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Teachers Guide to Stratovolcanoes of the World
A Fictional Story

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Lamington, Papua New Guinea:
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A Fictional Story - Utopo's Mountain

It was February 15, 1989, a special day for Upoto. Today Upoto and his son Tupo were replacing the monitoring equipment at Utopo's mountain, Lamington. Lamington is a volcano on the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea. Before it erupted in 1951, when Upoto was a boy, the people living on the mountain did not realize it was a volcano. The mountain was covered with lush vegetation. There was no recognizable caldera, no lava, no geysers or steam escaping from underground. The people had no memory of a volcanic eruption. The surprise made the 1951 eruption even more devasting.

Now the mountain was quiet again and Upoto and Tupo were taking down the most of the old seismometers used to measure ground motion. They would install some modern equipment for measuring ground deformation and new seismometers. The change in equipment reflected the change in threat from Lamington. While still considered an active volcano, Lamington's internal temperature has been dropping for many years indicating the volcano was not likely to erupt in the near future. While they would continue to monitor Lamington on a reduced scale, most of the equipment would be sent to monitor volcanic activity elsewhere. As they worked, Upoto spoke of the time years ago when Lamington awoke with a fury.

He was only ten, but Utopo would never forget the glowing clouds that rushed down the mountainside burning everything in their paths and killing 3,000 people. Green jungle turned to barren brown in a single day. He remembered how a dome grew over the volcano vent. Then it collapsed sending glowing, burning clouds speeding down the mountainside again. For five years, the volcano had continued this pattern. A dome would build up, then like a stack of blocks built too high, the dome collapsed blasting clouds of hot gases and volcanic ash down the mountainside at speeds exceeding 150 km/hour.

Because of the huge impact the volcano had on his life, it fascinated Utopo. He went to school, studied hard and got a scholarship to the university, the first in his family to do such a thing. At the university, he studied geology and math, but especially volcanoes. Finally, he graduated and returned home to study the majestic mountains that were so deadly.

As a volcanologist, Upoto had been coming to the mountain every day. It was his responsibility to check the instruments. He looked at the seismographs that recorded the earthquakes. He took the temperature of the water and soil and monitored the shape of the mountain. His children grew up in the shadow of the volcano. When his oldest son Tupo was five, Upoto brought him up on the mountain. The hot springs and steam coming from the surface cracks fascinated Tupo. As father and son explored the mountain, Utopo told stories of his childhood. The stories about the fire clouds from the mountain that killed so many people frightened and fascinated Tupo.

Now Tupo was a volcanologist, too. As Tupo and his father made their way up the volcano's side, they noted that the scars left by the eruptions had healed. The vegetation was thick and lush. Only a small amount of steam still escaped from waters heated deep underground. Based on the temperature and seismicity data Upoto collected over the last twenty years, scientists decided the volcano was dormant. It had gone back to sleep and while still a threat, did not need extensive monitoring anymore.

Upoto and Tupo took the last readings, carefully recording them in the logbook. Then they took apart the aging instruments and packed them on the back of the mule. Upoto looked proudly at his son. Tupo would leave soon to head a rapid response team monitoring active volcanoes worldwide. Lamington had given them much. The desire to learn was set aflame by its fire clouds.

Upoto and Tupo are fictitious characters, but the discription of the eruption and subsequent decline in activity at Lamington are accurate.

Note: Aerial and ground inspections of the summit at Lamington in 1991 showed a dense canopy of vegetation; with only a few scattered thermal areas. Temperatures from one of the larger thermal areas had dropped from 362°C in 1973 to 93°C by 1991. Based on the temperature decrease, the vegetation, and lack of volcanic seismicity, scientists reduced Lamington's threat status and decreased surveillance.