Despite what nearly every major media outlet is reporting, “Mount Doom” is not about to blow. But its neighbor Mount Ruapehu might.
The volcano, which lies just south of the perfectly conical Mount Ngauruhoe (Peter Jackson’s CGI-enhanced “Mount Doom” for the Lord of the Rings trilogy), has always been active, but New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, or DOC, issued a warning to climbers over the weekend recommending that they do not enter the area around Crater Lake until further notice.
Similarly, local monitoring organization GNS Science issued a Volcanic Alert Bulletin raising the alert level and explaining that the recent temperature readings indicate that the 2,797 meter (9,177 foot) volcano could blow without warning.
“We think the pressure beneath Ruapehu Crater Lake has increased, and this makes an eruption more likely over the next weeks to months,” Duty Volcanologist Steve Sherburn said. “We are monitoring Ruapehu closely, but it often does not give any immediate warning that it is going to erupt.”
Sherburn said the temperature beneath Crater Lake was about 800 degrees Celsius, while the lake itself was only 20 degrees, suggesting that the vent is partially blocked. This could lead to a pressure buildup beneath Crater Lake and the same series of events that are thought to have caused the 2007 eruption and a smaller one in 2006.
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"The current situation can't continue; Ruapehu is so active that the temperatures have been going up and down a lot," DOC Volcanic Risk Manager Harry Keys told Radio New Zealand.
"They generally haven't gone up as we've expected for some weeks now, and sooner or later that situation will be rectified, either in a small, relatively passive way or with a significant eruption."
New Zealand is an extremely volcanic country, and an eruption at nearby Mount Tongariro in August spewed ash more than four miles high that hampered air travel, shut highways and closed the popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing, setting of Mordor in the Jackson films.
Combined, Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (which last erupted in 1975 or, in Mount Doom’s case, the “Third Age of Middle Earth”) rise from the center of New Zealand's North Island and dominate the landscape of Tongariro National Park. The park is one of the prominent attractions of the island nation’s booming Tolkien tourism industry, which blossomed after the debut of the first "Lord of the Rings" film in 2001.
Tourism officials hope “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” can send visitor numbers soaring again after its world premiere next week in the capital Wellington. Though it lays a safe 300 kilometers (190 miles) south of Mount Ruapehu, any eruption could potentially ground flights, close roads and alter the itineraries of "Hobbit"-themed tours throughout the region.