Ash plume from Mount Merapi Indonesia
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Ash plume from Mount Merapi, Indonesia

November 17, 2010
On November 12, 2010 the clouds parted over the island of Java, allowing the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite to capture this true-color image of a huge plume of volcanic ash rising from Mount Merapi and extending hundreds of kilometers over the turquoise water of Indian Ocean.

Merapi, whose name means “Fire Mountain” is an active stratovolcano which has erupted regularly since at least 1548. The volcano sits in the heart of a densely population areas, with many thousands of people living in villages around the volcano. The city of Yogyakarta, home to about 400,000 people, lies only 17 miles (28 km) to the south. In this image, the city is completely obscured by the thick volcanic plume.

Seismic activity around the volcano increased in mid-September 2010, culminating in repeated outbursts of lava and ash, which began with three eruptions on October 25, spewing lava down the southern and southeastern slopes. Dramatic and dangerous lava ejections accompanied by enormous clouds of ash occured the next day in a spectacular eruption. On November 12, the day this image was captured, Merapi continued it's long eruption, throwing clouds of gas and ash as high as 4 km (2.4 mi) into the air.

Merapi's recent eruptions have released about 140 million cubic meters (4.9 billion cubic feet) of magma, according to the National Disaster Coordination Agency. The previous record flow occurred in 1872, at 100 million cubic meters (3.5 cubic feet).

The death toll from the current eruption, currently over 250 people, is expected to rise as some survivors succumb to extensive burns and from poor air quality, and as disaster workers recover bodies from ash-covered villages. A significant, but smaller, eruption in 1930 carried a death toll of 1,300 people.

The eruptions have also profoundly affected local ecosystems and agriculture, destroying trees, crops, livestock and causing habitat disruption for wildlife, such as the Javan Leopard, Panthera pardus ssp melas. This rare big cat, which lives only the island of Java, is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with an estimated adult population of 250 or less.

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