Cleaning up after the Sakurajima August 18 2013 eruption

Sakurajima location (Source:

The residents of Kagoshima city, Kyushu, Japan are no strangers to volcanic eruptions. The city is built near one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Sakurajima is so active that on August 18 2013 it erupted for the 500th time of 2013 alone! Ordinarily, eruptions are very minor and only lightly sprinkle a bit of ash around.

However, the August 18 2013 eruption was much larger than normal, and even resulted in the occurrence of pyroclastic flows which travelled about 1km from the volcano. Interestingly, Sakurajima was originally and island volcano until an eruption in 1914 joined it to the Kyushu island by a lava flow.

Animation of August 18 eruption. Notice the blanket of ash that falls upon the city

Now that activity appears to be diminishing to ‘normal‘ levels, it is time for the clean up operations. Cleaning up of volcanic ash following eruptions can often be complicated. Ash can be mobilized by wind, or if it is particularly fine, even clean up machinery can stir-up the ash and make it airborne.

Sakurajima 2013 ash

Ash reduces visability following the August 18 2013 Sakurajima eruption

Volcanic ash is incredibly abrasive and hazardous to health, and exposure can lead to respiratory problems, skin irritations, and eye damage. This makes it important to clean up as efficiently as possible. Costs of cleaning up following eruptions can be significant. Following the 1980 St Helens eruptions clean up amounted to 37.4% of the total losses from the disaster. Therefore, well coordinated efforts are required to keep costs low, and get ash cleaned quickly.

Clean up operations (photo: AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Clean up operations (photo: AP Photo/Kyodo News)

It is interesting to note that in the above photo those doing the clean up are using hoses and water to remove the volcanic ash. The reason I say this is interesting is because ash will sometimes turn to a concrete-like consistency when wet, which can make it terribly difficult to clean up efficiently. However, in this case the ash does not appear to be overly thick and so using water might be the best (cheap/quick/easy?) technique in this case.

The obvious final phase of clean up is the dumping sites. Unfortunately, I have not been able to determine what exactly has been done with the volcanic ash following this eruption.

For more info on the impacts of volcanic ash: Volcanic impacts website

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