What Makes Them Blow

Advance warnings of volcanic blasts in the Philippines and Japan show how researchers are getting the knack of predicting eruptions

When 15,000 anxious Americans were evacuated from Clark Air Base in the Philippines last week, they didn't know what to think. Were they in real danger or the victims of a false alarm? Within 48 hours, they got their answer. Nearby Mount Pinatubo, after sleeping quietly for more than 600 years, suddenly erupted in a series of explosions that shot plumes of steam and ash as much as 30 km (20 miles) into the sky. Debris rained down on surrounding villages, and a giant mushroom cloud was visible 100 km (60 miles) away in Manila.

The confirmed death toll was only...

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