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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

No eruption at Karkar – local reports 29 November 2009

Posted by admin in activity reports, Karkar, Papua New Guinea.
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Further to our report of 27 November (Karkar update, 27 November 2009: the eruption that wasn’t?) it is now clear that whatever it was that caused Darwin VAAC to report a major eruption at Karkar volcano in Papua New Guinea, it was not in fact an eruption.

Information has come in from people at the scene: Jan Messersmith at Eruptions and here at The Volcanism Blog, and Kenny Nalu at this blog yesterday, both say that there is no sign of any unusual activity at Karkar, and that those living on the island itself confirm that nothing is going on. Darwin VAAC itself has now gone very quiet: it’s evident that on Karkar they got it wrong.

Many thanks to Jan and Kenny in Papua New Guinea for getting in touch. Check out Jan’s blog, by the way – wonderful pictures!

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

The Volcanism Blog

Karkar update, 27 November 2009: the eruption that wasn’t? 27 November 2009

Posted by admin in activity reports, eruptions, Karkar, Papua New Guinea.
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Has Karkar volcano in Papua New Guinea erupted or not? We have dramatic reports from Darwin VAAC of towering plumes, but absolutely no information whatsoever from anywhere else.

Karkar is no desolate speck but a populated island: this Papua New Guinea government web page (cached version here in case, as is not uncommon with PNG government sites, the original isn’t working) says that ‘In 1979 the population of Karkar Island was about 23,000. Today the population has almost doubled to about 42,000’. Sadly it doesn’t say when ‘today’ was, but clearly there is a population, and a substantial one, so if the island’s volcano were blowing its top you’d expect to hear about it. A resident of Madang province comments on Erik Klemetti’s Eruptions blog: ‘We felt a minor earthquake at the time mentioned. However, though obscured by some clouds, we looked in vain for any action at Kar Kar Island, which I can see clearly from my veranda. We called friends who live on Kar Kar island and they told us that nothing was happening’.

So, local residents say nothing is happening and there are no reports in the PNG or other regional press, no MODIS hotspots, no SO2 traces, no satellite imagery (satellite imagery for this part of the world is not easy to find: Terra, Aqua and MERIS haven’t quite covered Karkar for the past few days). The weather has been overcast in the area, which doesn’t help.

So what, if anything, happened? This could have been a substantial steam-and-gas emission rather than an eruption plume; Darwin VAAC’s sources could have exaggerated the height of the emissions; it could have been an entirely different phenomenon such as an unusual cloud formation; or it could have been nothing at all. The VAACs have to respond to reports, have to err on the side of aviation safety, and cannot always be definite about when an eruption has ended or an eruption cloud dissipated, particularly when satellite coverage is limited or unavailable (the original source of Darwin’s information was satellite data, but there has been no fresh satellite information since their initial report).

Darwin’s latest volcanic ash advisory, issued 26 November at 17:14 UTC, reports no fresh observations of the supposed eruption plumes since 25 November at 22:32 UTC (that report was in this advisory), and concludes, as have all recent reports, that ‘volcano and latest VA plume not identifiable due to meteorological cloud’.

More news here (and at Eruptions, doubtless) as it comes in – if it comes in.

UPDATE: Commenter Chance Metz has provided a link to this obscure US Navy satellite site which gives MTSAT data covering Papua New Guinea. A quick review – all I have time for – of the images covering the last two days seems to show nothing unusual. Can anyone else find any sign of this supposed activity?

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

The Volcanism Blog

Papua New Guinea: Karkar erupts, plume reaches 13.7 km 25 November 2009

Posted by admin in activity reports, eruptions, Karkar, Papua New Guinea.
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Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) has reported a significant eruption of Karkar volcano in Papua New Guinea. The first advisory was issued at 08:39 UTC and reported ‘eruption to at least FL330’, which is 33,000 feet or 10,000 metres altitude. More recent advisories (the latest at the time of posting, issued at 20:57 UTC, is here) are reporting ash to FL450, which is 45,000 feet or 13,700 metres altitude. (Darwin VAAC advisories are most conveniently accessed via the NOAA website.)

No other information on this eruption appears to be available at the moment. The last confirmed eruption of Karkar, which is an island volcano consisting of two nested calderas. was in 1979. In late 2007 and early 2008 an increase in thermal and seismic activity at Karkar was observed: gas emissions in January 2008 produced white plumes and withering of vegetation around Bagiai cone, which has been the seat of recent historical eruptions.

[Thanks to Volcanism Blog reader Jan B. for the tip-off about Karkar.]

UPDATE. Erik Klemetti has more at Eruptions: Large eruption at Karkar in Papua New Guinea?.

UPDATE 26 NOV 2009. As commenters have noted below, further eruptions have been reported by Darwin VAAC: a plume to FL300 (30,000 feet or 9100 metres altitude) was reported at 2316 UTC on 25 November.

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

The Volcanism Blog

Giant rats and giant hats 7 September 2009

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A couple of vaguely volcanic science news snippets from the BBC:

Giant rat found in ‘lost volcano’ – it isn’t really lost, it’s the extinct Mount Bosavi in south-east Papua New Guinea (John Seach has some information, and here’s an ESA image from 1992). The BBC has made a wildlife documentary there and found, among other things, a previously unknown giant rat, 82 cm long ‘with a silver-brown coat of long thick fur’, living at an elevation of around 1000 m within the crater.

Giant statues give up hat mystery – a team of archaeologists from the University of Manchester and University College London working on Easter Island have concluded that the big red hats atop those famous Easter Island statues ‘were rolled down from an ancient volcano … They pieced together a series of clues to discover how the statues got their red hats. An axe, a road, and an ancient volcano led to their findings’. The hats or topknots are made from red scoria, extracted from a quarry on Rano Kau volcano. The Manchester/London team are the first archaeologists to excavate the quarry itself, known as Puna Pau.

The Volcanism Blog

Manam at the NASA Earth Observatory 11 July 2009

Posted by admin in Manam, NASA Earth Observatory, natural hazards, Papua New Guinea.
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Image of the Day for 10 July 2009 is this view of Manam volcano in Papua New Guinea, captured on 28 June 2009 by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the NASA Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite:

Manam volcano, Papua New Guinea, 28 June 2009 (NASA EO-1 image)

Manam, an 1807-metre stratovolcano, is one of the most active volcanoes in Papua New Guinea. Prominent in this picture are the valleys that radiate from the volcano’s summit, which channel lava and pyroclastic flows towards the coast. There are two craters at the summit, of which the southernmost has been the most historically active, directing most of its eruptive products down the south-eastern valley (lower right in the NASA image). The undated picture below, from the Global Volcanism Program (the credit is to Wally Johnson, Australia Bureau of Mineral Resources) shows the south-eastern valley incised deeply into the vegetated lower flanks of the volcano:

Manam: south-eastern avalanche valley (Wally Johnson, Australia Bureau of Mineral Resources)

The island may look small but more than 9000 people originally lived there. They were evacuated when the current eruption of the volcano began in October 2004 – for a very interesting article on the evacuation and its lingering consequences, see ‘The Social Ramifications of Volcanism’ at Dr Erik Klemetti’s Eruptions blog.

[NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 Team.]

The Volcanism Blog