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Volcano gets choke chains to slow mud

Volcanic News: Indonesia

Jan 31, 2007
Geophysicists hope to stem the flow of a destructive mud volcano on East Java by dropping 1000 steel chains of concrete balls into its mouth — possibly as early as this week. Each chain is 1.5 metres long and links together four concrete balls — two that are 40 centimetres across and two that are 20 centimetres across. Each ball and chain set will weigh about 300 kilograms. The goal is to make the channel smaller — not plugging it altogether but narrowing it enough to slow the mud's rise and so decrease its flow rate by up to three-quarters. The mud eruption began on 29 May last year in the middle of a rice paddy in the village of Porong, 30 kilometres south of Surabaya, the provincial capital. Since then, the volcano has spewed out up to 126,000 cubic metres of mud a day, flooding an area of more than 4 square kilometres. Some 10,000 people have been left homeless and 20 factories have closed. Another 200,000 homes could be at risk if the mudflow combines with the rainy season — which has just begun — and weakening dams to flood more land. Attempts to alleviate the problem by drilling relief wells or channelling the mud into a nearby river have so far failed. The mudflow calls for an unprecedented solution. "At first we thought it was a common problem in oil exploration, but after a few months we realized this was not a standard situation." Other physicists say they have never heard of such an approach, and question its likely effectiveness. Reducing the size of the channel is likely to increase the pressure, just like squeezing the end of a hose. "I would predict that the mud would probably exit at the other holes, or farther along."

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