Volcano Might Create Its Own Clouds
The bright white clouds atop the Manam Volcano could result from water vapor released by the volcano.
Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory

This starkly colored image is a satellite view of the Manam Volcano, just off the coast of mainland Papua New Guinea.

The volcano released a faint plume on June 28, 2009.

Bright white clouds hover over the volcano's summit. Clouds often collect over peaks, but these clouds could result from water vapor released by the volcano, NASA scientists explained.

Slightly darker in color, a pale blue-gray plume blows west-northwest from the summit and over the Bismarck Sea.

The image was taken by NASA's Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.

A mere 6 miles (10 kilometers) across, Manam is a stratovolcano composed of alternating layers of ash, lava, and rocks from prior eruptions. The island has four radial valleys spaced roughly 90 degrees apart, and these valleys have historically channeled lava and pyroclastic flows — composed of hot rock, gas and ash — sometimes all the way to the coast.

Evidence of earlier volcanic activity appears as rivulets of rock that interrupt the vegetation coating much of the island, the scientists say. Although clouds hide the summit in this image, the summit is known to support two craters devoid of vegetation.

Manam is one of Papua New Guinea's most active volcanoes, and it has occasionally caused casualties, including 13 deaths from a pyroclastic flow in December 1996, and four deaths from a mudflow in March 2007. Large eruptions in late 2004 forced the evacuation of the entire island.