Indonesian volcanoes get ready to blow

Mt. Batur

Mt. Batur

Many parts of Indonesia are located in an area called the Pacific Ring of Fire, a large portion of the Pacific Ocean which has intense volcanic activity and which is also prone to earthquakes. The pacific Ring of Fire forms a massive half circle beginning around New Zealand in the southeast, and moving up various island groups to Japan, then moving westwards to include much of Indonesia.

There is an international ranking system which determines each volcano’s perceived level of activity.  This classification ranges from “Level 1” normal status, meaning it is reasonably benign, to a “Level 2” which means beware there could be activity.  Next is “active” which is “Level 3” – a standby rating meaning that the volcano could erupt at any time, then there is a full alert at “Level 4”, which indicates that a volcano is most likely to erupt.

Indonesia has 59 volcanoes, of which 21 are active, that have erupted in the past year.  Not all eruptions are disastrous, and most are well contained within the volcanoes caldera, but where there’s smoke or steam, there could be the possibility of larger eruptions.

Of the 21 active Indonesian volcanoes, 18 have been put on alert.

The 18 volcanoes on Level 2 alert include Papandayan in West Java, Slamet in Yogyakarta, Merapi in Central Java and Semeru and Bromo in East Java.  Other volcanoes on Level 2 alert include Talang in West Sumatra, Kaba in Bengkulu, Kerinci in Jambi and Anak Krakatau in the Sunda Strait, between Sumatra and Java. Anak Krakatau is the remnant of Krakatau, whose violent eruption in August 1883 killed an estimated 40,000 people and was heard up to 5,000 kilometres away.  Of these, Mt Bromo is a popular tourist destination, with thousands each year climbing its slopes in darkness in order to view the glorious sunrise from near the top of the volcano.

In the east of the country, the Level 2 volcanoes are Batur in Bali, Sangeang Api and Rinjani in West Nusa Tenggara, Egon and Rokatenda in East Nusa Tenggara, Soputan and Lokon in North Sulawesi, and Dukono and Gamalama in North Maluku.  Mt Batur on Bali, near the town of Kintamani is also a very popular tourist destination, particularly with day trippers and hikers.

According to the Jakarta Globe newspaper, of the three volcanoes listed as being on Level 3 one is Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra, which began erupting on Aug. 29 after lying dormant for 400 years. Its last major eruption, on Sept. 7, spewed volcanic ash more than 5,000 meters into the atmosphere. Most of the villagers who were evacuated after the initial eruption have since been allowed to return to their homes.

The two other volcanoes on Level 3 alert are Mount Karangetang on Siau Island in North Sulawesi and Mount Ibu on Halmahera Island in North Maluku. Karangetang is considered the most active volcano in the archipelago, with 41 major eruptions since 1675. Its last eruption, on Aug. 6, is believed to have killed four people. Mt Ibu has been experiencing ongoing eruptions since April 5, 2008, feeding a lava flow down one side of the mountain.

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