Merapi (Java, Indonesia): Anatomy of a Killer Volcano

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Merapi is Indonesia's most dangerous volcano with a history of deadly eruptions. Over the past two centuries, the volcanic activity has been dominated by prolonged periods of lava dome growth and intermittent gravitational or explosive dome failures to produce pyroclastic flows every few years. Explosive eruptions, such as in 2010, have occurred occasionally during this period, but were more common in pre-historical time, during which a collapse of the western sector of the volcano occurred at least once. Variations in magma supply from depth, magma ascent rates and the degassing behaviour during ascent are thought to be important factors that control whether Merapi erupts effusively or explosively. A combination of sub-surface processes operating at relatively shallow depth inside the volcano, including complex conduit processes and the release of carbon dioxide into the magmatic system through assimilation of carbonate crustal rocks, may result in unpredictable explosive behaviour during periods of dome growth. Pyroclastic flows generated by gravitational or explosive lava dome collapses and subsequent lahars remain the most likely immediate hazards near the volcano, although the possibility of more violent eruptions that affect areas farther away from the volcano cannot be fully discounted. In order to improve hazard assessment during future volcanic crises at Merapi, we consider it crucial to improve our understanding of the processes operating in the volcano's plumbing system and their surface manifestations, to generate accurate hazard zonation maps that make use of numerical mass flow models on a realistic digital terrain model, and to utilize probabilistic information on eruption recurrence and inundation areas.

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Geology Today, v. 27, issue 2, p. 57-62