Last updated January 17, 2018 at 9:23 am
About 3,000 Papua New Guinea islanders are fleeing the unprecedented eruption of the long-dormant Kadovar volcano, off the country’s north coast.
It is the first eruption of the volcano since at least 1700.
Kadovar has been spewing smoke and ash since 5 January. As the eruption has become more violent, authorities have warned that associated tremors pose a tsunami risk to mainland’s north coast and surrounding islands.
The government has ordered the evacuation of from Biem Island which lies just 12 kilometres west of Kadovar Island, where there have been reports of tremors and plumes, leading to fears that there may be a second eruption there.
“Volcanoes are very unpredictable, we are hearing various reports that activity has been building up and we need to take all precautions to keep our people safe,” a statement from Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said.
But volcanologist Steve Saunders told the ABC any sort of chain reaction started by the Kadovar activity was “unlikely”.
Tremors and landslides could lead to tsunamis
Other fears are that the Kadovar eruption could lead to landslides on the steep-sided volcano, which in turn could cause tsunamis.
But little is known about the remote volcano making it hard to predict what will happen.
“Given the volcano’s remoteness and dormancy, it has not been well studied in the past and does not have the monitoring infrastructure that is in place on other, more regularly active volcanoes,” says Dr Chris Firth is from the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at Macquarie University.
“This makes it very hard to predict what will happen during the course of the current eruption.”
So far, plumes of sulphur dioxide have been observed by NASA’s OMI satellite instrument streaming from the volcano.
These have been accompanied by blasts releasing volcanic ash made ups of pulverised fragments of magma.
“This ash has been blown westward by the prevailing winds, for distances up to 150 kilometres,” says Firth.
The volcanic ash advisory centre (VAAC) in Darwin has been monitoring the ash emissions and has issued a number of alerts for aviation.