’s northeast coast.
Around 30 minutes later a second aftershock hit the coast of Tonga, about 2,500 miles away. There were no reports of serious injuries in either incident.

Barry Hirshorn, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii, said that the two quakes posed no risk of a tsunami. Bayu Pranata, of the National Metereology and Geophysics Agency, said: “Aftershocks happen because the tectonic plates are in the process of stabilising.” He added that many people living in the region are unlikely to have felt most of the tremors.

While the strength and frequency of quakes in the region raises fears of more diasters, experts say that many are unrelated. The faultlines are where huge continental plates grind against each other as they float on the molten rock of the Earth’s core.

Mr Pranata said that the Indonesian quake had the potential to increase magma volume at the peak of the smouldering Mount Merapi, near the quake zone, as volcanic rocks could have fallen into the lava dome.

Bambang Dwiyanto, head of the geological department at Indonesia’s energy and mineral ministry, gave warning that the quake could set off a larger eruption. “The impact of the earthquake will influence the activities of Mount Merapi, particularly in the lava dome,” he said.

Clive Oppenheimer, of the University of Cambridge’s Volcanology Group, said external factors could trigger or accelerate eruptions. “It’s certainly possible a good shake from the earthquake could destabilise the lava dome,” he said.

Shortly after Saturday’s earthquake had flattened houses in the south of Yogyakarta on Java, volcanic activity on Mount Merapi — which means fire mountain — increased as a huge burst of hot cloud sent debris cascading down its western side.

In recent weeks gas and volcanic dust have spewed out of Merapi, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of villagers, as the authorities prepare for a possible eruption.

Indonesia has suffered two other earthquakes in the past 18 months. The 9.3-magnitude quake on December 26, 2004, unleashed a tsunami that killed 168,000 people in Indonesia’s Aceh province alone. An 8.7-quake 100 miles to the south on March 28, 2005, killed more than 600 people.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Repeated underwater volcano eruptions may be responsible for continents and islands rising up!

A team of Japanese and U.S. researchers said Thursday an unmanned probe got within meters (feet) of a violent underwater eruption in the Pacific Ocean, returning with the clearest footage ever captured of seismic activity under the sea.

The footage, released Thursday by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, showed gray ash and volcanic rock spewing from the summit of the underwater NW Rota-1 volcano as it erupted in October.

The joint Japan-U.S. research team also collected sediment samples, team leader Yoshihiko Tamura said. The Hyper Dolphin probe went as close as 2-3 meters (7-10 feet) from the eruption.
"We believe it's the first time anybody has captured quality footage of an underwater eruption from such a close distance," Tamura said.

The video captures a lava flow streaming down the side of the volcano, 553 meters (1,800 feet) underwater in the Mariana Arc volcanic chain, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Analysis of the footage and sediment could help explain how repeated eruptions of underwater volcanos eventually give rise to islands, and even continents, Tamura said.

"Further research could shed light on the very fundamentals of how land masses are formed," he said.

Preliminary research findings are reported by Tamura, Robert W. Embley of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other team members in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vanuatu's volcano loosing its steam!

Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office said today activity at the Lopevi Volcano remains at Level 2.Office spokesperson Maurice Harrison said the "eruption has been declining" since the middle of last week and the ashfall has stopped.According to reports reaching in Wellington, the Lopevi volcano began erupting on May 1 and had caused heavy ashfall for nearby islands of Paama and Ambrym, with reports of contaminated water and damaged food crops.

Harrison said the Office has not yet dispatched fresh water supplies to affected villages, and is waiting on further reports from police on the ground."We are taking precautionary measure, take it very slowly and see the activity until it really cools down and then we will just lower the level," said Harrison.He said reports of an eruption on Tanna, another volcano, last week related to a minor landslide on the volcanic crater, but nothing major.

There was a volcano eruption in December last year on the remote Ambae Island of Vanuatu. Villagers around have been evacuated for about one month from the path of a possible lahar, or mud flow.The South Pacific Vanuatu groups a string of more than 80 islands, most of the islands being inhabited. Some have active volcanos.

Volcano eruptions also have their advantages

Many on the slopes of Indonesia's Mount Merapi view the volcano as a generous benefactor more than a destroyer, even if it does spit out lava and gush deadly heat clouds once in a while.

Eruptions of the 2 914m volcano destroy houses, cattle and plantations and sometimes claim lives, but when it calms down again people living on its flanks rejoice at the gifts left behind.

Minerals from the molten rock flows enrich the soil, while heavy rains wash down the hardened lava that accumulates at its peak to provide an abundant source of building materials such as sand, gravel and stones.

In the village of Kamongan on the banks of the Bebeng river, 46-year-old Dalhariadi tends his plantation of 300 snake fruit palms, a major agricultural product farmed on the western and southwestern slopes of Merapi.

Soil fertilised by ash and dust

He says the soil around the mountain is also fertilized by ash and dust from the heat clouds, which is spread over a large area by the wind.

"I don't have to use chemical fertilizers every three months as in other regions. I only need to give the snake fruit palms compost once a year, and that is largely enough," he says.

"One single major rock and mud flood flashing down the river is enough to provide a livelihood for thousands of people for at least three years," he tells AFP, explaining that the sand and rocks are free for anyone to sell.

"You only need a spade and a pan, and the ability to withstand the chilly nights, and you can make good money mining sands in the river," Dalhariadi says, pointing upstream to where most of the sand miners operate.

The sand is easy to mine as the pebbles and rocks sent crashing down the mountain through the natural channel of the river have left only a small stream trickling through the debris.

A truckload of sand puts 50 000 rupiah in a worker's pocket and, as there is always a high demand for sand for construction, a diligent worker can fill two to three truckloads a day.

Taking a break

But since the authorities slapped the highest-level of alert on Mount Merapi last week, after it began to belch lava and heat clouds, the sand miners have had to take a break.

The practice has been banned on some of Merapi's slopes until the volcano calms down, with the authorities fearing both flashfloods and heat clouds that either drown or incinerate everything in their path.

Walkiatno, 37, also makes a good living on the volcano's slopes. He left his job as a pedicab driver 80km away in the town of Temanggung and now he breaks stones with a chisel and a hammer on the banks of the Bebeng river.

He earns 30 000 rupiah a day, at least double what he earned driving his pedicab.

"I quit driving a pedicab in Temanggung four years ago. It was hard work that gave me very little in return," says Walkiatno.

Hard work

"Working here is also hard work, but it provides me with enough income to send money home and have a little spare," he says.

Gito, 45, is one of hundreds of people living in nearby Tejowarno village who earn their living from carving dark lava stones into various objects, including statues, garden lamps and grindstones.
"The Merapi has never harmed us. Instead it has given us the means to earn our living," says the 45-year-old.

His small statue-making enterprise, on a small lane off the main highway linking the cities of Yogyakarta and Magelang, satisfies the whims of foreign buyers from as far afield as Europe.
He orders the lava stones in rectangular blocks of various sizes from quarries on the bank of the Bebeng river.

"The only effect of an eruption of the Merapi is that the raw material gets rare, as the government temporarily closes the stone quarries," he says, while chiseling out a Balinese-style entrance gate ordered by a Taiwanese buyer.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Time to go back home for some evacuees

Protesters in Indonesia's capital demanded Thursday that prosecutors reinstate criminal charges against former president Soeharto, still hospitalized after colon surgery earlier this month.

Soeharto was ousted after 32 years in power in 1998 amid student protests and nationwide riots. In 2000, he was indicted on allegations of embezzling US$600 million, but has never been tried because his lawyers say he is too ill after suffering a series of strokes.

Thursday's protest in front of the State Palace was one of several anti-Soeharto gatherings since Attorney General Abdul Rahman Saleh announced nearly a week ago that charges against Soeharto were being dropped.

Presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng received 20 representatives of the protesters and promised that he would convey the demand of the protesters to President Susilo Bambang Yuwhoyono.

At the same time dozens of human rights activists, students and family members of victims of the former regime rallied outside the House of Representatives, waving banners that said: "No mercy for Soeharto," and "Soeharto must be dragged to court."

Among the protesters was former journalist Syamsu Bachri, 72, who said he was held for 14.5 years as a political prisoner in the infamous Buru Island jail.

He called Soeharto's years in power "a massacre" that left hundreds of thousands dead, including civilians and military personnel.

Meanwhile, Soeharto, 84, had a CT scan Thursday after being operated on to halt intestinal bleeding - the forth time in two years he received treatment for that problem.

His doctors said the scan revealed two new blockages in the brain, but did not say anything about his general condition or when the blockages occurred.

Pertamina Hospital Director Adji Suprajitno said they decided to perform additional tests because he remains drowsy nearly two weeks after surgery. He is receiving medication and was said to have difficulty swallowing.

Facts about volcano eruptions

Lava streamed down the slopes of Indonesia's Mount Merapi on Tuesday and vulcanologists say the nearly 3,000 metre (10,000 feet) volcano is in its final eruption phase.

Here are some of the major hazards to people and the environment from a volcanic eruption:

VOLCANIC GASES - The most dangerous gases released during an eruption are sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen fluoride. High concentrations of sulphur dioxide injected into the atmosphere by large explosions can result in lung ailments, acid rain, lower surface temperatures and depletion of the earth's protective ozone layer. When carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air, settles in low-lying areas or collects in the soil, it can be lethal to people and animals.

ERUPTION COLUMNS - Billowing clouds of gas and debris can reach more than 12 miles (20 km) above a volcano, posing a serious threat to aviation. Some commercial jets have nearly crashed after flying into clouds of ash. Large rock fragments falling to the ground can kill people and destroy property.

ASH FALL - Large volumes of ash can settle on buildings, resulting in their collapse. High levels of ash particles can cause increased coughing and irritate the eyes and skin and sometimes result in serious lung conditions. When the acid coating on ash is removed by rain, it can pollute local water supplies and damage vegetation. On the other hand, ash deposits can be beneficial by improving the fertility of soil.

PYROCLASTIC FLOWS - An avalanche of hot ash, rock fragments and gas can flow down the side of a volcano at speeds of up to 150 miles an hour (240 km) during explosive eruptions, burning everything in its path. People on the margins of the flows can suffer serious injury or even death from burns and inhalation of hot ash and gases.

LAHAR - Lahar is an Indonesian term describing a mixture of mud, water and rock fragments that flows down the slopes of a volcano. One of the deadliest volcano hazards, they can bury buildings and farmland, destroy roads and bridges.

LAVA FLOWS - Lava flows are streams of molten rock that ooze from an erupting vent and destroy everything in their path. While lava flows usually don't travel far from the vent and are easy to avoid, deaths can result from asphyxiation caused by inhaling accompanying toxic gases.

Mount Merapi's volcanic eruption is just around the corner

Clouds of deadly hot ash, rock fragments and volcanic gas surged down Mount Merapi's slopes Monday, as activity at the towering volcano intensified to its highest level yet.

One of the eruptions sent an avalanche of debris and ash rolling almost four kilometers (2.5 miles) down the mountain's western flank, said Ratdomopurbo, the region's chief volcanologist.

A string of other explosions throughout the day triggered other massive clouds.

Many people who earlier refused to leave the danger zone fled in buses or trucks. Villages near the 3,000-meter (9,800-foot) peak resembled ghost towns, with only a few young men to be seen.

Most houses, some dusted with ash, were deserted and shops closed.

Mount Merapi's volcanic activity rises!

Mount Merapi spat out near continuous clouds of deadly hot ash, rock fragments and volcanic gas early Monday, as activity at the volcano intensified to its highest level yet, an official and eyewitnesses said.

One of the eruptions sent a dark cloud of debris and ash almost four kilometers down the mountain's western flank, said Ratdomopurbo, the region's chief vulcanologist. It was followed by several other huge explosions on the crater.

Villagers who had not evacuated their homes gathered on the side of the road on the slopes of the volcano, which rises from the plains of Indonesia's densely populated Java Island. They were told to stand by for possible evacuation.

Scientists raised the alert status for Merapi on Saturday to the highest level after weeks of volcanic activity, and by Sunday more than 4,500 people living in villages closest to the crater or next to rivers that could provide paths for hot lava had been evacuated.

Some 18,000 others who live lower down the slopes of the 3,000-meter mountain and were not considered to be in immediate danger stayed behind.

Merapi, which is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, sent out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death when it last erupted in 1994. About 1,300 people died in a 1930 eruption.

The deadly clouds of ash, gas and debris are a big worry, said Sugiono, one of the scientists on a team monitoring the volcano 24 hours a day.

He said a glowing dome of lava being formed by magma forced to the surface was poised to collapse and could send searing clouds down the mountain at several hundred kilometers an hour.
"Hot clouds keep appearing all the time," Sugiono said. "If you get stuck in them, then you have no chance."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mount Merapi is on red alert!

BELCHING clouds of black ash and fiery lava, Indonesia's Merapi volcano rumbled into action yesterday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of villagers who live on its fertile slopes.
Experts advised the government in Jakarta to raise the alert level to maximum, meaning that a full-scale eruption could occur any time within 24 hours.

The Mount Merapi volcano lies in the centre of Java, Indonesia's most populated island, and is the most active on the highly volcanic island.

Locals said they could see lava flowing and thick smoke rising from Merapi, one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" that has been rumbling for weeks.

"I could see the lava clearly from my home this morning. Then they ordered us to evacuate our village," said Anton, a 25-year-old resident of Boyong village, around five miles from Merapi.
Television footage showed lava flowing out of the crater while thick clouds of smoke rose upwards and a large fireball burst into the night sky.

Despite the increased seismic activity and the lava which had flowed about a mile from the volcano's crater, local experts could not say when a full-scale eruption of the volcano was likely.
"This morning we raised the status of Merapi to the top alert, which is the red code. Every resident has been ordered to evacuate," Subandrio, head of the Merapi section at the Centre for Volcanological Research and Technology Development, said.

Subandrio, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said Merapi was releasing hot gas clouds or lava flows up to 1,500 metres from its crater towards the Krasak and Boyong rivers along the south-western slopes of the mountain.

Dali, another vulcanologist, said that the top alert - also known as code red or 'danger' status - meant that technically the mountain could erupt within the next 24 hours.

Merapi, which means "Mountain of Fire", lies near the ancient city of Yogyakarta. It is also near Borobudur, a 1,200-year-old temple complex that is one of Indonesia's most famous tourist sites. In 1994 the volcano killed 70 people in an eruption and 1,300 in 1930.

During the last eruption in 1994, hot gas clouds, locally called "shaggy goats", travelled at fast speed several miles down from the summit and killed fleeing locals.

Government officials along with army and police yesterday evacuated more than 5,000 people living near the volcano to tents and shelters in safe areas following the new alert level.

One local resident said: "Everything ran smoothly, just like the exercises we used to have before. They have evacuated us to the village office."

The local government had been struggling to conduct mass evacuation as some villagers living on the slopes refuse to be moved because they rely on natural signs rather than official orders.

Residents say signals would include lightning around the mountain's peak or animals moving down its slopes.

Susilo Purwanto, an official at the disaster management unit in Sleman regency near Merapi, said: "We have prepared tents and shelters for 5,000 people. Most villagers have been notified about the latest status."

Indonesia, which has the world's highest density of volcanoes, had already moved thousands of people away from Merapi, but officials put the total number of residents on and near the mountain at around 14,000, which includes villages in Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces.

Most Javanese villagers consider the mountain sacred. Every year a priest climbs to the top to make an offering. Many Indonesians also see activity in Mount Merapi, in the mystical heartland of Java, as an omen of looming political unrest.

Thousands of villagers were evacuated in January 1997 when Merapi became active, just months before the Asian financial crisis struck.

Most Javanese, who make up the bulk of Indonesia's 220 million people, are Muslim, but many cling to a spiritual past and believe some kind of supernatural kingdom may exist on top of Merapi.
A number of taboos also surround Merapi. While visiting the volcano, people are advised not to do things that could anger the spirits, such as relieving oneself wherever one might wish.

Another includes a prohibition on mentioning the volcano by name. Locals believe that to do so could bring them bad luck.

When referring to Merapi they therefore prefer to use the words "Si Mbah" instead. Si Mbah means "elderly person" or "respected figure", used for the volcano as an expression of respect.
Merapi has been witnessing small eruptions every two or three years, bigger ones every 10-15 years, and very large ones every 50-60 years.

The largest eruptions occurred in 1006, 1786, 1822, 1872 and 1930. The eruption of 1006 was so bad an existing Hindu kingdom is believed to have been destroyed.

The 'Ring of Fire', which Merapi is a part of, is a vast zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions looping around the Pacific Ocean and including Japan. Of the 500 Indonesian volcanoes which are part of the ring, 128 are active and 65 are listed as dangerous.

Several villagers defy evacuation order!

Indonesian authorities on Saturday ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents near Mount Merapi, which has been rumbling for about a month. Increased lava flow during the past day and a new lava dome forming at the peak triggered immediate concerns.

"Clearly, it looks like it may be getting much worse," Michael Ramsey, associate professor in the Geology and Planetary Science Department of the University of Pittsburgh said.

"You can almost think of it as a cork in a bottle that's being shook up and the pressurization going on underneath there as the new lava moves up can only mean bad things," he said.

On Sunday, however, many villagers tried to return to their homes along the slopes of smoking Mount Merapi, news services reported.

"My feeling is it will not blow at this time," said Budi, in a report from The Associated Press. A 30-year-old farmer, Budi had come back to cut grass to give to his cows.

Still, scientists persisted in warning that people who remained in the eruption zone did so at their own peril.

"What the officials are saying is that we're going to have a larger eruption than what we're seeing right at the moment," Volcanologist Catherine Hickson of Thompson Rivers University in Canada said.

"We call them Merapian-style eruptions because essentially we have a dome that forms and we create these hot pyroclastic flows which kill people. So we actually name a style after this because it is so frequent."

A pyroclastic flow is a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano at several hundred miles an hour.

"Anyone or animal that is caught in its path is immediately essentially incinerated," she said.
Ramsey said the evacuations are crucial now, because once the dome collapses there can be "weeks to months" of pyroclastic flows, and it becomes very dangerous to get up on the volcano to evacuate anyone.

Ucip Bahagia, head of of one of the local crisis centers, said about 22,500 people will need to be evacuated. They will be taken to temporary shelters.

But the shelters were quickly becoming overcrowded, he said. The largest, which can comfortably house about 500 people, had more than 1,500. Authorities planned to move people into schools and government buildings, and were going to individual homes to evacuate them.

Ibnu Subianto, the top force commander for the evacuation, said there are about 5,100 evacuees in refugee camps. At least 4,056 of those people are from the highest risk area.

But local officials say the population of the highest risk area is about 4,500, which means some 450 people have not yet evacuated.

Most residents of the region in central Java province east of Jakarta are farmers, some of whom are reluctant to leave their land.

That's exactly what happened in the fatal eruption in 1994, according to Ramsey. He said once the lava begins flowing "it becomes an almost unlivable situation, even if you're a little bit farther away. The gases and ash become very, very bad."

With a peak measuring around 2,900 meters -- or 9,700 feet -- Merapi has been almost continuously active for nearly a decade.

NASA's Earth Observatory says Merapi's slopes are densely populated. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says as many as 80,000 people could be displaced if Merapi erupts, depending which way the lava flows.

The eruption in 1994 claimed at least 66 lives, and a 1930 eruption killed 1,370, according to NASA's Web site.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

17,000 people ordered to evacuate!!

Java volcano evacuation ordered

Indonesia's vice president has ordered the evacuation of some 17,000 people living near a volcano, which has been threatening to erupt for weeks.Jusuf Kalla's order came as he toured the slopes of Mount Merapi on the island of Java.The volcano has recently been spewing more lava and smoke, and scientists say that an eruption is imminent.

But the threat level has not been raised to the highest alert - a move which would trigger a mass evacuation."I ask that immediate safety steps are taken, beginning by taking at least 50% of the total population from the danger zone," Mr Kalla was quoted as saying by Indonesia's state-run Antara news agency.Mr Kalla - who also heads the country's emergency situations board - said an eruption was only a matter of time.

He was speaking during a visit to Magelang and Sleman - the two districts around the slopes of the rumbling volcano in central Java.Mr Kalla flew over the mountain, and later met some of the people already evacuated from their homes.Mount Merapi, overlooking the ancient city of Jogjakarta, is on Orange Code - the second highest alert level.

At least 60 people were killed in Mount Merapi's last major eruption in 1994.It is one of the most active of at least 129 volcanoes in Indonesia.The country is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" - a series of volcanoes and fault lines stretching from the western hemisphere through Japan and South East Asia.One of Mount Merapi's deadliest eruptions was in 1930, killing about 1,300 people.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fin growing on Mount St.Helens is now the size of football field!

Something amazing is happening on Mount St. Helens.

As the winter clouds that hide the volcano from view for much of the year clear away, scientists have caught their first glimpse of a huge new mountain growing inside the crater.

Scientists call it the "fin," because the 300-foot tall slab of magma and rock stands straight up, and looks remarkably like a fin from one angle. The huge structure is growing inside the volcano's crater, which was formed when Mount St. Helens blew its top during the infamous 1980 eruption.
The volcano shook back to life in September 2004, but in very different fashion from the 1980 blast. The 2004 event marked the beginning of a slow but steady eruption that continues to this day.

Inside the mile-wide crater, the giant new fin is growing at a rate of four to five feet each day. Right now it's about the size of a football field standing on end.

"Of course, the fin gets to about the height of a football field or so and then it starts to get unstable and we get rock falls off the top of it," geologist Dan Dzurisin of the U.S. Geological Survey said.
Those rock falls help build out the bottom of the new formation. Eventually, if the eruption continues, geologists believe the new magma will completely fill in the crater — a space the size of an entire town.

The fin, which is growing now, is just the latest in a series of at least seven distinct structures that have grown, then disintegrated inside the crater over the last year and a half.

Despite the fact that Mount St. Helens is one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the world, there is much geologists still don't know. Instruments planted around the crater tell scientists the size and frequency of the daily eruptions, which have become akin to the mountain's heartbeat in recent years. But even so, those who monitor Mount St. Helens every day cannot say when the current eruption will stop — or whether it will grow more dangerous or if it will erupt in violent, explosive fashion.

There is some concern that while the fin is growing straight up, fueled by rocky magma from within the mountain, more energy is also pushing outward.

The crater's dome is pushing outward at a rate of about one meter a day. A quarter century ago it was just such an outward bulge that eventually blew — not up but outward, killing 57 people.

Comparisons to the last great eruption are difficult because at least for now, the mountain erupts in a relatively slow, steady pattern.

Now that clearer weather has returned to the mountain, scientists are eager for better real-time photography of what is happening.

"It's been hard to get views," Dzurisin said. "It's been hard to keep track of what's going on. Now the weather's improving, and we have an opportunity to go up there and study in a lot more detail what's going on."

Visitors will have a better chance too. The nearest overview, the Johnston Ridge Observatory, reopens to the general public on Friday.

Mount Merapi now displays eruptions of lava

Mount Merapi in Indonesia's densely populated central Java, considered to be one of the world's most active volcanoes, continued spewing blazed lava and shooting thick white smoke up to 800 metres into the air, experts said on Sunday.

Volcanologists at a nearby monitoring post warned that residents living in the danger zones of the Merapi volcano should be aware of the dangers if the volcano releases hot and poisonous clouds or lava flows.

Triyani, an official at the Merapi's monitoring centre, said visual monitors and seismic measurements show a lava dome continues to grow significantly as more molten material moves to the volcano's crater vent.

Molten lava continued flowing as far as 100 metres from the volcano's crater, Triyani said, adding that Merapi also emitting thick of white smoke up to 800-metres high.

Merapi has been heating up since more than three weeks ago and volcanologists raised the alert status to level three on April 12.

Triyani said Merapi's alert status remained unchanged at level three, one stage below that which would require a mandatory evacuation for around 30,000 villagers living in the area.

'We have still maintain the alert status at one below the top level, but we're boosting our monitoring due to the Merapi's latest significant increase of activity,' Triyani told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Volcanologists also said the frequency of the 'multiphase tremors' on the volcano had been fluctuating and were still occurring at high rates.

Volcanic eruptions are often preceded by an increased number of earthquakes, experts said, adding that lava outflows, combined with the emergence of fixed burning spots are among signs of imminent eruption.

The volcanologists warned that the collapse of a lava dome could cause superheated streams of gas to travel down the mountain sides, and believed the next eruption would be much greater than previous explosions in recent years.

During the last eruption in 1994 hot gas clouds, locally called 'shaggy goats,' travelled at fast speed several kilometres down from the summit and killed at least 66 people, mostly from horrific burns.

More than 5,000 residents have already been evacuated to temporary shelters, but many thousands of others have been reluctant to leave the mountain, preferring to take the advice of local mystics who believe Merapi will only erupt after certain omens come, including mysterious beams of light shining over its steep flanks.

The 2,968-metre-high Merapi, about 450 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, is one of 65 volcanoes listed as dangerous in Indonesia. The volcano's most deadly eruption took place in 1930, when 1,370 people were killed.

Indonesia has the world's highest density of volcanoes, with 500 located in a so-called 'Ring of Fire,' along the 5,000-kilometres wide archipelago nation. Of these, 128 are active.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Can a volcano eruption produce lightning?

During an explosive volcanic eruption, hot lava and bits of rock pour out into the open air. What's more, hot gases shoot up into the air. The most abundant gas in most eruptions is water vapor, which rapidly cools and condenses to form an ashy cloud.

This cloud has a lot of energy -- partly from the explosion -- and partly from the hot lava and rock that rapidly lose their heat to the air. This energy causes strong updrafts -- much like those in a thunderstorm. Millions of tiny particles of ash produce static electricity as they collide and fragment in the volcanic cloud. The resulting buildup of static electricity can produce lightning.

But not all volcanic eruptions produce lightning. For example, Hawaiian volcanoes erupt with a quiet, steady outflow of lava.

It's raining ash somewhere in Indonesia!

Indonesia's thundering Mount Merapi, one of the most dangerous volcanos in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" spewed ash and small rocks on Friday and experts fear it could erupt anytime.But authorities have not yet raised the alert level from "2" to "1", which would require the immediate evacuation of people living under the volcano that has been rumbling for about two weeks.

The ash rain only lasted two minutes and fell on just one village on the slopes of Merapi, which overlooks the ancient city of Yogyakarta, Edi Purwanto, an official at the Merapi evacuation post, said.But local officials say it is difficult to predict when the volcano could erupt, and have been warning residents to evacuate.Another official, Djilal, said an avalanche of rocks rolled down the slopes of Merapi, but caused no casualties or damage because the affected areas were not inhabited.

While the tower of sulphurous smoke over the volcano had risen to 500m on Friday, the area surrounding the volcano, which killed 70 people in a 1994 eruption and 1 300 in 1930, was bright with sunshine.Indonesia has already moved more than 600 people away from Merapi, but officials put the total number of residents on and near the mountain at around 14 000, which includes villages in Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces.Most of those relocated were women, children and the elderly.

Some return to their homes near the volcano during the day to feed livestock, local officials say.Villagers living on the slopes or in the shadows of Mount Merapi say they will stay put until nature gives them a strong signal, or the government forces them to leave. Many fear losing property and livestock if they go.Gunung Merapi, or Fiery Mountain, is the most active volcano in Indonesia, which has the world's highest density of volcanos. Merapi is part of the "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions looping around the Pacific Ocean.

New slab growing on Mount St.Helen's top!

A towering slab of hot rock is growing on top of the Mount St. Helens lava dome and emitting steam from its cauldron, according to geologists.

The slab’s height is that of a football field’s width, said KGW meteorologist Bruce Sussman, who flew over Mt. Saint Helens in Sky-8 during clear weather Wednesday.

“Parts of it are growing up and to the west at six feet a day… and hot spots are 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said.

The topmost portion of the formation is already cracking, which geologists describe as typical. As new formation grow taller and heavier, chunks of rock fall into the crater floor, helping to build it up.
The climbing season at Mount St. Helens traditionally begins on May 15.

Tom Pierson, a local U.S. Geological Survey geologist, tentatively plans to lead a guided hike arranged through the nonprofit Mount St. Helens Institute to the rim in August.

"It will be great to see the new view and to take pictures to compare," Pierson said.

The volcano's explosive eruption of May, 18, 1980 killed 57 people and removed the top 1,300 feet of the once-symmetrical peak. Most of what was blown away was a lava dome built in quieter eruptions like the current one over the previous 400 years.

Mount St. Helens began showing significant activity again in September of 2004, when volcanic blasts closed many of the mountain’s trails.

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