Until 2010, Indonesia’s Sinabung volcano was dormant, with no confirmed eruptions in the historical record. A brief burst of activity in August and September 2010 caused the temporary evacuation of about 30,000 nearby residents, but most people quickly returned as the eruption waned.
Three years later, fresh gas and ash plumes marked the arrival of a new series of eruptions. The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite collected this natural-color image of an ash plume from Sinabung on January 16, 2014. Frequent collapses from the unstable lava dome near Sinabung’s summit create pyroclastic flows that have swept at least 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) down the volcano’s slopes. The southeast margin of these flows is just visible to the lower right of the plume.
Ash from the eruption has coated nearby villages, as well as the coffee, chili pepper, and other plantations clustered at the foot of the volcano. (The light-colored villages and fields near Sinabung, as well as the dark green forests of Gunung Leuser National Park, are visible in a 2003 Landsat 7 image.)
The ongoing eruption has forced the permanent evacuation of the closest villages. Some evacuees are sheltering in Kabanjahe, the closest town.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data from the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Robert Simmon.