The Day That Kar Kar Volcano Did Not Erupt

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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. In case anybody wonders about the potential ferocity of this volcano, have a look at this satellite image:

Satellite image of Kar Kar Island

That’s a fairly large hole there. A lot of misery could come out of that.

I first learned of the alleged eruption when my good mate and fellow amateur scientist Richard Jones called me from Port Moresby to tell me that there was a 13,000 metre ash cloud over Kar Kar Island.  I carried my cell phone out to the veranda and told him that I was staring right at the volcano and could see nothing. It was slightly obscured by clouds, but I was certain that if anything that large were happening, I could see it.

Here is the report that came from the Australian Government’s Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre:

Received FVAU0295 at 23:32 UTC, 25/11/09 from ADRM
DTG: 20091125/2332Z
VAAC: Darwin

VOLCANO: Karkar 0501-03
PSN: S0439 E14558
AREA: New_Guinea NE_of


OBS VA DTG: 25/2315Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0435 E14510 – S0520 E14540 –
S0435 E14600 MOV W 15KT
SFC/FL450 S0435 E13745 – S0525 E13225 – S1030 E13235 –
S0950 E13820 – S0435 E13745 MOV W 25KT

FCST VA CLD +6HR: 26/0515Z
SFC/FL300 S0440 E14600 – S0425 E14445 – S0530 E14525 – S0440 E14600

FCST VA CLD +12HR: 26/1115Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0425 E14415 – S0540 E14500 – S0435 E14600

FCST VA CLD +18HR: 26/1715Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0420 E14345 – S0605 E14435 – S0435 E14600


I put it in tiny type because I doubt if anybody will actually read it. It’s pretty opaque unless you’re an expert, which I am clearly not.  The interesting bit is in bold type. It mentions an ash plume that was observed at FL 300 (that’s Flight Level 300 or 30,000 feet in aviator-speak). Funny, nobody here saw anything like that.

Here is an image of Kar Kar Island  from the inlet near the Memorial Lutheran Church. Madang Resort Hotel is on the right. This is a strong telephoto shot, so it makes the island appear much closer than it is in reality:

Kar Kar Island as seen from Madang (telephoto shot makes it look closer)

I should mention at this point that we got some help from two sources to figure out what happened (or rather what didn’t  happen). One is the Volcanism Blog where you can see the original report and my comments below it. The other is Eruptions where you can again see the results of my meddling in the comments.

How does such a peculiar mistake happen? Heaven knows, I’d rather have a false positive report of a volcano erupting in my front yard than no report at all, However, having lived here a long time (nearly half my life now), I shudder to think of what might have happened if this report had become fuel for the usual bonfire of terror that sweeps through the population when the rumours start flying like lava bombs.

Okay, having dealt with that potential disaster that wasn’t, let’s calm ourselves by contemplating the lovely purple Finnisterre Mountains  in this morning’s early sun:Finisterre Mountains in the early morning sun

Hmm . . . I’m feeling a little bliss creeping in around the edges.

It just got better as I drove into the office this morning. Here’s the pretty scene at Coconut Point:

Coconut Point SunriseNever mind about the volcano that didn’t erupt.

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12 Responses to “The Day That Kar Kar Volcano Did Not Erupt”

  1. Steve Goodheart Says:

    Glad it was a non-eruption eruption…went to the two sites you mentioned….everyone seemed baffled…you were the only one who seemed to shed any real light on the situation….the best I could tell was that someone had mistaken a cumulonimbus for an eruption????….all mysterious…no mea culpas to be found anywhere….the satellite shot of Karkar is impressive…some damn big calderas…

  2. MadDog Says:

    I tried loading the follow-up message from the Ash site. It came back with a mysterious “error loading data” message. Is there a massive cover-up?

    Note that there are actually TWO huge calderas. The obvious one is surrounded by another larger one that is twice the diameter of the smaller one.

  3. Steve Goodheart Says:

    “error message”….how convenient….

    Yeah, I saw the double caldera..way cool. Tragic about the two vulcanologist who died there in a pyroclastic flow…what an awful way to go….bless their hearts., and families….

  4. Karkar: more on the eruption that wasn’t « The Volcanism Blog Says:

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

  5. rich Says:

    ..interesting post script to the original automatic alert from Darwin…good to see you followed it up Jan because we were getting on a plane and I didn’t want to miss all the, er, fun. It makes me wonder how the original report was generated – presumably a satellite snapshot and some magic trickery inside a computer. As an aside the last time I visited the Rabaul Observatory the two remote seismographs for Karkar and Manum were both not working. Seems some local folk had stolen the solar panels which make them work. Oops.

  6. Peter Donelly Says:

    Here is a link that may be of interest.

    The Volcanism Blog —

  7. MadDog Says:

    Hi, Rich.

    Well, I could hardly let it ride, could I? It’s my volcano and it will erupt when I say so!

    Missing solar panels is a huge problem here, as you know. We need an alternative device. I suggest little radioisotope decay generators that can be rigged to become a small dirty bomb if they are removed by unauthorised persons.


  8. MadDog Says:

    Thanks for that, Peter. I had rather lost interest in following the story, or non-story, as it were. I doubt if I would have caught that one.

    I’m not fluffed at all about the false positive. I reckon that if they never get it wrong, then they are probably not erring on the side of safety. Since error is inevitable, let’s have it going in the right direction.

  9. Above and Below | Madang - Ples Bilong Mi Says:

    […] been keeping a close eye on Kar Kar Island  since it was mistakenly reported that it erupted violently. It looks pretty peaceful in this shot:Earlier this year we did see steam […]

  10. Alphonse Bannick Says:

    many thanks for just ploting kar kar on the web.

  11. MadDog Says:

    I’ve spend many happy days at Kar Kar Island. It’s my pleasure.

  12. Nob Nob and Kar Kar | Madang - Ples Bilong Mi Says:

    […] The air was too hazy for a good shot. I had to massage this one very roughly. Kar Kar Volcano is potentially very dangerous. It is not gentle on our minds. One of the more interesting recent events occurred on the 4th day of December in 2009 when Kar Kar did not  erupt. […]