A volcano in Papua New Guinea that was thought to be dormant has erupted for the first time in known history, spewing ash thousands of feet into the air and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents.
The 365m tall volcano on Kadovar Island began erupting on Friday, according to local media reports, and experts now fear it could lead to landslides and tsunamis in the area.
“Due to the steepness of the island, landslides are possible and together with the explosive nature of magma, tsunamis may be generated,” the Rabual Volcanological Observatory said in a statement.
“It appears from satellite imagery and aerial photographs that it started with mild vulcanian activity from a vent at the southeast base.
“It appears a fissure may be opening just inside of the western wall of the net’s breach descending down to at least sea level.”
Cheyne O’Brien, a forecaster at the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, said that the ash clouds had been thrown up steadily to a height of 2,133m, forming a plume that is travelling west-northwest.
“It’s just a continuous emission of volcanic ash at the moment,” he added.
Mr O’Brien also said that although the plume does not yet pose a hazard to aircraft, that could change if the wind switched direction towards Papua New Guinea’s Wewak airport.
More than 500 residents have been evacuated from Kadovar Island with no loss of life, according to US charity Samaritan Aviation, which operates seaplanes to remote areas of Papua New Guinea.
“We do not have any details yet as to where all of the families have gone and hope to have further information in the new future,” the charity said in a statement on Facebook.
There are no confirmed records of a previous eruption of Kadovar, said Chris Firth, a vulcanologist at Macquarie University, but scientists speculate it could have been one of two “burning islands” mentioned in the journals of a 17th-century English pirate and maritime adventurer, William Dampier.
Dampier may have recorded the last eruption of Kadovar during a voyage in search of “Terra Australis”, the southern continent once thought to be mythical, Firth said.
Vulcanologists are interested to observe its behaviour now.
“It’s hard to predict what might happen, as there’s nothing to compare it to,” Mr Firth added.