May 31, 2011
Near the end of its mission, the crew aboard space shuttle Discovery was able to document the beginning of the second day of activity of the Rabaul volcano, on the east end of New Britain. On the morning of Sept. 19, 1994, two volcanic cones on the opposite sides of the 6-kilometer sea crater had begun to erupt with very little warning. Discovery flew just east of the eruption roughly 24 hours after it started and near the peak of its activity. The eruption, which sent a plume up to over 60,000 feet into the atmosphere, caused over 50,000 people to evacuate the area. Because winds were light at the time of the eruption, most of the ash was deposited in a region within 20 kilometers of the eruption zone. This photo shows the large white billowing eruption plume is carried in a westerly direction by the weak prevailing winds. At the base of the eruption column is a layer of yellow-brown ash being distributed by lower level winds. A sharp boundary moving outward from the center of the eruption in the lower cloud is a pulse of laterally-moving ash which results from a volcanic explosion. Geologists theorize that the large white column and the lower gray cloud are likely from the two main vents on each side of the harbor. The cloud-covered island in the foreground is New Ireland. The bay and harbor of Rabaul are covered with a layer of ash, possibly partly infilled with volcanic material. Matupit Island and the airport runway have disappeared into the bay. More than a meter of ash has fallen upon the city of Rabaul. Up to five vents were reported to have erupted at once, including the cones Vulcan and Tavurvur, which are opposites of the harbor as well as new vents below the bay. Half of the Vulcan cone has collapsed into the sea. The extra day in space due to bad weather at the landing site afforded the crew the opportunity for both still and video coverage of the event.
Topics: Disaster Accident, Environment, East New Britain Province, Volcanology, Geology, Eruption column, Volcanic ash, Vulcan, Volcano, Types of volcanic eruptions, Rabaul, Stratovolcanoes, Plate tectonics, Igneous rocks