Started Oct 12, 2013 | Discussions thread
OP Hen3ry Forum Pro • Posts: 18,218
An adventure in your backyard - right on. 1939

GeorgianBay1939 wrote:

Great "postcard' image.

What is the material spewed? Water? Particulates? Gases? What do you get when in a boat downwind from the volcano? If the wind changes to direct the effluent towards a population are inhabitants evacuated?

Cool adventure in your back yard!

Thanks for the compliment -- it is EXACTLY a postcard image. We’ve had a really daggy dry season this year with lots of overcast days and bits of rain and stuff and lots of humidity haze. This was an exceptional day with the humidity quite significantly lower and the haze drastically reduced. We should have had day after day after day like that but it just didn't happen.

There are two prevailing wind according to the season:

* South-east in the dry season (now, although it is starting to switch) which takes the plume over Rabaul town (immediately adjacent to the voclano) and away from where I was shooting, Kokopo (about 20km as the plume drifts from the volcano).

* North-west in the wet season (the north-west monsoon) which brings the plume over Kokopo (the new capital of the province since the volcanoes wiped out/made uninhabitable about 90% of Rabaul town when they erupted in 1994). hopefully, the plume is high by the time it reaches Kokopo, but that is not always the case. I was sitting in an outdoor restaurant in Kokopo one day last wet season and was checking the menu for lunch when we were enveloped by a cloud of "rotten egg" (sulphurous) gas. Lunch went off my personal menu for a while! The other problem is that the airport (relocated away from Rabaul after 1994) is another 15 km or so south-east of the volcanoes so if these burps and belches continue into the west season, the airport is going to be closed for extended periods. And we are on an island! You see the implications!

What's coming out of Tavurvur is a mix of gases. Sulphur is high in the mix, water vapor, of course. But also find ash -- of various degrees of fineness. It is very irritating, acidic, and sharp and abrasive. You don’t wipe it off, it will scratch everything, you very lightly brush it off or wash it off. It is also very fine and very light so it gets in everywhere and the slightest stirring of a breeze gets up a dust cloud.

Some thousands of people are living in the plume zone -- many with very strong ancestral ties to the land and others who just hope that the volcanoes will quieten (as they did for quite a few years after the big one in 1994) and Rabaul town will live again (in the 1950s, James Michener called it the most beauitful town in the South Pacific). I told some friends of mine -- attracted to the area by ancestral ties -- that they had to move out NOW or expect to be suffering emphysema in their middle age in 20 years' time. They got the message and moved. There are areas these people can move to.

They had a festival in Rabaul in mid-September to celebrate the end of the 1994 eruptions. On the second day of it, the ash in the air was so bad that when I was standing next to a building with light, uniformly colored walls, I could actually see little rocks floating through the air! I kid you not! I was supposed to be photographing some bands. Phooey! I jumped on the first bus with an empty seat and fled to Kokopo.

Having said all that, it is a fascinating place -- which is why I am here -- and well worth a visit. Just bring your dust mask with you for a Rabaul town component of the visit. Seriously.

Cheers, geoff

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Geoffrey Heard
Down and out in Rabaul in the South Pacific

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