Merapi Update for 11/8/2010: Death toll climbs as activity calms

A quick update on the ongoing eruption at Merapi in Indonesia - the death toll has now reached at least 141 since the eruption started on October 26th. This number is likely a low estimate as officials in Indonesia think that people are buried in the thick ash and mud deposits from pyroclastic flows and lahars that have come from the volcano. The bodies found so far have been buried in mass graves to help prevent the spread of disease. All in all, it is very grim news from the area around Merapi. Multiple relief organization have now set up camps/stations near Merapi, including the Red Crescent from the UAE, medical students from Malaysia and the Indonesian Red Crescent/Cross (incidently, their uniforms are marked "PMI", not to be confused with Phillip Morris Inc. - and concerning the "controversy" about Phillip Morris helping with the relief effort, well, I am not wading into that nonsense.) Eruptions reader Diane also pointed out the two pamphlets for the public (on 'Preparedness, before, during and after ashfall' and on 'The health hazards of volcanic ash') that have been translated into Bahasa Indonesia by the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (who is also looking for ash samples from Merapi). Over 270,000 people have evacuated due to the activity at Merapi.


The ash from the eruption is still causing problems at Yogjakarta, where flights have been intermittently cancelled. However, flights in and out of Jakarta have resumed after some cancellations over the weekend - and US President Barack Obama will continue with his visit to Indonesia this week. The eruptive plume reported today seems to be smaller than late last week, topping at 1 km / 3,000 feet and much of the recent ash is below 25,000 feet. However, a significant amount of Merapi ash has drifted over the Indian Ocean to over 40,000 feet. Officials from the Volcanology Center in Indonesia are still concerned (Indonesian) with pyroclastic flows and lahars being generated and funneled towards populated areas.

Trees flattened by pyroclastic flows generated during the 2010 eruption of Merapi.

If you want to see the results of this new eruptive period at Merapi, you should check out the collection of images from Boston.com - however, many images are graphic, so be forewarned. However, some are remarkable, showing the strombolian eruptions within the crater (see top left) that are generating the lava domes that have periodically collapsed to generate pyroclastic flows and (when mixing with river water in the drainages) lahars. A few of the images are very similar to images of Mt. Saint Helens in 1980, show the power of the pyroclastic flows to flatten entire forests (see above).

Top left: The crater area of Merapi, taken on November 3, 2010. See the original image here.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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