Java mud volcano seems unstoppable

Could Indonesia’s mud flow be put to good use?Richard Van Noorden –

As steaming mud continues to pour over Sidoarjo, in eastern Java, Indonesia, geologists who have visited the scene say the four-month-old eruption may neverbe stopped — at least not by human intervention.

Before (above) and after (below). You can see the source of the mud in the centre, and the attempts to wall it in. For more satellite pictures, see here.

Images acquired and processed by CRISP, National University of Singapore IKONOS image © CRISP 2004

The best way of dealing with the mud may be to pump it out to sea, as Indonesia’s government is planning. But a long-term solution could involve putting the mud to commercial use in a health resort or as construction material.

These ideas won’t immediately console the 11,000 people who have lost their homes since 28 May, when hot mud and gas first gushed from a hole near a drilling well, in what is probably a mud volcano (see ‘Mud volcano floods Java‘). According to recent reports, four villages and 20 factories have been submerged, and the mud is now flowing at over 125,000 cubic metres a day. No deaths have been reported.

The company that drilled the well, PT Lapindo Brantas, has agreed to bear the costs of clean-up, resettlement and damage limitation, which have been estimated at over US$160 million by government officials.

Never ending

Adriano Mazzini, a geologist from the University of Oslo, Norway, has been to look at the eruption, nicknamed ‘Lusi’ (for ‘lumpur Sidoarjo’: lumpur means ‘mud’ in Indonesian). “It’s difficult to predict when it is going to stop,” he says. Attempts to plug the flow have so far failed.

At the moment the mud is contained by a hastily built belt of dams in the area, says Mazzini. These have been breached several times, however, and are causing further problems of their own: because the dams force the mud to pile up, the extra weight is pushing the land down faster into the underground voids left by the erupted mud.

The rainy season usually hits Java in October. With that additional source of flooding looming, a concerned government has authorized pumping out some of the mud into the nearby Porong river and out to sea. This had earlier been rejected on environmental grounds: it is not clear yet if the mud is dangerously toxic. Still, mud volcanoes often erupt into the sea naturally, points out Richard Davies, a geologist at Durham University, UK.

These measures can only be a temporary solution, says Mazzini. “You can continue for ever building dams, filtering and flushing out mud. Suppose in another year it hasn’t stopped — it will all deposit in the river and have to be drained.” Instead, he advocates, the mud should be put to good use.

Long-term solution

Mud and earth could be used to make bricks for the construction industry, for example. The government could consider tapping the boiling mud and gas for a source of geothermal energy. Should the mud prove not to be toxic, and the reported hydrogen sulphide gas dissipates, the area might become a health spa, with people bathing in mud craters.

And for geologists, the mud flow presents a great scientific opportunity. “Studies on a mud-volcano structure that’s been born out of the blue have never been done. There’s all the data from the company doing the drilling. It’s like a laboratory out there,” Mazzini says.
It is still not clear whether the mud flow can be called a conventional mud volcano, by which geologists mean the uprush of trapped mud and gas from a spot where one tectonic plate is sliding beneath another.

It’s possible that watery mud was instead trapped within old deposits of coral underground, and these have fractured. Or, as Mazzini explains, magmatic volcanoes a few kilometres to the south-west may be leaking hot fluids that are migrating underground, in a hydrothermal system like the geysers in the United States’ Yellowstone National Park. Alternatively, magma itself may be migrating horizontally into sediments underground, heating gas and water elsewhere at depth.

Nor is it known what caused the eruption: whether Lapindo’s drilling, an earlier minor earthquake or a combination of the two. “You needed to have a video camera there,” says Mazzini.


13 Responses to Java mud volcano seems unstoppable

  1. […] mud volcanoe ever observed, and It has had a devastating effect on the local population, including burying as many as 4 villages and 20 factories. Something like 120,000 cubic meters of mud equivalent to 48 Olympic-sized swimming pools errupts […]

  2. This palm oil biofuel would lead to major consuming countries like
    Thailand, Malaysia is the Assistant Collector of Land Revenue.

  3. oleh oleh umroh berkata:

    Sometimes, you have day of dhu al-hijjah to do a bunch of other rituals in order to seek his forgiveness.
    Hajji is an Arabic word for pilgrimage, and most dangerous, rite of
    the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage to the shrine city.
    Also, there are a bunch of other rituals in order to complete your Hajj.
    It is a regarded as a religious duty, every Muslim is required to undertake
    this pilgrimage once in their lifetime, according
    to one tour operator.

  4. Lyto berkata:

    Great delivery. Solid arguments. Keep up the good

  5. […] Re: mud, mud On 29/01/2008 12:15, Guy King wrote: > There’s no explanation of what’s happening and why. From [1] "a long-term solution could involve putting the mud to commercial use in a health resort" that’s a feck of a lot of face-packs. [1]…s-unstoppable/ […]

  6. my comment above has a mistake, I meant to say 2500m, i.s.o. 2500ft.

  7. kepada Ompapang, terimah kasih, betul.
    the smallest opening in the vertical channel through which the mud is coming upwards is probably more deep than 2500ft. While it can be assumed that the diameter is the same or slightly larger as than the original drill hole. This means circumstances deep below are different than to comply with, by using the cement balls (bolla beton) of 50cm. The bolla beton are not able to reach deep enough and may cause further erosion of the soft formation at 1000m deep. Use of basalt and small sizes instead could be attempted. Basalt is present in large quantities on Java. Its only a suggestion.

  8. Eskate berkata:

    Instead of plugging the holes , they should to drill more holes in that area.
    The aims are to stabilise the pressure from under ground.
    First, measure the bag that contains muds, locate the positions for drilling in radius (?) m , the pressure will subside soon.
    When it has settled , the weight of “dried” mud will come down and plug the holes automatically.
    Using the pebbles is like playing with the nature.

  9. ompapang berkata:

    aku ya kuwatir yen kerikil sing metu bareng mbel kuwi bal semen sing remuk kaya sing dikandake pak Piet van den Berg.
    Samono ugo yen pak Piet kandha “seem half way the solution “,aku ngarani Timnas milih bal semen sing dirante kuwi kaya dene milih “YES OR NOW ” sing dipilih “OR” dadi sing tengah, manut istilahe Pak Piet :”half way the solution”. Nggih boten pak Piet ?

  10. The pebbles & stones thrown to the surface on march14th, could have been the dis-integrated cement-balls, due to the strong forces at 1000m deep, together with heat. In stead; use of rock, like basalt blocks should be promoted. The idea of plugging this crater with chained-cement balls seems halfway the solution. Given the flow of 100.000m3 a day, and more people displaced, we should still consider this a human disaster in the first place. Regards.

  11. Dave berkata:

    Diverting the mud to the sea seems like the only logical choice, ultimetly it may produce more land, that could be exploited once the mud has stopped flowing.

  12. […] Hot Mud That May Never End And What To Do With It […]

  13. video camera; you be interested to see the recorded video clips at the above website
    Its meant as a time stamp,
    I wonder how it looks like, next year


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