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WELLINGTON, New Zealand (November 16, 1998 - AFP)---A geologist Monday had bad news for the inhabitants of Fiji's third largest island. The volcanoes they lived with and believed to be extinct are not and would probably erupt again.

Dr. Shane Cronin of New Zealand's Massey University said he found evidence on Taveuni that the last eruption occurred only about 340 years ago.

Until his research, it was thought volcanoes on the island were extinct, but he said the gap since the last eruption was definitely too short to indicate volcanic activity had stopped.

It was "almost certain" the volcano in the south of the island would erupt again, he said.

Even a small eruption poses a great risk to the 14,500 people who live very close to potential vent areas on the island.

From measurements of earlier volcanic deposits, Cronin is trying to predict the size and type of future eruptions.

He said that past activity had been relatively small -- either quiet eruptions of basaltic lava flows, or more explosive eruptions that blew volcanic ash up to 10 kilometers (six miles) into the atmosphere.

Over the past year Cronin has made two trips to Taveuni, 240 kilometers (148 miles) northeast of the capital Suva, taking samples from volcanic deposits for radiocarbon dating.

He found that although the entire 42 kilometer (26 mile) length of Taveuni was dotted with more than 150 volcanic craters, each time an eruption occurred it broke out in a new place along a line of volcanic activity, then sealed over again.

His research also found people had been living on the island, which is 11 kilometers (seven miles) wide, for at least 2,200 years, and there had been a minimum of 20 eruptions during that time.

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