February 25, 2011

Indonesian Mud Volcano Shows No Sign Of Stopping

Scientists said Thursday that a mud volcano in Indonesia is responsible for displacing more than 13,000 families, and shows no sign of stopping for the better part of the next quarter century, as it continues to emit flammable gas through a deepening lake of sludge.

Underground pressure means the volcano -- located in Sidoarjo, East Java -- could continue to gush out gray mud until 2037, when volumes will become small and insignificant, according to a computer model.

But gas will continue to seep through the volcano, known as Lusi, for decades and possibly centuries to come, the scientists report in the London-based Journal of the Geological Society.

"Our estimate is that it will take 26 years for the eruption to drop to a manageable level and for Lusi to turn into a slow bubbling volcano," said team leader Richard Davies, a professor of Earth sciences at Durham University, in northeast England.

Thirteen people have been killed by the volcano since it first erupted on May 29, 2006.

At the height of its activity, the volcano was gushing up to 26.5 million gallons of mud each day. That rate has now slowed to about 2.5 million gallons a day, Davies told AFP in a phone interview.

The lake of mud has now smothered 12 villages to a depth of nearly 50 feet and has forced about 42,000 people from their homes.

Scientists used data from two existing commercial gas wells in the same region and seismic reflection data to get an idea of Lusi's geological structure.

"In the middle of the lake, or the volcano, is a vent that is 164 feet wide but there are 166 other vents that have popped up over the last four-plus years," said Davies. "These have popped up in factories, in roads, in people's houses. Some of them have ignited, there have been examples of people being hurt by flames that have been formed due to the ignition."

Lusi will continue to be a long-term menace, although its intensity will gradually decrease over the next quarter century, he noted.

"You can't return to the area. In fact, ultimately, probably the impact of the volcano will increase," he declared. "I think we've seen the most dramatic destruction. But it's not the end of the story. These vents are still forming."

The area is also slowly subsiding, and by 2037 could have formed a depression as much as 1600 feet deep.

The Indonesian government claims the volcano erupted due to an earthquake that struck days before, about 175 miles from Lusi.

But foreign experts accuse a gas drilling company, Lapindo Brantas, of failing to place a protective casing around a section of its well. As a result, the well hole was exposed to a "kick" from pressurized water and gas that lie beneath the layer of mud, thus driving it to the surface.


Image Caption: School destroyed by mud flow. Credit: Hugh e82/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)   


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