Volcanic Ash Has Basically Turned Day Into Night in Vanuatu

Vanuatu Red Cross personnel looking at ash fall in East Ambae.
Vanuatu Red Cross personnel looking at ash fall in East Ambae.
Photo: Vanuatu Red Cross

I’m no expert, but I feel like our planet is trying to tell us something. In addition to every corner of the globe being on fire, doused in rain, or cooked by heat, a new volcanic eruption is adding heavy ash to the list of calamities befalling humanity. The Manaro Voui volcano popped off in Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific, prompting the evacuation of the entire island of Ambae.

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The eruption occurred on Thursday and sent ash flying into the sky. The plume of debris was clearly visible from space, but its impacts were equally dramatic viewed from Earth. The Vanuatu Red Cross released images showing an inky sky and cars driving with their headlights on as ash essentially blocked out the Sun.

The deteriorating conditions have led the government to issue evacuation orders for the island’s 10,000 residents. A similar order was issued in September last year when the volcano rumbled to life, but Red Cross officials told ABC Australia the current eruption “is becoming more critical” compared what they’ve seen over the past year. The heavy ash has made the evacuation and response process even more difficult.

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“We tried to travel to the South today but we have to turn back, because trees are falling, visibility is very very poor, we cannot see far more than 2 meters,” Augustin Garae, a Vanuatu Red Cross disaster coordinator, wrote in a Facebook post.

There is a person holding an umbrella in this picture, taken during the day.
There is a person holding an umbrella in this picture, taken during the day.
Photo: Vanuatu Red Cross

Indeed, photos show that the ash has bowed palm trees, clogged rivers, and smothered roads. Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University, likened the weight of the ash to a bucket of sand or shovel full of wet snow.

“It is literally rock, pulverized rock that has been blasted apart during the eruption,” she told Earther. “When it rains and the ash gets waterlogged it is even heavier.”

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In addition to hampering evacuation efforts, ash also poses a huge health threat. The tiny particles and shards of volcanic glass it contains can get caught in lungs, aggravating respiratory problems.

The volcano has been simmering since last year. But it seems it wanted to join the volcano frenzy of 2018. Eruptions have rocked Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guatemala, taking lives and causing extensive damages. Despite that there have been multiple high-profile eruptions over the past few months, I cannot stress enough that they are not related—nevertheless, I hold that it sure as hell seems like the Earth is trying to get rid of us.

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Illustration for article titled Volcanic Ash Has Basically Turned Day Into Night in Vanuatu
Photo: Vanuatu Red Cross

Managing editor, Earther

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DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

I remember back in the day trying to do something useful with fly ash from coal plants. Something about cementitious qualities or something. Then I remembered about pozzolanic material and how the Romans would add it to cement to make it light and/or set up under water. Then I remembered something about geology and/or volcanology or whatever and volcanic ash like this discussed here might be pozzolanic. Or it might not be, fuck I don’t know. But I googled pozzolana to first get definition because I forgot:

pozzolana: a type of volcanic ash used for mortar or for cement that sets under water. Origin: early 18th century: from Italian, from pozz(u)olana ‘(earth) of Pozzuoli,’ a town near Naples.

Here’s a cool story to look on the bright side, bro:

Cities of the future may be built with locally available volcanic ash

Study finds adding volcanic ash reduces the overall energy required to manufacture concrete.

Anyway, concrete manufacturing is a huge source of GHG emissions. Us humans use shitloads of concrete. We’ll also need more concrete to shore up cities like the seawall around Manhattan (fuck Queens) - so a nasty cycle. Here’s the gist of the above article:

In a paper published online in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the researchers report that, by replacing a certain percentage of traditional cement with volcanic ash, they can reduce a concrete structure’s “embodied energy,” or the total energy that goes into making concrete. According to their calculations, it takes 16 percent less energy to construct a pilot neighborhood with 26 concrete buildings made with 50 percent volcanic ash, compared with the energy it takes to make the same structures entirely of traditional Portland cement.