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Report on Semeru (Indonesia) — August 1997


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 8 (August 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Semeru (Indonesia) Frequent explosions and ash plumes; two climbers killed

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Semeru (Indonesia) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:8. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199708-263300



8.108°S, 112.922°E; summit elev. 3657 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Activity observed during fieldwork in July 1997 consisted of frequent short-lived Vulcanian explosions. Continuous crater observations were made over more than 5 hours on the morning of 22 July from the Gunung Sawur observatory, 11 km SSE of the volcano. During that time 18 "cannon-like" explosions were each followed by rapidly declining ash emission at intervals of 2-40 minutes with a mean of 18 minutes. Explosion durations ranged from about 1 to 3.5 minutes; plume heights remained low, from a few hundred meters up to 1.5 km maximum. The plumes were blown by the wind as soon as they rose above the crater rim, except for the strongest explosions. Ash sometimes fell at the observatory. Blocks were occasionally seen rolling within the S-SW breach of the crater and glowing pyroclastic material was seen at night. The explosions could be heard 9 km from the crater but not from the observatory. Some explosions were accompanied by base surges, but they were limited to the interior of the crater.

During a 6-hour stay in the summit area on 26 July, 19 explosions were seen. They were separated by intervals of 2-38 minutes with a mean of 15 minutes (or 17 minutes if the last two intervals of 2 and 4 minutes are discarded), suggesting that activity remained stable since 22 July. Most explosions sent only ash plumes above the highest point of the crater rampart. The plumes immediately drifted SE with a strong wind. About 1/3 of the explosions threw blocks well above the N crater rim and some fell on the pyroclastic cone. A brief visit to the rim of the active crater showed that a pyroclastic rampart was being built between the S-SW breach and the active vents. In contrast to the pre-1994 through 1995 eruptions, the bottom of the crater could not be seen from the NE crater rim. No evidence for dome or lava flow emplacement within the present funnel-shaped crater could be seen from the NE crater rim.

Aviation warnings. Volcanic ash advisories for Semeru have been issued frequently since March (BGVN 22:06) At least two such advisories were issued during August after aviators for Qantas Airlines reported ash plumes. On 10 August a Qantas flight flying from Sydney to Singapore reported a plume between 7.6 and 9.1 km (25-30,000 feet) altitude that was drifting S near its base and N at its top. Another plume was seen on 30 August to 8.5 km (28,000 feet) altitude. No evidence of volcanic plumes was seen on either day in satellite imagery.

Two climbers die near crater. According to press reports, two German mountain climbers died near the crater on 2 September after being struck by large ejected ballistics. The two men were part of a group of 17 from a Munich-based climbing club. The victims, together with the group leader, had separated from the group to check the crater when the accident occurred. Warning signs not to approach the crater were posted along the path.

Geological Summary. Semeru, the highest volcano on Java, and one of its most active, lies at the southern end of a volcanic massif extending north to the Tengger caldera. The steep-sided volcano, also referred to as Mahameru (Great Mountain), rises above coastal plains to the south. Gunung Semeru was constructed south of the overlapping Ajek-ajek and Jambangan calderas. A line of lake-filled maars was constructed along a N-S trend cutting through the summit, and cinder cones and lava domes occupy the eastern and NE flanks. Summit topography is complicated by the shifting of craters from NW to SE. Frequent 19th and 20th century eruptions were dominated by small-to-moderate explosions from the summit crater, with occasional lava flows and larger explosive eruptions accompanied by pyroclastic flows that have reached the lower flanks of the volcano.

Information Contacts: Jean-Luc Le Pennec, Laboratoire de Petrologie Magmatique, CEREGE - Universite Aix-Marseille III, BP 80, 13545 Aix-en-Provence 04, France; Alain Gourgaud, Centre de Recherches Volcanologiques, 5 rue Kessler, 63038 Clermont Ferrand, France; Isya N. Dana, Igan Sutawidjaja, and Eddy Mulyadi, Volcanological Survey of Indonesia, Jalan Diponegoro 57, Bandung 40112, Indonesia; Bureau of Meteorology, Northern Territory Regional Office, P.O. Box 735, Darwin NT 0801, Australia; Agence France-Presse, Paris, France.