The Business End of a Volcano

First a schedule note: I got distracted by this – tomorrow’s Thursday Lit post will be out in the afternoon, not really early. (Done – yay!) See update(s) at end of post.

But look at this!

You might have heard of Sinabung in the news, because it has displaced well over 25,000 people and Indonesia’s emergency management system is really being strained.

There have been a lot of pretty pictures of the volcano, too.

But the business end of a volcano is not pretty. This is the scariest volcano picture I’ve ever seen – perhaps that’s because I know the village is outside the evacuation zone. People still live there, presumably. That’s all I know about it about the village, but that’s enough.

That is a pyroclastic flow coming down the flank of Mount Sinabung in Indonesia. The volcano is making a lot of those today.

This image was taken from the volcano cam within the last half-hour. That flow, and subsequent ones, haven’t wiped out the village or even touched it, fortunately, but they are running much closer than in previous days and weeks – how close they are today, I don’t know yet, and I can’t find any current online information about it or whether authorities – who have a better view of the overall situation than just a single webcam – are extending the no-go zone.

Those puffy clouds look like a volcanic eruption, but they’re called phoenix clouds (“co-ignimbite ash plume” if you’re in geology church, just as a pyroclastic flow is really a “pyroclastic density current”).

Phoenix clouds rise off the flowing pyroclastic material as it speeds down the slope, I think, although that term might just refer to the column-like cloud that rises off such a flow after it stops.

Well, it’s late. I’ve had a long day and can’t get into it sufficiently now. Though it has already been mentioned briefly, there’s a lot going on there geologically, socially and economically right now. Sunday’s volcano this week will be an in-depth (but amateur) look at Sinabung.

Update, January 16, 2014, at 10:43 a.m. Eastern. Here is a time-lapse movie of yesterday’s cam view, put together by Volcano Discovery (see top of cam at link above or below). It’s easier to see here that the flows are actually still off to the left, as in previous days, but not so far away. Perhaps they’re going out further from the volcano, too – it’s difficult to say.

The wind is also coming from a different direction and now is carrying the ash over the village.

By the way, if they evacuated nobody turned off the power. There are lights on there now, per the current cam image.

Update, January 18, 2014, 10:47 p.m. Eastern: Per the Karo District website on this eruption (I used a machine translator), there are 27,671 refugees as of today.

The machine interpreted the January 18 volcanological update (scroll down to 43) this way: “- Not yet lava eruption is increasing. Volcanic earthquakes are still happening and getting high. Volcanic activity is still high status level IV (Caution). – For 5 KM radius recommendation remains.”

John Seach, who was recently at Sinabung, tweeting, and who captured the webcam images for that time-lapse video, noted yesterday that there is strong sulfur dioxide degassing at Sinabung currently but the pyroclastic flows have reduced.

With the word that the “volcanic earthquakes” are still high, as well as the increased SO2, Sinabung bears watching closely. In such conditions, a quiet volcano can be a very dangerous volcano.

About 20 hours ago, James Reynolds tweeted, “Wind mobilizing lots of ash, nasty air around Sinabung volcano.”

Categories: Random thoughts, volcanoes

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