We’ve all heard actors say, “I’m not a real doctor (lawyer, superhero, etc.) but I play one in the movies.” Unfortunately for residents of New Zealand, the same does not hold true for Mount Ruapehu. It played a major part in the Lord Of The Rings movies as the volcanic Mount Doom and seismologists are now warning that it’s threatening to play a major role in the rearranging the landscape of Tongariro National Park and beyond.
The increased gas output coupled with high heat flow and volcanic tremor imply a higher likelihood of activity.
That’s volcanologist Geoff Kilgour describing the situation that forced the volcano monitoring service GNS Science to release a Volcanic Alert Bulletin raising the alert for Mount Ruapehu from “moderate” to “heightened unrest” after the temperature of the volcano’s crater lake rose from 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit ) to 46 Celsius (115 Fahrenheit) in less that 30 days. The Department of Conservation is warning has warned hikers against climbing within a 2km radius of the lake, calling it the “Summit Hazard Zone.”
Mount Ruapehu last erupted in 2007, causing two lahars (fast-moving flow of volcanic debris, mud and water) and an earthquake. Prior to that, there was a series of major eruptions in 1995 and 1996 and one big one in 1945 that emptied the crater lake. A tephra (volcanic debris) dam formed, but collapsed in 1953, causing a lahar in the Whangaehu River that wiped out a railway bridge just as a passenger train approached, killing 151 people in the infamous “Tangiwai disaster.”
Is Mount Ruapehu priming for another Tangiwai disaster? Dr. Harry Keys, Technical Advisor for the Department of Conservation, is very concerned, especially about hikers on popular trails. .
People should be aware of an increased possibility of lahars on the Round the Ruapehu Mountain Track. Rivers draining the Crater Lake and Summit Hazard Zone might suddenly rise so people approaching the Whangaehu, Mangaturuturu, Whakapapaiti and Whakapapaiti streams in particular should be conscious of potential lahar noise from upstream, and make their way across these streams quickly.
Sauron may be gone and Mount Doom may be just a movie character, but Mount Ruapehu remains as a real and dangerous volcano that bears watching. Instead of hiking it, get on a treadmill while binge-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.