Atchafalaya Swamp

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A 'Bomb' Waiting To Explode

Folks, in this sombre edition of the Borneo Blues, I need to draw your attention to the possible calamity that can befall our neighbours in Indonesia. I have a bad feeling about this.

Read on.

Indonesian volcano primed to erupt, experts warn

Last Updated Sat, 13 May 2006 10:41:32 EDT
CBC News

Thousands of villagers living on the slopes of an Indonesian volcano fled the area after authorities issued a "red alert" on Saturday, warning that a full-scale eruption appeared imminent.

The volcano, Merapi, is in a state of constant lava flow, officials say.

Merapi, which is on Java Island about 400 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, rumbled back to life three weeks earlier, belching clouds of black ash and oozing fiery lava.

Increased lava flow over the past day and a new lava dome forming at the peak prompted authorities to raise the alert status to its highest level.

Sensors in Merapi's crater recorded 27 volcanic tremors on Saturday, indicating an eruption could be brewing after years of relative quiet.

Officials were using buses and trucks to relocate women, children and the elderly to shelters elsewhere in the densely populated province of Central Java.

Some villagers, however, have refused to move because they're worried about leaving their crops and livestock.

In all, 17,000 people living on the slopes of the mountain must leave, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said when visiting the mountain earlier in the week.

More than 3,000 people have already relocated to temporary shelters, Antara news agency said on Saturday.
Scientists have warned that the greatest danger could come from hot gases expelled from the crater of the 2,968-metre-high volcano.

Merapi, which means "mountain of fire," last erupted in 1994, sending out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death.

About 1,300 people were killed when it erupted in 1930.

Merapi is one of at least 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire" – a series of fault lines that stretch from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

Copyright ©2006 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - All Rights Reserved

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And this "warning" was from the U.S. Embassy Indonesia website:



§ As of April 12, 2006, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources’ Center of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (CVGHM) has raised alert levels to show increased danger around three of Indonesia’s 129 active volcanoes.
§ The CVGHM raised the alert level for Mt. Merapi, near Yogyakarta in Central Java, to Alert Level 3, Code Orange, Ready to Erupt (“Siaga”). The CVGHM classifies Mt. Merapi as a “high risk” volcano because of its history of eruptions.
§ The CVGHM raised the alert level for Mt. Semeru in East Java and Mt. Dieng in Central Java to Alert Level 2, Code Yellow, Danger (“Waspada”).
§ Information on the status of Indonesia’s volcanoes can be accessed at the CVGHM website. (

Indonesian Volcano Alert Levels

There is no single, internationally accepted volcano warning system. However, most nations have adopted multi-stage systems employing numerical and/or color-coded levels of alert. Alert stages typically range from the lowest level, characterized by normal background levels of activity (e.g., small and occasional earthquakes, fumerolic activity, low levels of ground deformation) to a highest level, typically indicating that a hazardous eruption is imminent or in progress.

The CVGHM utilizes a system with four levels of alert:

Ø Alert 1 (Code Green – Active Normal) - No activity based on monitoring visual seismicity and other events. No eruptions in the foreseeable future.

Ø Alert 2 (Code Yellow – Danger - “Waspada”) - Increased seismicity and other volcanic events such as gases. Visual changes around the crater and magmatic, tectonic or hydrothermal disturbances. Eruption is not imminent, however due to the increased danger, local officials should prepare for a disaster.

Ø Alert 3 (Code Orange – Ready to Erupt - “Siaga”) – Rapid rise in seismicity accompanied by obvious visual changes in the crater. Large eruption possible within one-to-two weeks, depending on data analysis.

Ø Alert 4 (Code Red – Active Danger - “Awas”) – Begin evacuation due to small eruptions and/or potential for a large eruption spewing ash, lava and gases. A major eruption is imminent, possibly within 24 hours.
It is important to note that alert levels do not specify the size and explosiveness of anticipated eruptions. These factors vary widely from volcano to volcano and even at the same volcano. Volcanologists typically use the history of eruptions at a volcano, or at similar volcanoes worldwide, to forecast the likely size of anticipated eruptions.

Although the public and the media tend to focus on large eruptions, most volcanic activity leads to no eruption at all or to small or middle-sized eruptions. However, even small eruptions can disrupt the lives of people living near volcanoes, and cause problems for aircraft and sensitive facilities downwind. Clouds of volcanic ash can damage aircraft, and even light ashfall can close airports and adversely affect people with respiratory problems.

Mt. Merapi

As of April 12, the CVGMH and Merapi Volcano Observatory (MVO) raised the danger warning for Mt. Merapi to Alert Level 3 – Code Orange, Ready to Erupt (“Siaga”). The 2,968-meter (9,737 feet) Mt. Merapi is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Jakarta or 27 km (17 miles) from Yogyakarta. Volcanologists classify Mt Merapi as a “high-risk” volcano due to its history of eruptions. Visual observations on April 11 showed the top of the volcano cracked and 18 lava avalanches, with sulfurous gases rising about 100 meters above the crater.

BPPTK and MVO have urged tourists and others not to climb Mt. Merapi and advised people to suspend activities in rivers on the upper part of the mountain. They also advised sand miners to stop their activities and called on local governments to be ready for a volcanic eruption.

Mt. Semeru

Effective March 29, the East Java Office of Energy and Mineral Resources and Semeru Volcanic Observatory increased the danger level of Mt. Semeru to Alert Level 2 (Code Yellow – Danger). The East Java Office of Energy and Mineral Resources urged tourists and others not to climb Mt. Semeru higher than 1 kilometer from the top.
Visual observations showed increased sulferous gases 50-75 meters from the crater and numerous gas explosions rising 300-600 meters up from the crater. In March 2006, ashfall from Mt. Semeru was reported in Malang Raya (90 km/56 miles from Surabaya) and Blitar (120 km/ 75 miles South West of Surabaya).

Monitoring Indonesia’s Volcanoes on the Internet

Information on the status of Indonesia’s volcanoes can be accessed at the CVGHM website under the following links:

The following CVGHM web page gives the most up-to-date information available on Indonesian volcanic activity and current alert levels:

Additional information on worldwide volcanic activity, including in Indonesia, is available at the U.S. Geological Survey Volcano Hazards program website at the following address:

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Hari Kiamat udah mendekat

We live in very uncertain times in an increasingly violent Earth. Who has forgotten, barely two years ago of the monster tsunami caused by an underground earthquake off the coast of Sumatera?

The majority of us remain nonchalant about these things. Well, until it affects us individually, that is.

I think we can all expect to experience a major calamity in our lifetime, not that I wish it to happen. But it is an almost inevitable fact; as sure as the day turns into night.

Throughout recorded human history the Earth has done so plenty of times. Who would have thought, events that happened less than two hundred years ago in neighboring Indonesia can cause Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, even BUSH—and a host of former presidents of Irish stock—to be the Supreme Commander of The United States of America?

Really? Can events 200 hundred years ago in Indonesia have a bearing on the mass migration of the Irish?

You will see the connection in a minute.

But first, an early 19th century poem from Byron.

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander…

Byron, ‘Darkness

What caused Byron to way lyrical, in 1816 to be exact?

Since science has never been my "forte", I'll do the next best thing. I'll quote excerpts from my favorite "science-for-dummies" writer Bill Bryson from his excellent A Short History of Nearly Everything :

‘In 1815, on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia, a handsome and long quiescent mountain named Tambora exploded spectacularly, killing a hundred thousand people with its blast and associated tsunamis. No-one living now has ever seen such fury. Tambora was far bigger than anything any living human has experienced. It was the biggest volcanic explosion in ten thousand years—150 times the size of Mount St Helens, equivalent to sixty thousand Hiroshima-sized atom bombs.’

Bryson went on to add, ‘News didn’t travel terribly fast in those days. In London, The Times ran a small story—actually a letter from a merchant—seven months after the event. But by this time Tambora’s effects were already being felt. Two hundred and forty cubic kilometers of smoky ash, dust and grit had diffused through the atmosphere, obscuring the Sun’s rays and causing the Earth to cool…It was this deathly dimness that inspired Byron to write the lines quoted above.’

But there’s more to the “after-effects” of the Tambora blast that you and I can barely begin to imagine: The repercussions to human geopolitical history.

In another paragraph Bryson wrote, ‘Spring never came and summer never warmed: 1816 became known as the year without summer. Crops everywhere failed to grow. In Ireland a famine and associated typhoid epidemic killed sixty-five thousand people.’

Hah…bet you never knew why America’s mostly Irish stock came across the Atlantic to populate North America in the early 19th century did you?

Now you do, all because of a volcanic eruption in Indonesia about 200 years ago.

Can Mt Merapi explode with such a blast as Tambora’s? Go ahead and search the Web, because no-one seems to know. The scientists’ know Merapi will explode, but they don’t even know when. All the experts can say are the "probabilities".

This is what we know so far: There’s going to be a volcanic explosion of Mt Merapi “soon”, but we don’t know exactly when, and on what scale.

Even if Mt Merapi were to explode to even less than half of Tambora’s you can bet that people in Malaysia would be gravely affected. It's scary to think there’s more than a million people living less than 30 kilometers away in the neighboring city of Yogyakarta.

While we're on the subject of volcanoes in neighboring Indonesia, does anybody remember Karakatau from your high school geography texts? Karakatau was also a 'biggie', but nowhere near as big as Tambora.

Scientists still argue about the size of Krakatau’s blast that occurred in August of 1883. Which wasn't too long ago when you think about it, as this had actually happened during our great-grandparent’s lifetime. Most scholars agree that the magnitude of the blast was less than half of Tambora’s.

Nonetheless, quoting Bryson again, ‘… (Karakatau’s blast) made a bang that reverberated around the world for nine days, and made water slosh as far away as the English Channel.’

As monstrous as Tambora’s and Karakatau’s blasts’—it pales in comparison to the “supervolcanic’ blast that created Lake Toba 74,000 years ago. Again this had happened in Indonesia, specifically Northern Sumatera, albeit a very, very long time ago.

It almost made us humans extinct. And Bryson had this to say of the Toba blast:

‘No-one knows quite how big it was, but it was a whopper. Greenland ice cores show that the Toba blast was followed by at least six years of “volcanic winter” and goodness knows how many poor growing seasons after that. The event, it is thought, may have carried humans right to the brink of extinction, reducing the global population to no more than a few thousand individuals. That would mean that all modern humans arose from a very small population base, which would explain our lack of genetic diversity. At all events, there is some evidence to suggest that for the next twenty thousand years the total number of people on Earth was never more than a few thousand at any time. That is, needless to say, a long time to spend recovering from a single volcanic blast.

Imagine a single huge “supervolcanic" blast that can spell the end-of-the-world?

Pray then that Mt Merapi would simply let out a whimper?