Friday, May 19, 2017

Hazard alert

Japan’s authorities issue volcano safety guidelines for hikers

One-third of Japan’s popular One Hundred Mountains are active volcanoes. This can lead to tragedy. In September 2014, a sudden eruption on a volcano in central Honshū killed 63 people. Some of the victims were never found. To raise awareness of these hazards, Japan’s Home Ministry and its Meteorological Agency have recently issued a leaflet for hikers.

How volcanoes can damage your health

What follows is an outline summary of the Japanese text (PDF). The front sheet of “Be prepared for hiking on volcanoes” (火山への登山のそなえ) marks the location of Japan’s 110 active volcanoes – “active” means showing signs of life, or having erupted within the last 10,000 years. The 33 active volcanoes selected by Fukada Kyūya for his One Hundred Mountains are distinguished in red.

Red captions mark the active Nihon Hyakumeizan

Next are points to keep in mind when climbing a volcano:

  • Eruptions can occur without warning, so stay alert to what is happening in and around the crater.
  • If you see any unusual venting of steam or gases, take refuge or descend immediately and warn the local authorities, police or Meteorological Agency (which is responsible for monitoring volcanic activity in Japan).
  • As volcanic gases are heavier than air, they tend to collect in hollows and valleys. Stay out of such locations.
  • Keep your mobile phone on and check for official hazard alerts. Be aware of whether your phone has a connection to the network. Information about mobile phone coverage is published on the websites of some phone companies, or marked on certain hiking maps. Try to establish whether and where you will have mobile phone connectivity before you leave home.
  • During an eruption, there is a major risk of death or injury from flying stones and lava bombs near the crater. Get away from the crater and take shelter in a hut or behind a rock. If you have them, put on a helmet and goggles, and breathe through a face-mask or towel.

Things not to leave home without
In addition to your normal hiking kit, map and compass, you should consider carrying a copy of the local volcanic hazard map, which will show you the range of previous eruptions, and also places to take shelter. A helmet, goggles and a towel will protect against ash and other fall-out, as will a rain-jacket. A headlight will help in bad visibility. And don’t forget a spare battery for your mobile phone and emergency rations/water for yourself.

The last sheet of the leaflet starts with a reminder of the 2014 Ontake disaster. Then (see top graphic) two cartoon volcanoes present the various types of eruptive threat – showers of heavy rocks that can fly up to four kilometres from the vent; smaller stones with a lethal range of 10 kilometres; volcanic ash that may, in the leaflet’s measured language, “affect your breathing”, pyroclastic flows that burn and bury; volcanic gases and mudflows. Each category is illustrated from an eruption in living memory.

The message is clear: these hazards are for real.

Related posts: volcanic excursions

Asama: Serious steam

Asama: The inner world

Asama: Fires of Tartarus

Bandai: Sole survivor

Mt Fuji: Journey to the centre of Mt Fuji

Gassan and Chōkai: The twentieth-century Tōhoku express

Kaimon: Slow train to Kaimon-dake

Ontake: The gateway

Sakurajima: The hot and cold Hyakumeizan challenge

Yake-dake: Burning mountain, bad snow

Yake-dake: Seasons of a stratovolcano


David Lowe said...

It’s good to see this information out in the public domain as it was something that was clearly needed. Apparently more than half the casualties from the Mt. Ontake volcano eruption were found clutching smartphones. Perhaps they were contacting friends or loved ones, but many had been taking photos of the eruption when they died, seemingly oblivious to the impending danger.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Many thanks for your comment, David. Yes, we thought this leaflet and advice was worth relaying to a wider audience. Before the Ontake disaster, there was Unzen (1991), which claimed 43 lives. So a certain wariness vis-a-vis a volcano and its intentions seems justified...

wes said...

I think they need to rethink their definition of "active". An eruption within the last 10,000 years? Perhaps if they reduced that number to just a century or so the number of "active" volcanoes would certainly drop.

Take Mt. Sanbe, for one. It last erupted 4000 years ago and is completely covered in forest, grasses, and beautiful flora. Should I have carried a hardhat, goggles, and a towel when I climbed the peak? Most certainly not!

This pamphlet is a result of the "Ontake Factor", a self-coined phrase to describe the overcautious approach that occurred after the horrific eruption of Mt. Ontake, which, coincidentally, was steaming and hissing with steam vents at least as far back at 2001. The hike was terrifying 16 years ago, when it felt as if it could go up at any moment. I felt the same way on Meakan, Yakedake, and Aso as well.

It is certainly good that the government is trying to prevent future volcanic fatalities through the publication of this pamphlet, but I don't think it will help as long as there will always be those Hyakumeizan baggers that will ignore the risks and slip under the ropes into the sulphuric crossfire. I should know - I was one of them!

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Hoi Wes: thanks for the comment, which is most thought-provoking. Agree that the pamphlet is a response to the Ontake tragedy - well, the text of the pamphlet more or less says exactly that. But the Unzen eruption in 1991 shows that the risk is not an isolated one. I have a feeling that restricting the definition of "active" to an eruption in the last century or so would be, well, too restrictive. Before 1979, for example, nobody had ever recorded an eruption of Ontake - it appeared totally dormant. As for earthquakes - sometimes they precede an eruption, and sometimes there are earthquakes without an eruption. I'm glad I'm not in the business of predicting volcanic eruptions; it must be a very difficult and frustrating (though fascinating) profession...

Interestingly, there appear to be different versions of this pamphlet. If you look on the website of the Gakuren mountaineering association, you'll see a similar but not identical one. Perhaps they've chosen to draw attention to different aspects of the precautions.