Indonesia Volcano’s Eruptions Stump Scientists
By Lauren Frayer, AOL News
Eruptions from Indonesia’s ferocious Mount Merapi keep getting worse, prompting more villagers to run for their lives and puzzling scientists trying to decipher Mother Nature’s plans.
Hot ash clouds are sweeping across central Java, shooting up to six miles into the sky and snarling local air traffic. Today’s booming eruptions have been the strongest since Merapi—whose name means “Mountain of Fire” in Javanese—exploded on Oct. 26, volcanologist Kurniadi Rinekso told Agence France-Presse.
Indonesian officials announced five more deaths from the suffocating lava and smoke, raising Merapi’s total death toll to at least 44, CNN reported. Nearly 75,000 people are huddled in evacuation shelters far from their livelihoods, and it doesn’t look as if they’ll be able to return home anytime soon.
“It looks like we may be entering an even worse stage,” state volcanologist Surono told The Associated Press. After predicting earlier this week that eruptions would ease up, scientists are throwing up their hands as they are confronted today with eruptions three times stronger than expected. “We have no idea what’s happening now,” Surono said.
Merapi’s ash prompted global concern today when a Qantas airliner suffered engine failure after takeoff from Singapore’s airport. The incident occurred several hundred miles away from Merapi, and officials say they’re still investigating, but it appears unlikely that volcanic ash could have affected the plane. The A380 managed an emergency landing back in Singapore, and no one was hurt.
The latest eruptions have also been accompanied by tremors, a sign that energy is still pent up inside the volcano and unable to escape, the head of the Volcanic Technology Development and Research Center, Subandrio, told The Jakarta Post.
“This can [also] be seen from the hot clouds that have been rising from the mountain’s peak,” he said.
Indonesia’s island archipelago sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where the world’s most volatile fault lines lie deep under the earth’s crust. Earthquakes and volcanoes are common there along the eastern and western Pacific rims.
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According to the Darwin VAAC, ground-based reports indicated an eruption from Merapi on 28 October. Cloud cover prevented satellite observations. CVGHM reported that two pyroclastic flows occurred on 30 October. According to a news article, ash fell in Yogyakarta, 30 km SSW, causing low visibility. CVGHM noted four pyroclastic flows the next day.
On 1 November an eruption began mid-morning with a low-frequency earthquake and avalanches. About seven pyroclastic flows occurred during the next few hours, traveling SSE a maximum distance of 4 km. A gas-and-ash plume rose 1.5 km above the crater and drifted E and N. CVGHM recommended that evacuees from several communities within a 10-km radius should continue to stay in shelters or safe areas. The Darwin VAAC reported that a possible eruption on 1 November produced an ash plume that rose to an altitude of 6.1 km (20,000 ft) a.s.l., according to ground-based reports, analyses of satellite imagery, and web camera views. On 2 November an ash plume was seen in satellite imagery drifting 75 km N at an altitude of 6.1 km (20,000 ft) a.s.l. News outlets noted diversions and cancellations of flights in and out of the Solo (40 km E) and Yogyakarta airports. The Alert Level remained at 4 (on a scale of 1-4).
CVGHM reported 26 pyroclastic flows on 2 November. A mid-day report on 3 November stated that 38 pyroclastic flows occurred during the first 12 hours of the day. An observer from the Kaliurang post saw 19 of those 38 flows travel 4 km S. Plumes from the pyroclastic flows rose 1.2 km, although dense fog made visual observations difficult. Ashfall was noted in some nearby areas.
Geologic Summary. Merapi, one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, lies in one of the world’s most densely populated areas and dominates the landscape immediately N of the major city of Yogyakarta. The steep-sided modern Merapi edifice, its upper part unvegetated due to frequent eruptive activity, was constructed to the SW of an arcuate scarp cutting the eroded older Batulawang volcano. Pyroclastic flows and lahars accompanying growth and collapse of the steep-sided active summit lava dome have devastated cultivated and inhabited lands on the volcano’s western-to-southern flanks and caused many fatalities during historical time. The volcano is the object of extensive monitoring efforts by the Merapi Volcano Observatory (MVO).