Japan Issues Alerts as Volcano Spews Mile-High Ash

Japan’s government issued alerts after a volcano on the southern island of Kyushu erupted for the first time in 52 years, causing the evacuation of homes and cancellation of more than 60 flights.

Shinmoedake, in the Kirishima range, erupted yesterday, spewing ash as high as 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) into the air, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said in a statement on its website. A second eruption occurred today at about 1 p.m. local time, national broadcaster NHK reported. Ash from the volcano reached Miyazaki city, 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the east, according to the broadcaster.

Japan Airlines Corp. canceled 37 flights to or from nearby Miyazaki airport, according to its website today. Three additional flights will be scrapped tomorrow, it said. All Nippon Airways Co., Asia’s largest listed carrier, canceled 24 flights affecting 3,350 people, spokeswoman Nana Kon said by phone today.

Japan’s weather agency issued a level 3 alert for Shinmoedake and Sakurajima volcano to the south, indicating an eruption “may seriously affect places near residential areas.” Some residents near Shinmoedake left the area voluntarily yesterday before returning to their homes, the Mainichi newspaper reported. Areas are evacuated when the alert reaches the maximum level 5.

Sakurajima had 1,026 incidents of volcanic activity in 2010, the most since at least 1982, according to the Meteorological Agency.

Active Volcanoes

Japan has 108 active volcanoes representing about 10 percent of the world’s total. Forty-three people died after Mount Unzen, about 110 kilometers northwest of Shinmoedake, erupted in 1991. About 15,000 people were evacuated after the eruption of Mount Usu on the northern island of Hokkaido in 2000.

Around the world, 17 volcanoes are currently active including three in Japan, three in Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, two in Indonesia and one in Hawaii, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano last April grounded 100,000 flights in six days. An estimated 750 tons of volcanic material was released into the air every second from the 5,466-foot mountain, according to the Icelandic Institute of Earth Sciences’ website.

When Mount Pinatubo disgorged in the Philippines in 1991, about 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide was sent into the stratosphere, causing global temperatures to drop by about 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) until 1993, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.