A rare video of an exploding volcano

September 7, 2014 • 1:43 pm

Over at Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait has posted a stunning video of a volcano exploding, and gives some background. The eruption was of Mount Tavurvur on the island of New Britain in Papua, New Guinea, and it occurred on August 29th. It was captured on video by Phil McNamara, and is now on YouTube.

Phil’s take:

Holy yikes! The video was taken by Phil McNamara, and posted on his wife Linda’s Facebook page. The volcano has been pretty active historically and has caused a lot of damage; it’s killed many people, and buried the nearby town of Rabaul in ash in 1994. Rabual used to be the provincial capital of the island of New Britain, but after that eruption the capital was moved to another location.

This eruption was smaller in comparison, but holy cow. It was still amazing. In the video you can see lava blasting upward hundreds of meters, falling apparently slowly due to distance. Given the timing delay of the shock wave — 13 seconds or so — so the folks on the boat were just over 4 km away (2.5 miles).

You can see the shock wave traveling down the volcano slope at 00:13, and then ramming the air above the volcano a few seconds later. The sudden compression condensed the water vapor in the air, so you can see ephemeral clouds forming in a rough circle above the explosion. I looked carefully but saw no sign of it traveling across the water.

When you watch the video, enlarge it to full screen for maximum effect.

This video was posted two days ago, and already has more than 3 million views. No surprise!

Here are before and after photos from NASA’s Earth Observatory website: notice all the green that has disappeared. The site also gives a lot more information about the eruption.





h/t: Marcel

16 thoughts on “A rare video of an exploding volcano

  1. Wow — seeing the shockwave expand in a sphere was particularly disturbing.

    …and to think that’s nothing compared to the Hiroshima bomb, which was tiny compared to H-bombs, which are dwarfed by supervolcanoes, which wouldn’t even be measurable within a sunspot…novae…GRBs….

    We live in a very high energy universe, indeed.


    1. I wonder what this eruption was estimated to be. It may have been in the range of Hiroshima, though of course the energy was released over a much longer period of time and in different ways.

      If I recall correctly the 1980ish eruption of Mt. St. Helens, obviously much, much more powerful than this one, was estimated at something like 24 megatons, or about 1500 times the yield of Little Boy.

    1. I’d like to think that we’ve grown up enough as a society to never ever again do anything remotely like that to our home.

      Whether that has any bearing on reality or not, it’s what I’d like to think.


  2. What if ….. Rabaul had been destroyed by volcanic activity during WWII when it was a major Japanese base, and from whence logistical support for its troops during the Guadalcanal campaign came. Hindsight would suggest it was a risky decision. Not unlike building a nuclear powerplant at Fukushima where the calculated risk of it ever being destroyed by a tsunamai was close to zero.

  3. The folks with the camera would have been on a peninsula; I think it’s called ‘Matupit Island’. Those rocks you see falling near the base of the volcano would be at least the size of a large car.

    Over in Iceland there are tornados forming in the gas escaping from a fissure:


    Apparently this is nothing new and Google can help locate many good videos and photos of tornados forming around eruptions.

    1. Tavurvur has been in almost constant eruption since late 1996. You rarely see it on the news because most of the eruptions only affect the locals; it’s rare that the sand gets high enough to affect international air traffic. That gray patch you see to the north-west (just north of the bay) is the former Rabaul airport which was destroyed in the 1996 eruptions.

  4. Hmmm, I see bigger explosions than that almost every day where I live (Volcan Tungurahua). I don’t even have to go outside to look– I built a skylight in my roof so I always have a view of the crater above me. I can feel the giant falling rocks shaking the ground after their long arching trajectories.

    But even seeing this every day, it is still awesome every time.

  5. As the shock wave goes down the hillside, it turns from dark (green? gray?) to tan. Anyone know the reason for the instantaneous color change?

  6. There’s a French TV documentary from 2010, dealing with the animals living on this very volcano, Mt. Tavurvur! The German translation is freely available here
    but there seems to be a slightly longer English edition as well (Blocked here in Germany, so I can’t verify). Try this link:
    or search for “Ash Runners”.

    It has excellent scenes and makes one wonder how animals may have survived this latest eruption.

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