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Iceland's volcanic activity keeps Fuji-watchers on their toes


Last month, ash plumes emitted by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland at one point forced the closing of airports in 28 countries, and has resulted in over $17 billion in economic losses -- considerably exceeding the costs for grounding carriers immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The chaos wreaked by the Iceland volcano serves as a reminder to scientists that Japan's largest volcano, Mt Fuji, is by no means extinct. And at 3,776 meters in height, Fuji is not only considerably bigger than the 1,666-meter Eyjafjallajökull, but is also located relatively close to major population centers.

Writing in Shukan Toyo Keizai (May 15), earth science professor Hiroki Kamata of Kyoto University supposes if Fuji were to erupt of the same scale as its last recorded eruption in 1707, the destruction would be far greater this time.

The 1707 eruption, from craters on the east-northeast flank of the mountain, released an estimated 800 million cubic liters of ash, which accumulated to a depth of 10 cm in Yokohama and 5 cm in Edo (present-day Tokyo). So thick was the ash that the skies darkened at midday.

People in 1707 did not have to worry about computers, whose power supply and air vents may be especially vulnerable to fine dust particles. A modern-day eruption could very likely wreak havoc with the nation's business and communications.

Airborne ash particles would also clog the air filters of cars and trucks, causing vehicle traffic to grind to a halt. For those that keep running, driver visibility would likely be affected. Using windshield wipers to clear airborne grit would cause permanent scratches to be gouged into the glass. And after a rain, the water and ash mixture might make roads so dangerously slick that the Tomei and other expressways would have to shut down until the paving could be swept clean.

Needless to say, should the ash travel eastward, flights to and from both Haneda and Narita airports would be grounded for the duration.

Likewise, the toll on human health would be immense: respiratory complaints such as asthma and bronchitis would almost certainly soar, along with eye irritation.

In June 2004, Japan's cabinet office made public a hypothetical calculation for the economic impact based on a Mt Fuji eruption of the same scale as the one in 1707. The damage projections reached 2.7 trillion yen.

But how worried should we be? Professor Kamata notes that current magma activity under Mt Fuji is low and no precursors foreshadowing an eruption are evident. However, once an eruption were to begin, Tokyo and environs would be paralyzed for several months.

Volcanos are the Godzillas of the global environment. Kamata notes that eruption in Iceland in 1783 killed three-fourths of that nation's livestock population due to lack of feed, and one-quarter of the country's human population expired from starvation. Sulfur emissions combined with water created a "blue haze" that blocked sunlight, causing Europe's average temperatures to drop by 1 degree Celsius for the next decade.

The 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines had a similar, albeit smaller, impact on climate in the region.

At least modern-day volcanologists have developed methods for detecting when eruption is imminent, such as by gauging the depth of tremors beneath the mountain and using devices that measure outward swelling on the slopes. The Meteorological Agency is then alerted and warnings issued, hopefully minimizing the extent of damage. Waiting until volcanic ash fills the skies, warns Kamata, is already too late.

No one knows when Mt Fuji will erupt again, but unlike earthquakes, it will give out clear warnings well beforehand. Harnessing the latest technology and adopting proactive measures is an absolute "must" for future disaster management.

© Japan Today

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nandakandamanda at 02:32 PM JST - 18th May

Nobody wants pneumonoultramicroscopicsilikovolcanokoniosis.

Hey i think you missed an "I" in there somewhere!! hehehe

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I wonder if geologists and volcanologists can correlate earthquake activities and volcanic eruptions?

Wonder if geologists and volcanologists are able to correlate earthquakes with volcanic eruptions? There was a large earthquake in 1703 in Edo that killed 108,000 people about the time before Mt. Fuji erupted. Maybe I'm just blowing hot-air with this surmisation. Climbed Fujii-san twice and recommend it to those who haven't yet.

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Nobody wants pneumonoultramicroscopicsilikovolcanokoniosis.

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Fuji and an eruption. Possible? Yes. When? Who knows. Something to stress over. No. Just do what you can to offset the things that you know may happen. Job done, move on to the next thing.

The problem I have with fear mongering is that it doesn't really help anything. The people who need to worry are already usually doing so. It doesn't create new jobs for people who can be recruited to help offset risks. And it doesn't really make anyone any more aware as this type of article is soon forgotten.

Bottom line. Fuji will erupt some day, like Raineer and many others. Don't like it, move. But then again just about every spot on earth has something dangerous. This is existence.

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I thing a big earthquake is more likely than Fuji-san blowing it's top. But an eruption of Fuji is one thing I don't want to see from Tokyo.

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wow what a pointless article. Volcanos are monitored for magma temp, caldera formations..y'know, changes. Nothing on Fuji. So this article is an attempt to link Iceland to Japan. Fail.

no one is on their toes.

There are real and important issues to be discussing. This isn't one

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dogs and cats, living together...

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@starviking - LOL I thought the same thing about the title. But it's ok they have it all figured out anyways. Just "Duck and Cover".

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Yet another try to scare people around?

-Hey, let's get worried about stuff!

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"People in 1707 did not have to worry about computers, whose power supply and air vents may be especially vulnerable to fine dust particles."

Hey Mr. Scientist - The human lungs don't do so well with those "fine dust particles" either! (just ask someone from Pompeii)

If Mt. Fuji did blow you would have to be more worried about being run over by a news truck trying to get it for a good photo shoot.

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If Fuji erupts, nobody will be able to go to work around there.

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whiskeysour at 07:01 AM JST - 15th May

“nobody can't go to work.”

I’m sorry but this really is asking far too much of us. This is a criminal misuse of the language.

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Interesting title, suggests that they weren't 'on their toes' before the recent Icelandic eruption!

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Harnessing the latest technology and adopting proactive measures is an absolute “must” for future disaster management

we have nothing to counter a volcanic eruption.

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I'm sure the new business opportunities would more than make up for any economic shortfalls. "Hello Kitty" lava dolls!

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Total destruction, nobody can't go to work. A total nightmare for everybody.

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