Scientist warns magma chamber under Sakurajima is 90% full: a large lava eruption could be imminent
August 29, 2013
JAPAN – It’s been erupting constantly for nearly 60 years, spewing out smoke and ash and sending shivers through the more than half a million people who live nearby. Japan’s Sakurajima volcano recently blasted 100,000 tons of ash more than five kilometers into the sky, reminding surrounding communities of its power and volatility. Volcanologists warn that the magma chamber beneath the mountain is about 90 per cent full, meaning that a large lava eruption cannot be ruled out. The ABC’s North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy traveled to Sakurajima in south-west Japan to see how people live with this rumbling giant. In legend, this belching giant was named for a beautiful goddess, the divine being venerated as the symbol of delicate earthly life. But Sakurajima is anything but delicate. It is the mother of all Japanese volcanoes. Sakurajima is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Some years it belches into life or erupts over 1,000 times and this bad-tempered beast is just eight kilometers from the 600,000 residents of Kagoshima. And recently Sakurajima showered this city with 100,000 tons of ash, turning day into night and sending people scrambling for cover. Its 500th eruption of the year sent plumes more than five kilometres into the sky and reminded everyone here just how vulnerable they are to the vagaries of this volcano. But mostly, Sakurajima is just a daily inconvenience. Volcanologist Masato Iguchi has been studying Sakurajima for more than 30 years, and while he’s not worried just yet about another big eruption, he does warn that pressure underneath the volcano is rising. Volcanologist Masato Iguchi said, “The magma level deep within the volcano is back to about 90 per cent of what it was before the 1914 eruption so we do have to worry about a big eruption in the long-term.” And while we were on Sakurajima, the volcano rumbles into life again, spewing out more ash and giving the people who live here some more cleaning to do. Across the small stretch of sea, the people of Kagoshima go about their business. They can only hope the goddess of the volcano can keep her temper for a little while longer.