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Volcanic eruptions spew clouds of ash, smoke, rocks and glass up into the stratosphere

AFP, June 30, 2019 7:00PM Kids News

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Papua New Guinea's Mt Ulawun volcano spewing lava, as from a helicopter, taken on June 26. Picture: AFP/Craig Powell/Niugini Helicopters media_cameraPapua New Guinea's Mt Ulawun volcano spewing lava, as from a helicopter, taken on June 26. Picture: AFP/Craig Powell/Niugini Helicopters


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An erupting volcano in Papua New Guinea has blanketed* a town in ash and forced more than 5000 people to evacuate their homes.

Mt Ulawun — one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes — began spewing lava and smoke high into the air on Wednesday.

Community elder Chris Lagisa said people had gathered at a church hall in the town of Kokopo to leave the area on utes, trucks and four-wheel drives clutching sacks filled with belongings.

The PNG Prime Minister James Marape sent soldiers to help on Friday.

Mt Ulawun is on an island called New Britain, on the remote Bismarck Archipelago chain between the PNG mainland and the Solomon Islands.

In the nearby provincial* capital of Kimbe, grey ash that had been shot more than 13km into the air turned day to night and began to fall on cars and homes.

People downwind from the volcano were warned to avoid falling ash, which can cause breathing, eye and skin problems.

Images of the volcano taken early Thursday appeared to show the ash flow easing. “Parts of (the) erupting column collapsed, sending block and ash flows down the flanks,” said Rabaul Volcano Observatory chief surveyor Steve Saunders.

Initial reports from the provincial disaster committee indicate lava flows had cut through the main coastal road.

media_cameraMt Ulawun volcano spewing ash into the air on June 26. Picture: AFP/Kingsley Kiuwou

Mt Ulawun is listed as one of 16 “Decade Volcanoes” targeted for research because they pose a significant risk of large, violent eruptions.

Mr Saunders said there were plans to send Volcano Observatory staff to the area on Friday to assess the situation as the eruption continues.

“We are monitoring instrumentally from Rabaul Volcano Observatory and have access to satellite data,” he said.

“However due to the continuing eruption (and) the potential for unexpected resurgence*, it is recommended that the alert be raised to Stage 2,” Mr Saunders said.

PNG national airline Air Niugini cancelled all flights into Hoskins Airport in Kimbe for an indefinite period, and the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre issued a “red” warning to international airlines.

Thousands of people live in the shadow of Mt Ulawun, despite it being one of the most active volcanoes in the country.

NASA has released an amazing photo of the volcano Raikoke erupting.

Astronauts on the International Space Station watched and recorded the eruption, which happened just four days before Mt Ulawun began.

Astronauts on the International Space Station took this photo of Raikoke erupting on June 22. Picture: NASA media_cameraAstronauts on the International Space Station took this photo of Raikoke erupting on June 22. Picture: NASA

Raikoke is a remote and uninhabited volcanic island in an archipelago* called the Kuril Islands between Russia and Japan in the northwest Pacific Ocean. The islands are part of Russia.

It has not erupted since 1924.

Then, on June 22, an eruption began so dramatic and so powerful it could easily be seen from space.

The eruption consisted of at least nine explosions, six of which happened in the first 25 minutes.

The ash column rose at least 13km into the sky.

Lightning was detected within the smoke and ash clouds, which is a happening scientists call a dirty thunderstorm. No one is certain why this happens.

Although no people live on Raikoke, volcanologists will watch the volcano carefully because the ash from this latest eruption reached the stratosphere*, where planes fly.

Volcanic ash clouds contain glass and rocks, which can be dangerous for aeroplanes to fly through.

Sunset In Orbit media_cameraThe view of Earth from the stratosphere, taken from an aeroplane flying 12km above ground.

Scientists have names for the layers of gases that surround the Earth.

These layers together make up the Earth’s atmosphere.

The five main layers are:

  • TROPOSPHERE: from the ground or Earth’s surface to 12km into the sky
  • STRATOSPHERE: 12km to 50km above the surface of the Earth
  • MESOSPHERE: 50km to 80km
  • THERMOSPHERE: 80km to 700km
  • EXOSPHERE: 700km to 10,000km

The ISS is in orbit around the Earth about 400km from the ground, in the thermosphere.

Both Mt Ulawun and Raikoke have spewed ash clouds at least 13km high, which means there is ash in the stratosphere.

Big jet aeroplanes usually fly in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere, above about 11km, where there is less turbulence, which means a smoother flight.

Volcanologists watch volcanic ash clouds carefully to see how high they rise and where they move to so they can warn pilots to keep away from them.


  • blanketed: covered
  • provincial: of the province, or local government area; like a state
  • resurgence: coming back, usually more strongly
  • archipelago: chain of islands
  • stratosphere: 12km-50km above the surface of the Earth; see section above


Two big volcanoes are erupting

Hawaiians flee volcano’s lava and toxic gas

What is at the centre of the Earth?


  1. Where is Mt Ulawun?
  2. What health problems can volcanic ash cause?
  3. Describe the June 22 Raikoke eruption.
  4. Why do scientists watch Raikoke if no one lives there?
  5. What and where is the stratosphere?


1. What does that mean?
As we read through the article, there are a couple of different types of alerts that are mentioned, but that are not clearly defined. If we read carefully, taking clues from the context, facts we have learnt from the article and our prior knowledge, we can make a good prediction about what these terms mean so that we can still understand. Explain what you think is meant by these two terms mentioned in the article and how you reached your conclusion:

Stage 2 (alert)

“Red” warning

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Residents who evacuated Kokopo clutched sacks filled with belongings. If you needed to flee from your home with only as much as you could fit into your schoolbag, what would you take? Choose carefully! Your space is limited so items should be useful or difficult/impossible to replace.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking

On any given day there are about 20 volcanoes actively erupting. In 2019 so far, there have been 54 eruptions across the world. But not all of them are so big they can be seen from space, or cause any risk to humans.

Imagine living at the bottom of a volcano like the 5000 people who have been evacuated from their homes in Papua New Guinea. Write a journal entry about having to be evacuated from your home and the volcano erupting as Mt Ulawun — one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes — began spewing lava and smoke high into the air on Wednesday.

Use your VCOP to connect with your readers and GHaSP to ensure it makes sense.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you like to photograph from the International Space Station?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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