4 Oct 2017

The Kiwi vulcanologist monitoring Mt Agung

1:47 pm on 4 October 2017

Much of the latest information on Bali's volatile Mount Agung is coming the long way around - from a Kiwi vulcanologist watching an Indonesian mountain from Pittsburgh, US.

Pura Madya Lempuyang, Karangasem, Bali, with Mount Agung in the background.

Pura Madya Lempuyang, Karangasem, Bali, with Mount Agung in the background. Photo: AFP / DASRIL ROSZANDI / NURPHOTO

Dr Janine Krippner is working through the night to read, analyse and disseminate the latest information from Bali.

She reads tweets from volcano experts, monitors an online seismogram, interprets confusing graphs, and scours online sources for anything relevant.

She began watching the volcano closely on September 22, when Indonesian authorities declared a Level IV alert for Mt Agung and ordered major evacuations. She could not find the information she needed.

"I figured people out there must be really struggling. I started getting comments out there from people saying they didn't know where to get information," she said.

"You have to use Google Translate to translate the information from Indonesian, and there are key words that are missed out in that and make it sound very different from what the situation is.

"So, using volcanology education and experience I started translating those, making sure the messages from officials are getting across to the people in Bali or the people who are about to go to Bali, who really needed it."

People look at Mount Agung in Karangasem on island of Bali, after warnings a volcanic eruption was imminent.

People look at Mount Agung in Karangasem on island of Bali. Photo: AFP

Indonesia's vulcanologists and disaster management experts are doing a superb job, but their priority is getting information to locals in the volcano's immediate vicinity.

It takes time before updates get out to English speakers, like the 50,000 Australians who are in Bali on any given day.

Dr Krippner speeds up the process, releasing information and analysis, mostly on Twitter. She's posted hundreds of tweets and picked up a couple of thousand new followers.

Most tourists are well away from the evacuation zone, but Dr Krippner said they would face other problems in case of eruption.

She said one of the key messages for tourists was: be prepared. Bringing eye protection and masks to the island is crucial, even for people staying in destinations like Kuta, which are a long way from Mt Agung.

Finding protective masks or goggles is difficult in Bali.

"I would be prepared for a potential ashfall down there. It can be irritable to eyes," Dr Krippner said.

"It can be irritable to your skin and it can be irritable to your airways as well, because you're breathing in pulverised rock."

Dr Krippner said it was difficult to predict when, or even if, Mt Agung would erupt.

The eruption is determined by the magma system beneath the volcano, which she said was incredibly complex.

"Way below the surface there's a lot of gas in the magma, but until you start getting nearer and nearer the surface that gas can't come out because there's so much rock over the top of it.

"If you think of a magma system, not just a big balloon of magma sitting down there, it'll be some kind of weird system of magma pushing through this crack and this rock.

"There are so many aspects of this magma that could be constantly changing. Some of the things that can change the way it behaves are the amount of crystals in it, the amount of gas in it, how thick it is - the viscosity."

All this means that Indonesian authorities cannot allow any of the approximately 150,000 evacuees from the mountain to return home.

About 10,000 of those people are sick, said I Gede Wastika, a spokesman for the Disaster Mitigation Agency in Bali.

"Generally living in evacuation camps, no matter how good the condition of the camps are, the people living there will certainly not feel comfortable," he said.

"They've been living there since the 22nd until today, it's been a while, of course they will suffer from boredom, lack of things to do, there's no certainty whether Mount Agung [is] going to erupt or not.

"This prolonged stress causes people to have hypertension, they've got body aches, they've got cold; because living in camps, the condition is cold and uncomfortable, they sleep on the ground."


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