Living Near A Volcano Baru

newsnviews2.jpg( OK, if you want to get technical I guess we are living on a volcano . . . but who wants to get “technical”?

Volcan Baru is the dominant landscape feature of Boquete and at 11,398 feet is the highest point in Panama. It is a stratovolcano, a tall, conical volcano characterized by a steep profile and periodic, explosive eruptions. Mt. St. Helen’s is also a stratovolcano. Baru “blew it’s top” in much the same way as Mt. St. Helen’s although most certainly it was a more cataclysmic and devastating event, probably happening around 1550 AD. If you click on the thumbnail to the left you can see just how much of the mountain blew away in 1550.

In 1550 Nostradamus was looking toward the future, the Jesuits were getting started and the first book on French grammar was being published. In the mountains of Chiriqui life was good for the indigenous people who lived in their own paradise. Then the mountain blew its top and wiped out the entire civilization that surrounded it.

Baru has erupted four times during the past 1,600 years, and several additional eruptions occurred in the prior 10,000 years, yet it is still considered a “young” volcano and an “active” volcano. And, yes, it could erupt again, just like half of California could be shifted off to be a separate island or an errant asteroid could wipe out Chicago. Forecasting volcanic eruptions is still pretty much a “crap shoot”, but a group of vulcanologist’s have developed a computer model called Eruption Pro 10.7 [sounds more like a condom brand for big boys]. Anyway, the “Eruption Pros” predict a less than 50% probability of Baru erupting in 2035. I’ll be 93, but I will have a great view from my bedroom window.

For the moment I’ll worry more about a terrorist “dirty bomb” or biological attack in a major world city, or Amsterdam and Venice being under water due to global warming.

The reason Baru, or any of the other volcanoes in Central America, may erupt has to do with the unique position of Panama viz a viz the four tectonic plates that more-or-less come together in the Pacific just off Panama. As these plates rub against each other they produce (just like people!) a lot of heat and friction and that results in magma lava which sometimes has to go somewhere. My daughter, the scientist, would cringe at that explanation, but... I look out the window of the bedroom in my new house in Palmira and watch at night for spectacular volcanic eruptions? Don’t hold your breath. But the US Geological Survey has gone so far as to issue a new “Eruptive History and Volcanic Hazards Assessment” for Volcan Baru.


So, here’s the real question, with ash, and gas...and that’s what did in many of the folks at Pompeii and Herculaneum . . . and lava flowing...where’s my house? Here’s a predictive assessment from USGS. The wind blows the poison gas over to the other side of the mountain: look out Volcan! The black lines show lava flow routes, and the red shows concentrations of lava build up.