The Day That Kar Kar Volcano Did Not Erupt

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 4th, 2009 by MadDog
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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
VA ADVISORY
DTG: 20091125/2332Z
VAAC: Darwin

VOLCANO: Karkar 0501-03
PSN: S0439 E14558
AREA: New_Guinea NE_of
SUMMIT ELEV: 1839M

ADVISORY NR: 2009/6
INFO SOURCE: MT-SAT1R
AVIATION COLOUR CODE: RED
ERUPTION DETAILS: VA PLUME TO FL300 OBSERVED AT 25/2232Z.

OBS VA DTG: 25/2315Z
OBS VA CLD:
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
SFC/FL450

FCST VA CLD +12HR: 26/1115Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0425 E14415 – S0540 E14500 – S0435 E14600
SFC/FL450

FCST VA CLD +18HR: 26/1715Z
SFC/FL300 S0435 E14600 – S0420 E14345 – S0605 E14435 – S0435 E14600
SFC/FL450

RMK: INITIAL ERUPTION TO FL450 MAY STILL EXIST OVER ARAFURA SEA
FORECAST BOUNDERY EXTRAPOLATED Graphic at [lower case]

http://www.bom.gov.au/info/vaac/advisories.shtml

NXT ADVISORY: NO LATER THAN 20091126/0515Z

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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Book Report #2 – Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World

Posted in Book Reports, Dangerous on March 14th, 2008 by MadDog
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When the earth quivers and bounces we take notice. You know that strange half-panic, half-amused state in which you’re waiting…waiting to see how bad it’s going to get? Body tensed for flight, senses finely tuned. I know that when I’m sitting in my lounge watching my furniture being randomly rearranged, I don’t expend a lot of effort wondering about the science of it. I’m only looking to see how far the coffee table in front of me moves so that I can decide if I’m going to flee from the house.

But later – after it’s over. Have you ever wondered exactly what causes all that commotion? When the earth rocks and rolls, it’s of no small interest to me what causes it – not that I can do much about it. Oh, by the way, like many Madang residents, I can look out my front door and clearly see one of the most potentially dangerous volcanoes on the planet: Kar Kar Island. And it’s close enough to erase my existence if it’s of a mind to do so.

Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World

These two books, Krakatoa (primarily about the 1883 eruption which was the most powerful in recorded history) and A Crack in the Edge of the World (mainly about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) will answer all your questions and show you a good time while doing so. Never more will you yawn knowingly and say something like, “Ah yes, those subduction zones. They should do something about them.” Terms like tectonic plates and strike-slip faults will no longer be irritating when some know-it-all throws them out for the enlightenment of ordinary dullards like us.

Simon Winchester has given us a couple of books that will both entertain greatly and solve the puzzle of why earthquakes and volcanoes happen at all. More interesting is why they happen so very much more often in certain places. They are, in short, a sound read in seismology and geology for the layperson. The science is delivered in clear and simple terms and is always tied to the events and the stories of people somehow connected to them.

Thanks to my friend and fellow diver, Michael Wolfe, for lending them to me.

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