Volcanic eruptions aren’t just violent; they’re incredibly fast, often leaving people no time to flee. Here, a rescue worker walks among the dead in the white-gray ash of Argomulyo, a village in Indonesia. This eruption last November of Mt. Merapi, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, triggered a series of fast-moving pyroclastic flows, a combination of volcanic rock and gas that can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees. This material barreled down Merapi’s slopes at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour.
If you’ve been anywhere near a television or Web enabled device in the last week (and you must have been), you know that a volcanic eruption in Iceland has grounded airline flights across Europe and even halted a few flights into the northeastern-most areas of Canada. What you probably don’t know is how to pronounce the name of the volcano (Eyjafjallajökull) or why an eruption in Iceland is grounding flights in London, Madrid and Berlin.
At 10:38 p.m. last night, Alaska's Mt. Redoubt made its first of five eruptions, the last blowing at 4:31 a.m., sending a cloud of volcanic ash 60,000 feet above sea level, according to the National Weather Service.
Humans are fleeting visitors on this roiling rock in the universe. On December 26, 2004, at 58 minutes and 49 seconds past midnight GMT, Mother Earth reacquainted us with this immutable fact. For millions of years, a creeping slab of Earth´s crust—the India Plate—had been grinding headlong into a similarly stubborn chunk of rock called the Burma Plate. Like a clash of Brobdingnagian armies, millennia of pent-up kinetic energy suddenly exploded from the seabed, a scant 100 miles from Sumatra, Indonesia.
It takes Scott Kiser only a split second to name the one city in the U.S., and probably the world, that would sustain the most catastrophic damage from a category-5 hurricane. "New Orleans," says Kiser, a tropical-cyclone program manager for the National Weather Service. "Because the city is below sea level-with the Mississippi River on one side and Lake Pontchartrain on the other-it is a hydrologic nightmare." The worst problem, he explains, would be a storm surge, a phenomenon in which high winds stack up huge waves along a hurricane´s leading edge.