The mud volcano that has been flooding the Indonesian island of Java since May 2006 has so far been both a defeat and an opportunity for scientific understanding.
Debate is ongoing over what caused the disaster and how to solve it. The latest plans for reducing the flow of mud involve dropping large concrete balls into the mouth of the mud eruption ― nicknamed Lusi ― to 'tire it out' by making the mud flow around the balls.
Some scientists remain sceptical about this plan. Predicting whether the strategy will work depends on knowledge about where the mud is coming from and the path it is taking to the surface — but relatively little known about either, reports David Cyranoski in Nature.
Equally unclear are the high-pressure systems that drive mud volcanoes and the circumstances that trigger them. Lusi presents a golden opportunity to learn more about mud volcanoes.
Meanwhile, Lusi continues to destroy homes and livelihoods. One disaster worker pointed out: "We are trying to save homes. This is not a science experiment."