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ERUPTION! in Indonesia

It’s been a busy summer for volcanologists in Indonesia—as the Chicago Tribune reported on August 3, the country saw three eruptions in quick succession from “Mount Rinjani on Lombok Island near Bali, the Sinabung volcano on Sumatra Island and Mount Gamalama in the Moluccas chain of islands” in a matter of a “couple of days.”

The article goes on to report that “More than 13,000 people have been evacuated due to volcanic eruptions since last year, mostly from around the slopes of Sinabung.” However, no one was injured during these late-summer blasts, and readers of Scientists in the Field offering Eruption! will remember the exceptional work of Indonesian volcanologists at predicting blasts and evacuating populations before it’s too late.

As author Elizabeth Rusch and photographer Tom Uhlman learned while researching Eruption!, recent years have demanded that scientists from all over the world direct their attention to the many active volcanoes in Indonesia. Rusch writes that “More than 1,500 potentially active volcanoes dot the globe. More than fifty volcanoes erupt each year,” and “More than one billion people—about 20 percent of the world’s population—live where volcanic eruptions can reach them.” She also quotes volcanologist Andy Lockhart saying of the Ring of Fire, an area around the edge of the Pacific Plate and the Earth’s most volcanically active area along which Indonesia is located, “Something is always blowing up there.”

In Eruption, Rusch and Uhlman document the work of both the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP) and Indonesian volcanologists to track the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi, and the many thousands of lives they were able to save by calling for timely evacuations. Volcanologist and member of VDAP John Pallister credits the “melding of local expertise, extensive experience with eruptions and evacuations, and international collaboration,” which he believes “has made Indonesian volcanologists some of the best in the world at dealing with volcano crises.”

Although these latest eruptions didn’t pose a direct threat to nearby towns, the large number of evacuations from the slopes near Sinabung over the last year speak to Pallister’s assertion. Not even expert volcanologists can prevent volcanic activity, though, and Indonesian air travel saw delays and cancellations in late July and early August due to this trio of eruptions.

To learn more about the scientists studying volcanic eruptions and working to keep people everywhere alert to the dangers of volcanoes, check out SITF title Eruption!, written by Elizabeth Rusch and photographed by Tom Uhlman.

by Harriet Low

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