Scientists are fearing that the ancient volcano of Mount Merapi in Central Java may be in imminent danger of a cataclysmic explosion that could threaten the lives of some 53,600 people living in the mountain's shadow in the districts of Magelang, Boyolali, Klaten and Sleman.
Lava flows from the mountain into the Gendol river have scientist concerned that the mountain is about to blow its top. Measurements of distention on the slope of the mountain and high gas pressure reading all point that a Plinian eruption may be in the works.
There are four broad classifications for volcanoes in the world with Plinian among the most violent and destructive. Often likened to a nuclear explosion, these geological events can, in fact, produce mushroom clouds or clouds in the form of an Italian pine tree. Extremely destructive, Plinian eruptions are exemplified by the explosion of Mt. St. Helen in the U.S.A. in 1980 or Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. These types of explosions can level forests, strip soil and obliterate anything in the path of the blast.
Plinian eruptions offer a violent contract to the other main types of eruptions – Hawaiian, Strombolian and Vulcanian which though dangerous in their own right, are generally less cataclysmic in nature that a Plinian event.
Merpati is one of the world's most active volcanoes. It's last significant eruption was in June 2006 where pyroclastic flows killed to people.
Quoted in the Jakarta Globe, But Surono of the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency (PVMBG) said, "we believe Merapi will erupt explosively, as it did in 1930, and not just spew gas like in 2006."
The 1930 eruption was a Plinian eruption which leveled 13 villages and killed 1,400 people.
Rains, clouds and poor visibility are hampering scientists trying to measure the mountain's distention. Last week the volcanic cone was growing by 8.5 centimeters per day, increasing to 16.4 centimeters per day on Friday, October 22, 2010.
Sri Sumarti who head the Merapi team of the Volcano Investigation and Technology Development Institution (BPPTK) warned the mountain is becoming increasing active, "we've also seen a dramatic increase in the number of multiphase volcanic earthquakes, from 321 on Friday to 525 on Saturday."
Expecting the worse, the government has set aside Rp. 25 billion (US$2.8 million) to respond to the expected eruption. The police and military are on standby to deal with refugees and victims. The human exodus of farmers has begun with many agrarians distraught at being forced to abandon pets and livestock at their traditional homes.
While the mountain is clearly entering a highy active phase, it's anybody's guess when and if Mount Merapi will blow and whether on not it will be a slow boil and melt, or provide a more worrisome massive geophysical event.
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