Tsunami risk in PNG volcano blast


Landslides could set off tidal wave, warns researcher.


Kadovar, at the start of the present eruption.
Kadovar, at the start of the present eruption.
Ricky Wobar, Samaritan Aviation

The eruption of the Kadovar volcano currently happening in Papua New Guinea has the potential to trigger a tsunami, according to a researcher at Australia’s Macquarie University.

Chris Firth of the university’s department of earth and planetary sciences says that because the volcano – on an island of the same name north-east of the country’s main island, New Guinea – has steep sides, the eruption could trigger landslides. These in turn could set off a tsunami.

“The geomorphology of the island indicates that such landslides have occurred in the past,” he says.

Kadovar has been erupting for several days and PNG authorities have moved to evacuate people from nearby islands over the past couple of days.

Scientists observing at the nearby Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said on the weekend that a dome of lava had become visible at the top of the volcano, and steam clouds were rising to 600 metres.

Firth says Kadovar began erupting on January 5.

“This is the first well documented eruption from the volcano, although William Dampier reported activity at Kadovar, or potentially one of the nearby islands, in 1700 AD,” he adds.

The eruption, which is being monitored by a NASA satellite, has produced dense clouds of volcanic ash, which have blown westward as far as 150 kilometres. Aviation authorities in the region are issuing periodic advisories.

Firth says the eruption takes researchers into unknown territory.

“Given the volcano's remoteness and dormancy, it has not been well studied in the past and does not have the monitoring infrastructure that is in place on other, more regularly active volcanoes,” he explains.

“This makes it very hard to predict what will happen during the course of the current eruption.”

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