Monday, November 1, 2010

Volcanic ash

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1st c. Italy, Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.) was killed. His nephew, who lived with him in Misenum and did survive, described the experience: "...darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it." The eruption caused mass casualties from the pyroclastic flow, superheated air, and rain of pumice as residents fled the towns at the base of the volcano - which had lain dormant for 800 years. This included Pompeii, covered with 4-6m of ash and pumice, and Herculaneum, buried under pyroclastic rock and ash that solidified into volcanic tuff.

The current continuing eruption of Mount Merapi on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta, Indonesia, has been called "Pompeii-like" by National Geographic. The volcano has so far killed 38, a fraction of the number killed by Sumatra's recent tsunami. Airports east and south of Merapi rerouted planes for fear that the dust, which was spewed several kilometers into the air and fell like rain, would clog the engines. About 69,000 people have been evacuated from the area around Merapi that is now blanketed by gray ash. A dog sits at an abandoned village in Kepuharjo, Indonesia (1st image); furniture and an abandoned moped lie under a thick layer of ash (2nd image); and a worker cleans ash from part of Java's Borobudar temple complex (3rd image).

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