Monday, March 12, 2007

Dropping the balls

The mud geyser is surrounded by embankments made out of dirt and sandbags, which hold back the main lake of hot mud. There are little paths up the sides so you can scramble up. At their tallest, the embankments are two or three times my height, so I was surprised when I climbed up to the lip of the dirt wall and found the mud nearly reaching the tops of the sandbags. That's a lot of mud -- more than a million barrels a day, according to many estimates.

Unfortunately the geyser itself was hidden behind big clouds of white smoke and steam. There's a layer of water on top of the mud that forms waves that roll in and break, so it was a bit like an ordinary lake. But then there's a layer of gunk underneath that seems to be at a slow boil. It goes splut, splut, splut, like thick oatmeal over a low flame.

The national team handling the disaster is trying to slow the geyser's output by dropping chains of cement balls into it. You can see them sliding one of the balls toward the volcano on the cable in the photo above. This seems like a dubious notion and hardly anybody other than the national team has much faith in it. As I understand it, the idea is to absorb some of the geyser's energy through friction and vibration. But there are fears the balls will just clog the exit and force the mud up through different cracks in the ground in other locations.

The balls do make handy lawn furniture, though.

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