Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Indonesia's Mount Sinabung Forces Evacuations

Indonesia's long-dormant Mount Sinabung began erupting earlier this year after initially breaking its silence during a period in 2010, and has now increased its level of activity so drastically that over 19,000 people have had to be evacuated. Mount Sinabung lies around 20 miles NNW of the famous Toba super-volcano. The irregularly shaped stratovolcano has had minor fumerolic activity prior to 2010, so it was known that it would probably erupt in the future, however there had never been any confirmed historical reports of eruptive activity before then.

Mount Sinabung had a massive eruption yesterday, sending a plume of gas and ash up to 3km skyward, prompting Indonesian officials to issue air alerts, and subsequently evacuate nearby populations to evacuation centers.

Indonesia is home to one of the largest concentrations of active volcanoes in the world. In any given year, probably 5-15 volcanoes are active simultaneously in the elongated archipelago. Some of its volcanoes are truly the biggest killers of all time, with famous eruptions like the ~75,000 B.C. super eruption of Toba, thought to have contributed to a massive die off of the human population that left a mere 5,000 or so survivors, to Tambora, one of the largest historical eruptions ever recorded and responsible for the famed 'year without a summer', and the infamous eruption of Krakatoa (now Anak Krakatau, "Child of Krakatoa") which destroyed a large island and killed over 36,000 people by way of pyroclastic flows.

Only the more recent eruptions of Novarupta in Alaska, Rotorua in New Zealand, and Pinatubo in the Philippines have come close to the larger Indonesian eruptions.

Indonesia lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is home to very frequent earthquakes, eruptive activity, and other disasters. In 2008, a mega thrust earthquake killed over 200,000 people with its super-destructive tsunami and associated damages. It is more than likely one of the least 'stable' geologic places on the planet, aside from possibly Japan, which also recently experienced a deadly and disastrous mega-thrust quake that caused a devastating tsunami, and provoked a nuclear power plant meltdown at Fukushima-Daiichi.

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