Inferno in paradise as tourists flee Bali

Hot spot: Indonesia is home to more than 130 active volcanoes. © Getty

Are volcanoes nature’s most terrifying force? The alert for Bali's Mount Agung is now at its highest level and the airport is closed amid fears of an imminent catastrophic eruption.

Brooding over Bali, a tropical, touristy island in Indonesia, stands Mount Agung. This volcano, considered sacred to the Balinese, looks set to wreak havoc.

Since the weekend, it has been hurling clouds of white and dark grey ash nearly 10,000ft into the atmosphere. Lava is welling up in the crater. Its explosions can be heard nearly ten miles away.

The authorities have ordered a mass evacuation of 100,000 people from the surrounding area. But thousands more are trapped on the island after the ash, which can be deadly for aircaft, reached the airspace around Bali’s busy airport.

No natural disasters affect the world like volcanoes. They shape the landscape around the edge of the world’s vast tectonic plates, forming islands like the Hawaiian group.

The mineral deposits left by volcanoes result in extremely fertile land. Pompeii may never have developed without the soil formed by Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that eventually destroyed the city.

But the worst volcanic eruptions can be much more catastrophic than Vesuvius. The latest string of eruptions in Indonesia has triggered fears that a supervolcano is about to blow, which could trigger an ice age and wipe out humanity.

Violent planet

Humanity can recover from floods, earthquakes and famines, say some. But volcanoes have the power to wipe out all life on Earth, turning its lush landscapes into rocky wastelands, before heralding a new ice age. The fact that humanity has relied on them so much makes them even scarier.

Just look at the numbers, reply others. Volcanoes do not kill nearly as many people as other natural disasters. The most deadly volcano in recorded history killed 92,000 people in Indonesia in 1815. The deadliest earthquake, on the other hand, 500 years ago in China, killed nearly a million people.

You Decide

  1. Are volcanoes nature's most terrifying force?

Activities

  1. Split into pairs. You live near an active volcano. Discuss five ways you need to be prepared in case of an emergency. Report your findings to the class.
  2. Draw a diagram showing how a supervolcano could erupt, and what would happen if it did.

Some People Say...

“Men argue. Nature acts.”

Voltaire

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Mount Agung, on the Indonesian island of Bali, is about to erupt. The threat alert has been raised to the maximum level, prompting mass evacuations, but thousands are stranded.
What do we not know?
Volcanoes are hard to predict. Geologist Mark Tingay says “These eruptions can be quite large and extensive and violent, but this could also be a relatively minor eruption over time."

Word Watch

Sacred to the Balinese
The Balinese believe that Mount Agung is a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist cosmology.
Supervolcano
The most famous supervolcano lies beneath Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
Most deadly volcano
Ash from the eruption dispersed around the world and lowered global temperatures.
Deadliest earthquake
The 1556 Shaanxi earthquake was particularly devastating because most of the population in the area at the time lived in artificial caves in cliffs, many of which collapsed.

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