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Report on Manam (Papua New Guinea) — October 2004


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 29, no. 10 (October 2004)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Manam (Papua New Guinea) Eruption from Southern Crater on 24 October; pyroclastic flows and ashfall

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2004. Report on Manam (Papua New Guinea) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 29:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN200410-251020


Papua New Guinea

4.08°S, 145.037°E; summit elev. 1807 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

The Rabaul Volcano Observatory (RVO) issued a series of information bulletins on Manam, describing conditions and hazard status recommendations associated with a strong eruption that started on 24 October 2004. That eruption was preceded by a clear buildup in seismicity, leading to a felt earthquake the day prior to the eruption. The eruption generated pyroclastic flows which traveled down the valley SE of the volcano and into the sea. The aviation color code rose to Red, the highest value.

The eruption's plume was imaged from space. Ash and condensed water vapor in the form of ice reached a maximum height of ~ 15 km altitude, intersecting the base of the tropopause but not entering the stratosphere. Low-level eruptive activity persisted after the 24 October eruption.

Lead-up to the 24 October eruption. RVO noticed increased low-frequency earthquakes at Manam beginning 15 October 2004. Its reports suggested the volcanic system had changed to a dynamic mode from its previously stable state. The escalation in low-frequency earthquakes during that interval was described as a "steady rise." But overall, the level was portrayed as low to moderate. In retrospect, RVO reports noted that seismicity increased steadily after 16 October; moreover, it rose further after a felt earthquake at about 1845 on the 23rd.

During 15-21 October RVO noted occasional weak roaring and rumbling noises from the Main Crater. The noises prevailed on 15, 16, and 17 October, becoming more frequent on the 18th, but reduced again on the 19th. The noises continued at a level similar to the 16th and 17th on the 20th and 21st. Noise from Southern Crater began on the 19th, consisting of the sound of a single low explosion. After the 20th, occasional low roaring and rumbling noises continued from both craters. Observers saw night glow from the Main Crater on the 18th and 19th. Occasionally the glow fluctuated at 3-5 minute intervals. Glow remained absent over Southern Crater. Both Craters released weak white-gray vapor.

Occasional ash-laden vapor was seen on the 21st from Southern Crater. In their report for 15-21 October, RVO recommended Alert Level 1. They said "Whilst no official public warning is required under this Alert Level, people living in and near the four main valleys of the Island should be informed to refrain from venturing into them unnecessarily." RVO later stressed the presence of NW winds at altitude, warning residents on that flank of possible ashfall.

Eruption on 24 October 2004. The eruption came from Southern Crater, beginning after 0800 on the 24th; it persisted throughout the morning and the early part of the afternoon, peaking between 1000 and 1100. At 1400 the eruption's intensity decreased slightly. Later that day it continued at a reduced level with moderate explosions and sub-continuous low rumbling and roaring noises.

The eruption produced a pyroclastic flow channeled into the SE valley, that eventually reached the sea. The NW part of the island, including villages between Tabele Mission and Baliau, were affected by ash and scoria falls. Some of the scoriae were fist-size and punched holes through the thatched-roofing of houses. The greatest impact occurred at Kuluguma and the surrounding villages. Casualties remained unreported. Between the hours of 0300 and 0500, residents of Wewak town called RVO, advising that fine ash had reached them.

Seismicity reflected the eruptive activity, with events peaking between the hours of 1000 and 1100, after which event counts reverted to low to moderate levels. Ongoing seismicity suggested that the volcano has not reached a completely quiet state. Still, the eruption level had declined as it continued. It was recommended that the Alert Level be upgraded from 1 to 2 (Stage 2 Alert Level does not call for evacuation from the Island). Authorities called for community information exchange ("toksave") on volcano status; for avoiding the four main valleys; for the population to stay prepared and organized, including village efforts.

The 24 October eruption caused the aviation color code to rise to Red, the highest value. According to RVO, low-level eruptive activity persisted after the 24 October eruption, decreasing further by 26 October. A RVO report issued at 0800 on 27 October noted that activity had subsided significantly since late on the 24th. An aerial inspection confirmed pyroclastic flows had gone down the SE- and upper part of the SW-trending valleys. A lava flow traveled 600 m down the SE valley. Tephra fall most affected the area from Kuluguma to Boda villages, including the Bieng Catholic mission on the island's NW side. Numerous food gardens were destroyed by the tephra deposit, which had an average thickness of 7 cm measured at the Bieng mission. RVO recommended that the Alert Level be downgraded to 1.

On 27-28 October occasional ash emissions still escaped from Southern Crater. Brown ash clouds rose several hundred meters above the summit before drifting to the NW and SW, resulting in fine ashfall. The ash emissions were accompanied by weak roaring and rumbling noises. Weak night-time glows were visible. Although earthquakes were few, tremor persisted. Low seismicity was coupled with a decline in eruptive vigor.

During 28-29 October, comparatively mild eruptions continued. Southern Crater continued to eject occasional emissions of dark, moderately thick, ash-laden clouds. The ash clouds were again blown NW, traversing the area between Yassa and Baliau villages. Low roaring and rumbling noises accompanied some of the activity. It was difficult to observe Main Crater due to cloud cover. Glow was difficult to observe due to cloud cover as well. Few earthquakes occurred, but volcanic tremor continued.

Media reports. News articles reported that authorities advised evacuation of ~ 3,000 people to safer parts of the island. Some of those articles revealed that the island's current population stood at 7,000, and that the government had helped provide food and shelter for those displaced.

According to the online version of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Post-Courier, the Inter-Government Relations Minister, Sir Peter Barter, flew over the eruption. He allegedly saw large volumes of lava discharging into the sea, but judging from RVO observations, the term "lava" was mistakenly used for pyroclastic flows. In the news report Peter Barter had also stated that the entire SE side of the mountain, ~ 1 km wide, blew out, forcing lava (or other hot pyroclastic material) to flow down the SE valley to the sea. He was also reported as saying that at Bien (sometimes spelled Bieng, on the island's NW coast) his helicopter was hit by rocks (or other volcanic particles) that damaged its windscreen. Also, the Bien mission station lay beneath a heavy layer of ash. The damage to his helicopter kept him from flying completely around the island, missing the western segment between Bien, Yassa, Jorai, and the SW-flank settlement of Tabele, areas hit hardest by dust and rocks. He commented that much of the SE side of the island was relatively ash-free and safe, apart from the S-coast area between Dugulava (on the S coast) to Warisi.

A 27 October article by Dominic Krau in PNG's The National noted that the 24 October eruption had included a forceful outburst at 0800 on the 24th, and then climaxed during 1100-1400 that day, but had since been emitting only "smoke" and ash. It noted that prime minister Michael Somare had flown to Manam for a first-hand look at the damage. The same article mentioned that Peter Barter had assured that functioning radios were available at the settlements of Bien, Tabele, Warisis, Dugalava, Abereia, Bukure, and Kolang. It reported that volcanic ash fell in Wewak (on the main island's coast, 120 km NW), resulting in the civil aviation authority temporarily closing down the Boram airport for safety reasons.

Andrew Tupper of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) posted satellite images of the 24 October eruption's ash cloud, which occurred just before the Terra and Aqua satellites passed over. They also captured AVHRR and GOES data of a very ice-rich volcanic cloud. The coldest temperature measured by BOM from the high-level cloud was about 204 K (a couple of hours after the eruption), which translates to an altitude of ~ 15 km. This altitude was in harmony with the cloud's subsequent dispersion pattern and wind-velocity models. Pilot reports have been generally lower, as is usual for large eruptions. There was no evidence of significant stratospheric penetration (the tropopause height was 15-16 km).

Geological Summary. The 10-km-wide island of Manam, lying 13 km off the northern coast of mainland Papua New Guinea, is one of the country's most active volcanoes. Four large radial valleys extend from the unvegetated summit of the conical basaltic-andesitic stratovolcano to its lower flanks. These valleys channel lava flows and pyroclastic avalanches that have sometimes reached the coast. Five small satellitic centers are located near the island's shoreline on the northern, southern, and western sides. Two summit craters are present; both are active, although most observed eruptions have originated from the southern crater, concentrating eruptive products during much of the past century into the SE valley. Frequent eruptions, typically of mild-to-moderate scale, have been recorded since 1616. Occasional larger eruptions have produced pyroclastic flows and lava flows that reached flat-lying coastal areas and entered the sea, sometimes impacting populated areas.

Information Contacts: Andrew Tupper, Australian Bureau of Meteorology; Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, Australian Bureau of Meteorology (URL: http://www.bom.gov.au/info/vaac); Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO), P.O. Box 386, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea; Papua New Guinea Post-Courier Online (URL: http://www.postcourier.com.pg).