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Report on Kuchinoerabujima (Japan) — March 2019


Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 44, no. 3 (March 2019)
Managing Editor: Edward Venzke. Research and preparation by Paul Berger.

Kuchinoerabujima (Japan) Weak explosions and ash plumes beginning 21 October 2018

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 2019. Report on Kuchinoerabujima (Japan) (Venzke, E., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 44:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN201903-282050



30.443°N, 130.217°E; summit elev. 657 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)

Activity at Kuchinoerabujima is exemplified by interim explosions and periods of high seismicity. A weak explosion occurred on 3 August 2014, the first since 1980, and was followed by several others during 29 May-19 June 2015 (BGVN 42:03). This report describes events through February 2019. Information is based on monthly and annual reports from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) and advisories from the Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC). Activity has been limited to Kuchinoerabujima's Shindake Crater.

Activity during 2016-2018. According to JMA, between July 2016 and August 2018, the volcano was relatively quiet. Deflation had occurred since January 2016. On 18 April 2018 the Alert Level was lowered from 3 to 2 (on a scale of 1-5). A low-temperature thermal anomaly persisted near the W fracture in Shindake crater. During January-March 2018, both the number of volcanic earthquakes (generally numerous and typically shallow) and sulfur dioxide flux remained slightly above baselines levels in August 2014 (60-500 tons/day compared tp generally less than 100 tons/day in August 2014).

JMA reported that on 15 August 2018 a swarm of deep volcanic earthquakes was recorded, prompting an increase in the Alert Level to 4. The earthquake hypocenters were about 5 km deep, below the SW flanks of Shindake, and the maximum magnitude was 1.9. They occurred at about the same place as the swarm that occurred just before the May 2015 eruption. Sulfur dioxide emissions had increased since the beginning of August; they were 1,600, 1,000, and 1,200 tons/day on 11, 13, and 17 August, respectively. No surficial changes in gas emissions or thermal areas were observed during 16-20 August. On 29 August, JMA downgraded the Alert Level to 3, after no further SO2 flux increase had occurred in recent days and GNSS measurements had not changed.

A very weak explosion was recorded at 1831 on 21 October, with additional activity between 2110 on 21 October and 1350 on 22 October; plumes rose 200 m above the crater rim. During an overflight on 22 October, observers noted ash in the emissions, though no morphological changes to the crater nor ash deposits were seen. Based on satellite images and information from JMA, the Tokyo VAAC reported that during 24-28 October ash plumes rose to altitudes of 0.9-1.5 km and drifted in multiple directions. During a field observation on 28 October, JMA scientists did not observe any changes in the thermal anomalies at the crater.

JMA reported that during 31 October-5 November 2018, very small events released plumes that rose 500-1,200 m above the crater rim. On 6 November, crater incandescence began to be periodically visible. During 12-19 November, ash plumes rose as high as 1.2 km above the crater rim and, according to the Tokyo VAAC, drifted in multiple directions. Observers doing fieldwork on 14 and 15 November noted that thermal measurements in the crater had not changed. Intermittent explosions during 22-26 November generated plumes that rose as high as 2.1 km above the crater rim. During 28 November-3 December the plumes rose as high as 1.5 km above the rim.

JMA reported that at 1637 on 18 December an explosion produced an ash plume that rose 2 km and then disappeared into a weather cloud. The event ejected material that fell in the crater area, and generated a pyroclastic flow that traveled 1 km W and 500 m E of the crater. Another weak explosion occurred on 28 December, scattering large cinders up to 500 m from the crater.

The Tokyo VAAC did not issue any ash advisories for aviation until 21 October 2018, when it issued at least one report every day through 13 December. It also issued advisories on 18-20 and 28 December.

Activity during January-early February 2019. JMA reported that at 0919 local time on 17 January 2019 an explosion generated a pyroclastic flow that reached about 1.9 km NW and 1 km E of the crater. It was the strongest explosion since October 2018. In addition, "large cinders" fell about 1-1.8 km from the crater.

Tokyo VAAC ash advisories were issued on 1, 17, 20, and 29 January 2018. An explosion at 1713-1915 on 29 January produced an ash plume that rose 4 km above the crater rim and drifted E, along with a pyroclastic flow. Ash fell in parts of Yakushima. During 30 January-1 February and 3-5 February, white plumes rose as high as 600 m. On 2 February, an explosion at 1141-1300 generated a plume that rose 600 m. No additional activity during February was reported by JMA. The Alert Level remained at 3.

Geological Summary. A group of young stratovolcanoes forms the eastern end of the irregularly shaped island of Kuchinoerabujima in the northern Ryukyu Islands, 15 km W of Yakushima. The Furudake, Shindake, and Noikeyama cones were erupted from south to north, respectively, forming a composite cone with multiple craters. All historical eruptions have occurred from Shindake, although a lava flow from the S flank of Furudake that reached the coast has a very fresh morphology. Frequent explosive eruptions have taken place from Shindake since 1840; the largest of these was in December 1933. Several villages on the 4 x 12 km island are located within a few kilometers of the active crater and have suffered damage from eruptions.

Information Contacts: Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), Otemachi, 1-3-4, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 100-8122, Japan (URL: http://www.jma.go.jp/); Tokyo Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC), 1-3-4 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan (URL: http://ds.data.jma.go.jp/svd/vaac/data/).