Ruang volcano eruption has devastated the tranquil island •

Ruang volcano eruption has devastated the tranquil island

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features Ruang, a small volcanic island in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The tranquil environment of Ruang was shattered by a powerful volcanic eruption on the night of April 16, 2024.

This event has left the island’s 800 residents grappling with its devastating aftermath, while scientists are assessing its potential global effects.

A violent awakening on Ruang

Ruang, located in the Sangihe Islands arc, is known for its long history of volcanic activity, but the intensity of the latest eruption has been particularly alarming. The eruption produced explosive discharges, sending vast plumes of ash and gas soaring into the stratosphere. The force of nature transformed lush greenery into a gray wasteland.

“Late on April 16, 2024, the mountain roared to life, unleashing a series of explosive eruptions that, at times, sent plumes of ash and gas billowing high into the stratosphere. The eruption also bombarded the island with tephra, small pebbles of lapilli, and fine shards of pulverized rock called ash,” said NASA.

Extensive damage and humanitarian efforts

The eruption’s immediate impact was severe, with settlements on the north side of Ruang and Laingpatehi village experiencing extensive damage due to volcanic debris. 

More than 500 houses were destroyed or severely damaged, according to Indonesia’s disaster management agency, Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (BNPB). The heavy ashfall also impacted local agriculture, damaging crops and farms. 

In response to the crisis, the Sam Ratulangi International Airport in nearby Manado was temporarily closed, disrupting travel and causing widespread flight cancellations. It was not until April 22 that the airport could reopen, following significant cleanup efforts and a decrease in the volcanic threat level.

Scientific analysis and global concerns

The eruption has attracted significant scientific interest due to the vast quantities of ash and sulfur dioxide it emitted. Atmospheric scientist Ghassan Taha from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center noted, “We expect to see aerosol particles circulating in the stratosphere for weeks, if not months.” This observation is critical as particles reaching this altitude can have extensive, albeit temporary, effects on global climate patterns.

Volcanologist Simon Carn from Michigan Technological University reported that the eruption released between 0.3 to 0.5 teragrams of sulfur dioxide on April 17 and 18. These levels, while substantial, fall below the threshold generally required to affect global temperatures significantly. 

For context, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, which had a pronounced cooling effect on the Earth’s climate, released approximately 20 teragrams of sulfur dioxide.

Preparedness and future risks

In light of Ruang’s active volcanic history and the potential for further eruptions, local authorities remain vigilant. The risk of lahars and tsunamis prompted immediate evacuations and multiple tsunami warnings, though, fortunately, no substantial tsunamis have occurred thus far. Over 16,000 residents have been evacuated from the most vulnerable areas, a move that has likely prevented any fatalities or serious injuries.

The 2024 eruption of Ruang is a stark reminder of the powerful and often unpredictable nature of volcanic islands. While the local and immediate impacts are devastating, the eruption also offers valuable data for scientists studying the broader implications of such natural events on atmospheric conditions and climate. 

More about Ruang

The population on Ruang is small, with residents primarily engaged in subsistence fishing and agriculture, which is typical of remote Indonesian islands. The island’s terrain and soil fertility, influenced by volcanic ash, may support the cultivation of certain crops that are adapted to such conditions.

The Ruang volcano rises to about 725 meters above sea level, making it a prominent feature in the region. This area is part of the volcanic arc that includes numerous volcanoes produced by the subduction of the oceanic plate under the continental margin.

The active stratovolcano has had several recorded eruptions in history, with significant activity occurring in 1871, 1873, and 2002. 

The image was captured by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on April 20, 2024.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 


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