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Report on Aira (Japan) — January 2019

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 44, no. 1 (January 2019)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Report research and preparation by: Janine Krippner.

Aira (Japan) Ash plumes continue at the Minamidake crater from July through December 2018

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2019. Report on Aira (Japan). In: Krippner, J.B., and Venzke, E. (eds.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 44:1. Smithsonian Institution.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin



31.593°N, 130.657°E; summit elev. 1117 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Sakurajima is one of the most active volcanoes in Japan and is situated in the Aira caldera in southern Kyushu. It regularly produces ash plumes and scatters blocks onto the flanks during explosions. This report covers July through December 2018 and describes activity at the Minamidake crater, which has continued with the activity typically observed at Sakurajima volcano. In late 2017 the eruptive activity has migrated from being centered at the Showa crater, to being focused at the Minamidake crater. This change has continued into the later half of 2018. The following activity summarizes information issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the Japan Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), and satellite data.

Activity from July through December 2018 was focused at the summit Minamidake crater with 8 to 64 ash emission events per month, with 50-60% being explosive in nature during four of the six months reported (table 20, figure 67). The maximum explosions per day was 64 on 31 August (figure 68). No pyroclastic flows were recorded during this time. Recent activity at the Showa crater has been declining and no activity was observed during the reporting period. Sakurajima has remained on Alert Level 3 on a 5-level scale during this time, reflecting the regular ash plumes and volcanic blocks that erupt out onto the slopes of the volcano during explosive events.

Table 20. Monthly summary of eruptive events recorded at Sakurajima's Minamidake crater in Aira caldera, July-December 2018. The number of events that were explosive in nature are in parentheses. No events were recorded at the Showa crater during this time. Data courtesy of JMA (July to December 2018 monthly reports).

Month Ash emissions (explosive) Max. plume height above the crater Max. ejecta distance from crater
Jul 2018 29 (16) 4.6 km 1.7 km
Aug 2018 64 (37) 2.8 km 1.3 km
Sep 2018 44 (22) 2.3 km 1.1 km
Oct 2018 8 (0) 1.6 km --
Nov 2018 14 (2) 4 km 1.7 km
Dec 2018 56 (34) 3 km 1.3 km
Figure (see Caption) Figure 67. Satellite images showing ash plumes from Sakurajima's Minamidake summit crater (Aira caldera) in August, September, and November 2018. Natural color satellite images (bands 4, 3, 2) courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.
Figure (see Caption) Figure 68. Explosions per day at Sakurajima's Minamidake summit crater (Aira caldera) for July through December 2018. Data courtesy of JMA.

Activity through July consisted of 29 ash emission events (16 of which were explosive) producing ash plumes up to a maximum height of 4.6 km above the crater and ballistic ejecta (blocks) out to 1.7 km from the crater, but ash plumes were more commonly 1.2 to 2.5 km high. The largest explosive event occurred on 16 July, producing an ash plume up to 4.6 km from the vent and ejecting ballistic rocks out to 1.3-1.7 km from the crater (figure 69). On 17 July, sulfur dioxide emissions were measured at 1,300 tons per day, and on 26 July emissions were measured to be 2,100 tons per day.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 69. Ash plumes erupting from the Sakurajima Minamidake crater (Aira caldera) on 16 July 2018 at 1538 (upper) and 1500 (lower) local time. The ash plumes reached 4.6 km above the crater rim and ejected rocks out to 1.3-1.7 km from the crater. Higashikorimoto webcam images courtesy of JMA (July 2018 monthly report).

During August the Minamidake crater produced 64 ash emission events (37 explosive in nature) with a maximum ash plume height of 2.8 km above the crater, and a maximum ballistic ejecta distance of 1.3 km from the crater on 31 August (figure 70). Ash plumes were more commonly up to 1 to 2.1 km above the crater. Sulfur dioxide emissions were very high on 2 August, measured as high as 3,200 tons per day, and was measured at 1,500 tons per day on 27 August.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 70. Activity at Sakurajima volcano (Aira Caldera) in August 2018. Top: A gas-and-ash plume that reached 2.8 km above the crater at 1409 on 29 August. Bottom: Scattered incandescent blocks out to 1-1.3 km from the crater on the flanks of Sakurajima after an explosion on 31 August. Higashikorimoto and Kaigata webcam images courtesy of JMA (August 2018 monthly report).

Throughout September 44 ash emission events occurred, with 22 of those being explosive in nature. The Maximum ash plume height reached 2.3 km above the crater, and the maximum ejecta landed out to 1.1 km from the crater. An explosive event on 9 September ejected material out to 700 m away from the crater and on 22 September an event scattered blocks out to 1.1 km from the crater (figure 71).

Figure (see Caption) Figure 71. Incandescent blocks on the flanks of Sakurajima volcano (Aira caldera) after an explosion on 22 September 2018 at 2025. The event scattered blocks out to 1.1 km from the Minamidake crater. Kaigata webcam image courtesy of JMA (September 2018 monthly report).

October and November were relatively quiet with regards to the number of ash emission events with only 22 events over the two months. The maximum ash plume heights reached 1.6 and 4 km, respectively. An observation flight on 22 October showed the currently inactive Showa crater restricted to minor fumarolic degassing, and steam-and-gas and dilute ash plume activity in the Minamidake crater (figure 72). An eruption on 14 November at 0043 local time produced an ash plume to over 4 km above the crater and scattered incandescent blocks out to over 1 km from the crater (figure 73). This was the first ash plume to exceed a height of 4 km since 16 July 2018. Two events occurred during 16-19 November that produced ash plumes up to 1.6 km. Sulfur dioxide measurements were 3,400 tons on 4 October, 400 tons on 17 October, 1,000 tons on 23 October, 1,100 tons on 6 November, and 1,400 tons on 20 November.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 72. Minor fumarolic degassing has occurred in Sakurajima's Showa crater (Aira caldera) and the vent has been blocked by ash and rock. The active Minamidake crater is producing a blue-white plume to 400 m above the crater and a dilute brown plume that remained within the crater. Images taken by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force 1st Air Group P-3C on 22 October 2018, courtesy of JMA (October 2018 monthly report).
Figure (see Caption) Figure 73. Eruption of Sakurajima (Aira caldera) on 14 November at 0043 local time ejecting incandescent blocks more than 1 km from the crater and an ash plume up to 4 km above the crater. Photos courtesy of The Asahi Shimbun.

Small ash plumes continued through December with 56 ash emission events, 34 of which were explosive in nature. The maximum ash plume height above the crater reached 3 km, and the maximum distance that ejecta traveled from the vent was 1.3 km, both during an event on 24 December (figure 74). An explosive event produced an ash plume that reached a height of 2.5 km above the crater and scattered ejecta out to 1.1 km from the crater.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 74. An explosive event at 1127 on 24 December 2018 at Sakurajima's Minamidake crater (Aira caldera). The ash plume reached 3 km above the crater rim. Higashikorimoto webcam image courtesy of JMA (December 2018 monthly report).

Intermittent incandescence was observed at the summit at nighttime throughout the entire reporting period. Areas of elevated thermal energy within the Minamidake crater were visible in cloud-free Sentinel-2 satellite images (figure 75) and elevated temperatures were detected in MIROVA on a few days.

Figure (see Caption) Figure 75. Sentinel-2 thermal satellite images showing the summit area of Sakurajima volcano, Aira caldera, in October 2018. The areas of elevated thermal activity (bright orange-red) are visible within the Minamidake crater. No thermal anomalies are visible within the Showa crater. Thermal (Urban) satellite images (bands 12, 11, 4) courtesy of Sentinel Hub Playground.

Geologic Background. The Aira caldera in the northern half of Kagoshima Bay contains the post-caldera Sakurajima volcano, one of Japan's most active. Eruption of the voluminous Ito pyroclastic flow accompanied formation of the 17 x 23 km caldera about 22,000 years ago. The smaller Wakamiko caldera was formed during the early Holocene in the NE corner of the Aira caldera, along with several post-caldera cones. The construction of Sakurajima began about 13,000 years ago on the southern rim of Aira caldera and built an island that was finally joined to the Osumi Peninsula during the major explosive and effusive eruption of 1914. Activity at the Kitadake summit cone ended about 4850 years ago, after which eruptions took place at Minamidake. Frequent historical eruptions, recorded since the 8th century, have deposited ash on Kagoshima, one of Kyushu's largest cities, located across Kagoshima Bay only 8 km from the summit. The largest historical eruption took place during 1471-76.

Information Contacts: Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), Otemachi, 1-3-4, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 100-8122, Japan (URL: http://www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html); Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), 1-3-4 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan (URL: http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/svd/vaac/data/); Sentinel Hub Playground (URL: https://www.sentinel-hub.com/explore/sentinel-playground); MIROVA (Middle InfraRed Observation of Volcanic Activity), a collaborative project between the Universities of Turin and Florence (Italy) supported by the Centre for Volcanic Risk of the Italian Civil Protection Department (URL: http://www.mirovaweb.it/); The Asahi Shimbun (URL: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201811140035.html accessed on 12 March 2018).