Natural events have often derailed mankind’s activities, but none are quite as spectacular as a volcano erupting thousands of feet into the atmosphere. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of annoyance that goes along with such spectacular events, as weary airplane travelers found out this weekend in Darwin, Australia, where flights have been interrupted by Indonesia’s most recent volcano eruption. An ash cloud rising into the air has started drifting towards Australia and poses enough of a danger to airplanes that some airlines have decided to cancel or reroute flights.
Sangeang Api, the Indonesian volcano that erupted this weekend, is part of the Pacific basin called the Ring of Fire, which is comprised of all the volcanoes surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Some of the more famous volcanoes in the Ring of Fire are Mount St. Helens in the United States and Mount Fuji in Japan. Mount Sangeang Api’s eruption is just the latest in a long history of amazing eruptions and other volcanic activity, such as earthquakes.
This eruption resulted in an ash cloud reaching 12 miles high into the atmosphere. The ash is made up of pulverised rock, most of which is silica. The wind is carrying the ash and rock towards Darwin International Airport and other regional airports. For now, the cloud is not expected to reach much further than Brisbane International Airport, if at all. There is also no formal warning from authorities regarding the grounding of planes. Instead, it is the decision of the airlines whether or not to cancel flights, based on safety risk assessments. Some have apparently found the risk too high, as flights on Qantas and Virgin Australia have confirmed that some of their flights out of Darwin have been interrupted by the volcano’s eruption.
The reason airlines have to conduct safety risk assessments is because the silica in the ash cloud can cause damage to planes, including the windows, structure and engines. Silica can actually melt inside the engines and cause damage. Certain routes have been more affected than others, and those are the routes whose planes have been grounded. Travelers who were unaware of the cancellations showed up at the airport expecting to start their journey, but were disappointed by the news that the eruption had changed things. Some international flights had to be re-routed around the cloud.
In Indonesia, however, some locals had to be evacuated because of the danger the eruption posed to their safety. Farmers who work on the island near the volcano will not return to their fields until the eruption has finished and they are given the clear to do so. Some of the farmers worked a mere four miles away from the crater. To a certain extent, this turn of events is not unexpected. Mount Sangeang Api has been on high alert since June 2013. Less than a year later, the volcano erupted as warned. It also erupted intermittently in February, killing 15 people and displacing others near its location. So far, no casualties from this eruption have been reported.
Since there has been no deaths reported as a result of this eruption, the story of Mount Sangeang Api to date is really a loss of time and revenue. Airlines may not be required to cancel flights, but the risk has been considered great enough that some have grounded their planes. It is better to be safe than sorry, it seems. Now it is just a matter of time before the interrupted flights around Darwin are resumed and the volcano eruption subsides, allowing travelers and farmers to return to their normal routines.
By Lydia Bradbury