Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lahar!

Mount Ruapehu is the biggest mountain on North Island and the most popular ski resort in New Zealand. It also happens to be an active volcano, a fact conveniently forgotten during much of the time until it gets into a little hissy fit and they have to cancel the skiing. Although there haven't been any really major eruptions lately, the last hissy fit was in 1995-1996 and caused the cancellation of that year's ski season (to the sadness of many).

But that doesn't mean you still can't have lahar! After months of speculation on this topic, the natural dam that was in place since the last eruption finally burst this morning, causing the shutdown of a section of the major highway in the country (which I was conveniently on last weekend- ha!). It's a rather regular occurence for lahar to run off of Mount Ruapehu, over 30 of them have happened since 1953, but there is still something rather worrisome about a gigantic wall of mud and rocks moving at speeds faster than a car. See that little thin squiggle in the upper left of the above picture, guys? Yeah, that's the road.

Fortunately, because Ruapehu does this rather routinely there's a great advance warning system in place for stuff like this which worked perfectly, and no one was hurt. We might not be in the clear yet though- early reports state that only a small part of the dam burst, meaning some interesting things may yet happen in the coming months.

Of course, stuff like this was definetely on my list of reasons to come to New Zealand because I have nursed a soft spot in my heart for natural disasters since infancy. Weird things happen parents give books on Pompeii and Mount St. Helens to their preschooler.

1 comments:

Ross said...

Yeah, I totally get the "natural disaster" thing. While the human detestation they can cause is heartbreaking, it is kind of cool to see the raw power of nature. Which is why those inter-galactic vacuum cleaners known as super-massive black holes are just... neat.

And I don't see why skiing season has to be canceled. You just need some lead skis and realize that the consequences of falling are a lot more dire.