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Karkar: more on the eruption that wasn’t 4 December 2009

Posted by admin in activity reports, Karkar, Papua New Guinea.
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Satellites, seismographs and all the fancy technology of modern volcano monitoring are all very well, but you can’t beat having someone on the spot who can look out of a window at an allegedly erupting volcano and say, ‘Hmmm, doesn’t look to me as if anything is happening’.

In the case of Karkar, the volcanic island off the north-west coast of Papua New Guinea that had Darwin VAAC (and volcano bloggers) in a spin over an alleged eruption last week, that someone is Jan Messersmith, who lives in Madang and can see Karkar from his house. His evidence, reported at Eruptions and at this blog, was decisive in clarifying what was going on at Karkar; which was nothing at all. He has put up a post about it at Madang – Ples Bilong Mi, his wonderful blog:

A little over a week ago, we were surprised to learn that our highly respected (feared!) Kar Kar Island volcano had erupted most significantly. I say that we were surprised because I could stand on my veranda and see it floating calmly on the warm sea.

For more, with pictures, see The day that Kar Kar volcano did not erupt.

The nine advisories that Darwin issued for Karkar are no longer available on the rather awkwardly-organized Darwin VAAC website, and do not seem to be in the Darwin advisories archive either (although subsequent advisories for other volcanoes are there). But they are still on the NOAA’s Darwin ash advisory listing:

(That last advisory promised ‘NXT ADVISORY: NO LATER THAN 20091126/2315Z’. But it never came.)

It’s important to put the Karkar experience in context. The VAACs have a vital, safety-critical task to perform, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, keeping tens of thousands of air travellers safe from the potentially disastrous effects of volcanic ash emissions. Darwin VAAC’s job is as challenging as any: the Darwin area of responsibility covers Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, in which volcanic activity is very frequent but reliable information often scarce. The VAAC staff have to work with whatever information is available, have to do so under intense time pressures, and cannot err other than on the side of caution. Very occasionally, as in this case, a VAAC will report an eruption that turns out not to have happened – but far better to have a false eruption reported than a real one missed.

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Karkar – summary information for Karkar (0501-03=)

The Volcanism Blog