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Monday, Feb. 7, 2011

EDITORIAL

Nature's eruptions

News of Mount Shinmoe in Kyushu has produced striking images of children cleaning dust at their school, people with high-caliber masks and footage of massive, expanding billows of volcanic ash from a crater — as well as volcanic lightning and lava. The volcanic eruption is another reminder, if any was needed, that nature's tremendous forces are always at work.

Destruction from the latest eruption in the Kirishima group of volcanoes north of Kagoshima Bay has so far been minimal. But that could change unpredictably. In late January, ash plumes rose more than 2 kilometers into the air. Fragments of volcanic rock and lava have been found as far as 8 km away, and an explosion causing pulses of air in early February broke glass in buildings and cars for kilometers around.

Volcanic ash advisories are in effect. The Japanese Meteorological Agency set its alert warning to level 3, one away from preparing to evacuate. A danger zone with a 4-km radius has been established. Volcanic ash remains a danger to the health of people living nearby and to airplane engines.

Experts monitoring the volcano suggest worse may be yet to come. The Kirishima group of volcanoes has erupted nine times in the past 100 years, with at least two serious incidents. Even if the damage remains minimal, the lingering effects can harm crops, health and aircraft, and contribute to atmospheric shifts and global warming. The best advice may be simply to stay out of the way, but that depends on official warnings and timely information, all of which, with volcanoes, is hard to get.

Japan is not alone with its volcanic activity. The Volcano World website of Oregon State University reports ongoing active volcanoes in Columbia, the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia. The danger and destruction of volcanoes emerged startlingly in Europe last spring when thousands of flights were canceled after a volcano erupted in Iceland.

Ancient superstition saw volcanic eruptions as portents, warnings or punishments from the gods. These days, of course, people are more likely to just check out the live webcam feed online. They may not be signs of godly anger, but they are certainly signs of nature's power that humbles human beings.



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