The Indonesian island of Sulawesi has become a natural disaster zone. After a tsunami battered the island late last week, leaving at least 1,350 dead, a volcano has now erupted.
Earlier this week, scientists forecast that Soputan, an active stratovolcano on the northeastern tip of the island, was showing signs of activity. On Wednesday, it sent an ash cloud towering nearly 20,000 feet above its summit. By night, lava was trickling down Soputan’s flanks. The volcano continues to be on a Level III alert, which is a “watch and take precautions” kind of alert, but not an “evacuations are imminent” one.
Soputan has erupted a dozen times since 2000, so this isn’t wholly a surprise. But it coming right after an earthquake that triggered a tsunami has people wondering if the geological phenomena are intertwined. The short answer: We don’t know, but it seems unlikely.
“It could be that this earthquake triggered the eruption, but the direct correlation has yet to be seen,” Kasbani, the head of Indonesia’s Vulcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation agency who goes by only one name, said according to NBC News.
Denison University volcanologist Erik Klemetti threw even more cold water on the speculation.
“Soputan had already been restless for months before the earthquake and the volcano is hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter of the earthquake,” he said in an email to Earther. “So, I invoke correlation =/= causation on this front. Indonesia is just that geologically active.”
Indeed, Indonesia is one of the most volcanically active nations in the world. The islands that make up the nation are home to dozens of active volcanoes owing to its proximity the edge of tectonic plates. That can allow magma to seep up from deep in the Earth to the surface more readily.
This isn’t the first eruption we’ve seen in Indonesia recently. In February, Mount Sinabung in Sumatra popped off, sending an extremely ominous-looking ash cloud towering over the countryside. Last November, Mount Agung on Bali did its thing, too.
Of course, having regular eruptions is one thing. Having one follow a tsunami that already has people on edge is quite another.