New Zealand Volcano From Lord Of The Rings Unexpectedly Erupts While Scientists Monitor Active Neighbor
November 22, 2012

New Zealand Volcano From Lord Of The Rings Unexpectedly Erupts While Scientists Monitor Active Neighbor

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

After more than a century of dormancy, a New Zealand volcano has erupted a second time in four months, sending a column of ash more than a mile into the sky and forcing school children and tourists to flee from the area, according to local reports.

The Mount Tongariro volcano erupted at 1:25 p.m. local time (00:25 GMT) on November 21, and spouted off for about five minutes before settling back down. While scientists said there were no immediate threats from Wednesday´s activity, the area was cleared of hikers and a group of schoolchildren to ensure safety in case the mountaintop decides to unleash a much bigger explosion.

Air New Zealand said flights to Rotorua resumed early Thursday but services to Taupo and Gisborne were still spotty and cancellations and delays would likely continue until the ash cloud cleared, which was predicted to dissipate later in the day.

The 90 schoolchildren who were visiting the Tongariro track with six parents and four teachers, were cleared from the area immediately and are believed to be safe from harm. They were less than a mile from the volcano when the eruption occurred.

“We were right up there next to it,” said Tamatea Intermediate School teacher Lomi Schaumkel. “It was just amazing.”

Schaumkel added they were right next to one of the signs warning of the danger zone when the blast occurred. “We saw all these tourists running away from it. We didn't stick around long.”

Another report said there were an additional 20 schoolchildren from another school that were even closer--within 2,400 feet of the peak--when it erupted. No injuries have been reported so far.

GNS Science confirmed the eruption happened just after 1:20 p.m. on the 21st, marking the second eruption in less than 4 months.

Before the volcano rumbled back to life this past August, the 6,490-foot-high peak last erupted in 1897. Located on the country´s North Island, the mountain is one of several in the area that have been featured in the immensely popular Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, with Mt Ruapehu and neighboring Mt. Ngauruhoe as backdrops for Mt. Doom.

Before Wednesday´s eruption, Dept. of Conservation members had warned hikers to avoid the nearby summit of Mt. Ruapehu, as there were signs it may be on the verge of eruption. Temperature readings indicated there was an increased risk of eruption at the largest active volcano in NZ.

Temp readings in a lake in the crater indicated a vent was partially blocked, leading to increased pressure, making the threat of an eruption more likely “over the coming weeks to months,” according to GNS.

Even though Wednesday´s activity was limited and there are no evident signs of continued eruptions, scientists are warning that further activity could occur in the coming weeks, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald.

While waiting for Ruapehu to erupt, seismologists and volcanologists had no warning of Tongariro´s blast and said they could not confirm if the activity was tied to Ruapehu. But with two volcanoes now active in the region, DOC said a number of hiking trails and roads have been closed in Tongariro National Park until further notice.

New Zealand is on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an area where the planet´s tectonic plates collide, making regions along the ring a hotspot for volcanic and seismic activity.

Though Wednesday´s eruption was considered minor in scale, the ash cloud posed a significant threat to areas from Waikato down to Hawke´s Bay.

A 1953 eruption on Mt. Ruapehu caused NZ´s worst rail disaster when it triggered a massive mudslide that washed away a bridge, causing a passenger train to plunge into the Whangaehu river, costing the lives of 151 people.