Vanuatu

 Yasur Volcano

   June 2010 

by R.Roscoe

in deutsch

Cinema

video yasur 2010 by richard roscoevideo yasur 2010 by richard roscoevideo yasur 2010 by richard roscoevideo yasur 2010 by richard roscoe

Photo report

Having seen media reports on activity at Gaua (Mt. Garet) and looking for something a bit unusual, I decided to travel to basically the furthest point away from Europe on the globe for some volcanic entertainment.

Reaching Vanuatu already took long enough, then already the next day, after a short night in Port Vila, I flew up to the Island of Gaua, via Santo and then several bumpy stops on the grass strips of the tiny islands of northern Vanuatu. Upon approach, i could see the ash cloud from the volcano under a blue sky and all seemed to be working out fine. However, things only went downhill from there.

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Due to the evacuation of the population from the western part of the island, a special unit of the police force is residing there. Unfortunately, the commanding officers were undoubtedly the most unpleasant and uncivilized people I was to meet on the whole trip. They would not accept that I had permission to go to the crater rim from the volcanologist and simply would not come to one of the three (sometimes working) phones on the island to receive this information. Basically, the commander said he was very busy when I met him and asked why he had not kept to an agreed appointment. This was as he was being driven to the local Kava bar to get stoned at 4:30 in the afternoon. Always seemed to be stuffing his face, getting stoned or letting himself be driven up and down the one road on the island. Given reports of harassment and violence towards the local people and previous reports of photographers being stopped at the airport and having money extorted by the police for climbing the volcano I figured it may be wiser to just give this one a miss since I was on my own and had no reliable communication off the island. Very frustrating to have come so far and then not be able to do anything. Fortunately, the exceptional opportunity arose to have a quick aerial view of the volcano. A flying doctor, Mark Turnbull, is based on the island and given that he liked to have some aerial photos of the newly constructed school buildings I happily took these and as thanks was given a brief fly-by of the crater.

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

The volcano was clearly degassing at the time of the flight but no ash emissions were visible.

Early the next morning, I experienced my first earthquake (7.2 on the Richter scale at its epicentre and maybe 4-5 on Gaua). I hoped this would unsettle the volcano a bit but it seemed to have no effect at all. I then lent a hand with the building of the new hangar for the doctors plane before leaving Gaua the next day.

Next in the plan was Yasur volcano, one of the major attractions of Vanuatu due to its persistent strombolian activity. This was reached following a stopover in Port Vila and a direct flight to Tanna the next morning. The island has a tarmac runway and has a reliable flight connection from Port Vila. Following a 2 hour drive alone rough roads I reached the Jungle Oasis Lodge near the base of Yasur. This was to be my base for the next week, as the plan to include the volcanoes on Ambryn island in the trip was soon dropped in view of the poor weather conditions at Yasur which made it much more difficult than expected to get any decent images. On top of that, the crater was mostly obscured by ash and / or volcanic gases. The lodge was unfortunately also inhabited with rats which ate my toothpaste and soap on day one and gnawed through 3 water-bottles as well. These were to be a continuous nuisance. However, this was more than compensated by the great cooking of Jerry the chef which always provided copious energy for the numerous walks up to the volcano.

Yasur volcano had been raised to alert level 3 just days before my arrival and was clearly in a heightened state of activity. Indeed, reports of disruption due to the ash clouds from the volcano were in the media during the first days of my visit there. Theoretically, the crater area was off-limits to visitors. However, guides and tourists were still climbing to the viewpoint on the rim and sometimes wandering off either side thereof.

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Fortunately, nobody was injured, yet powerful explosions on one evening threw numerous large rocks to a point where visitors had been standing only hours earlier. During daylight, the volcanic bombs can often be seen and avoided, but after dark the area around the crater was extremely dangerous since only a proportion of the bombs expelled were incandescent, the others being entirely invisible at night. I thus withdrew from the most dangerous areas at night and was continuously wary of the risk of bombs during the day, narrowly avoiding them on a couple of occasions. Visitors normally focus on activity at the southern of the two adjoining craters. The at least three active vents therein were largely strombolian (with powerful shock-waves at times) during the first days, but increasingly erupted dense ash towards the end of my visit.

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

 Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

The more dangerous northern crater basically had one main vent at its base. This was fascinating in that there was no hole visible at all and the base of the crater was basically like a flat grey sandpit. However, eruptions with dense black ash-clouds and dense rock fall frequently emanated from this vent, usually starting with what could be described as a bubble of ash. The dense ash-clouds also rapidly became statically loaded and numerous discharges could be heard during eruptions. This was a fantastic spectacle from the north rim but clearly not without risk as these eruptions could be directed laterally and regularly impacted the E flank of the north crater. This was an area I visited only briefly, at times preferring to ascend the cone and walk around its base, rather than following the rim, due to the high risk of volcanic bombs. 

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe   Vanuatu, Yasur, Gaua, 2010 by Richard Roscoe

After about a week at Yasur, it was time for the long journey back again. The volcano was photographically difficult due to the conditions but a tremendous and somewhat dangerous experience.


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© 2010,  Photos and report R.Roscoe, last modification 07/25/2010