Indonesia’s recently dormant Sinabung Volcano continues to erupt, threatening the health and welfare of tens of thousands of Indonesians. The first historic eruption of Sinabung occurred in 2010, when brief bursts of explosive activity caused the evacuation of nearby villages. The activity quieted quickly, however, and most villagers had returned to their homes and way of life by September 2013, when the volcano once again roared to life, tossing ash and rock far across the landscape.
This most recent eruptive phase has continued through January, 2014, with near constant ash and gas venting, frequent pyroclastic flows and intermittent explosive episodes. On January 22, ash plumes were estimated at 20,000 ft (6 km); on January 28 the ash plumes rose to about 15,000 ft (4.5 km) and were accompanied by lava flows about 3 km in length.
On January 23, 2014 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra satellite passed over the region and acquired a true-color image of a large volcanic plume rising from Sinabung and blowing northeast before spreading out across the landscape. At higher resolution, gray ash can be seen covering the southern slope of the volcano.
Ash from Sinabung Volcano has coated nearby villages, as well as the coffee, chili pepper fields and local food gardens. At least 30 deaths have been attributed to the eruption, and 30,000 or more villagers have been evacuated from their homes at the foot of the volcano.
The toxic fumes and irritating ash are dangerous for humans, but animals also suffer. Some villagers have worked to evacuate their livestock from ash-strewn stables and pastures, while wild animals have been reported showing up – and sometimes dying – in villages. The Jakarta Post wrote of concerns about the volcano’s potentially deadly effect on critically endangered species, such as the Sumatran serow – a goat-antelope (Capricornus sumatraensis) that lives in the Indonesian highlands. In mid-January, one of the creatures showed up in a farmer’s field in weakened condition, and subsequently died. A necropsy showed that 30 percent of its lungs were blackened, presumably by inhaling volcanic ash. In 1990 only 32 Sumatran serow were documented living in the wild.