In the same week, three volcanoes in the Antipodes have erupted. The eruption at Tongariro on Monday, 6th August 2012, caused a disruption to air traffic, and stopped some flights coming to and fro the Napier airport.
In the nearby villages below Mount Tongariro, earthquakes were felt at least two weeks before the eruption on the 6thAugust, and the rumblings from the mountain were causing a lot of worry to local residents. They said that the mountain was surely going to blow anytime soon, and they were right. The eruption caused rocks and ash to be thrown at least a kilometre into the air, the spectacle of which was just as impressive as the show put on by Mt Ruapehu when it erupted in 1995, by all accounts.
Meanwhile, White Island has also become active. Tourists have been told to stay away because of the danger of a major eruption occurring at any time. Now this is SENSIBLE advice: STAY AWAY until the danger alert is well and truly over.
Initially, people were also warned to stay away from Mt Tongariro or its ski-fields, or from walking the tracks around the other two mountains in the region – Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe. But these warnings have since been relaxed, and tourists are being encouraged, by some people in business, to come to the area. This seems a little too soon for my liking – You would not get me going anywhere near the area for a good few weeks, especially when some scientists and government authorities have actually stated that it is a dangerous place to be. It is a dangerous place to be, because authorities say ‘it could go up at any time, without warning’.
Greed can warp anyone’s sense of reality, causing people to behave irresponsibly, I guess. Maybe it is good to remind ourselves of the potential danger inherent in Mt Tongariro at the moment? Monday’s blast which sent debris one kilometre into the air is nothing compared to the explosion which could come.
In 1982, an eruption at Galunggung in Java expelled ash and pumice 15 kilometres into the air. 68 people were killed, and 22 villages destroyed. This was a scale 4 eruption as measured by the Volcanic Explosive Indes.
In 1985, more than 23,000 people were killed in Columbia, when Ruiz erupted. This was a scale 3 eruption as measured by the Volcanic Explosive Index.
In 1991, a scale 6 eruption occurred in the Philippines at Mount Pinatubo. This explosion ejected a huge volume of ash and rock, enough to bury a city. The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 was also a scale 6 explosion on the VEI. British artist JMW Turner recorded this extraordinary ‘happening’ in some of his paintings.
In 1815, near Bali at Mt Tambora on the island of Sumbawa, near Bali, a massive eruption occurred. This was a VEI 7 eruption which was heard in Sumatra, 900 miles away. A mile off the top of the mountain was blown away with the volcanic material from the crater. Tambora had been dormant for a long time, but it made up for lost time with this incredibly destructive explosion. 12,000 people were killed when Tambora first erupted, but even more people died of famine and disease in the aftermath of the eruption. It is estimated that 80,000 people died as a result of the devastating effects to the environment following the eruption.
Nigel Cawthorne, in his ‘Doomsday’ book, says that 1816, the year following the Tambora eruption, became known as ‘the year without a summer’. The seasons were thrown out of kilter because of the ash which darkened the sky, and the droplets of sulphuric acid which were expelled into the air from the volcano. This would have caused acid rain which has a devastating effect on plant life. It is estimated that the Sunlight coming to Earth was diminished by 88%. Both these aspects, the acid rain, and the lack of sunlight, would have made the growing of food very difficult. Famine affected much of the world, including Canada and Northern Europe, not to mention South East Asia.
White Island Danger Alert: This has risen from Level One to a Level Two danger alert, as at Friday 10th August. Again, it is interesting that while we are advised to stay away from the island, we are also given a conflicting report on television which says that there is no danger of it exploding anytime soon. But how can scientists say this, when some reports have it that they did not know that Tongariro was going to erupt so soon? The locals knew, because of the rumbling of the volcano, which kept them awake at night.
Tourists are still being advised to stay away from White Island and not to land upon it. I reckon it is best to keep at least a kilometre or more between your boat and the island, and even then, if you are anywhere within five kilometres, in my estimation, you still may not be safe if the thing blows up beyond a scale Two on the Volcanic Explosive Index.