The ultimate science fair project — build your own volcano

I can still remember the fun I had as a kid, making a semi-functional model of a volcano for a science fair. The subject of today’s post, though, wasn’t a science fair project — it was a completely avoidable and very damaging accident (image credit: E. WRAY/AP). Back in May of 2006, a crew was drilling an exploratory natural gas well on the island of Java when they had a REALLY bad day. They managed to puncture a layer of rock that was capping some hot, pressurized water. Two days later, the water made it to the surface via a hidden fault, the water brought up plenty of dirt up with it, and the resulting mud volcano has been going strong ever since. This accidental volcano has been spewing up to 150,000 cubic meters a day of hot, toxic mud — and in the process has buried four villages and driven more than 11,000 people from their homes.

Of course, it was only a matter of time until footage of it showed up on YouTube.

As if the island of Java hasn’t had its share of problems already, there was the tsunami in 2004, then a volcano, and later a major earthquake. Now this — apparently due to the drilling crew not following “standard operating practices” in their work. For a better sense of the scale of the problem, here’s a “before” picture:

and here’s a more current one (as of January 5):

Both images, BTW, were taken by the Ikonos satellite, and come courtesy of the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing at the National University of Singapore.

Geologists now feel that the volcano (since dubbed Lusi) could easily continue to erupt for years. Apparently a similar phenomena occurred offshore of Brunei in 1979 — and that “blow-out” was only recently stopped up. Efforts have been under way for months to slow the flow of mud from Lusi, but without much success to date. Some new techniques are scheduled to be tried in the next few days, so keep your fingers crossed…

There’s been very little coverage of this in the “mainstream” media (at least in the U.S.), but plenty scattered around the web. For starters, Terra Daily has a writeup here, the BBC has one here, and Nature magazine has one here. There’s also a very good post on Lusi at Highly Allochthonous.

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