The question Indonesian volcanologist Devy Kamil Syahbana gets most is the one he cannot answer—when, or if, rumbling Mount Agung on Bali island will blow up in a major eruption.
The 3,000 meter (9,800 ft) Agung—a so-called strato-volcano capable of very violent eruptions—has recorded a sharp rise in activity that has raised worries.
In 1963, pyroclastic flows of lava and rocks poured out of the volcano, killing more than 1,000 people and razing dozens of villages. According to survivors, that eruption was preceded by earthquakes, volcanic mudflows, and ashfall—all signs that Mount Agung is showing again now, said Syahbana.
Authorities raised the alert status to the maximum after the volcano started erupting last month, spewing out ash over the holiday island and causing travel chaos by closing its airport for three days last week. While hot magma has produced an eerie orange glow just above the crater, and thousands of villagers have fled from their homes on the mountain’s slopes, Agung has, this time, yet to explode violently.
Syahbana, who studied volcanology in Brussels and Paris, said his team’s main job was to “increase the preparedness of the communities here in the event of a major eruption”.
Indonesia has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country.