Credit: National Park Service
Scientists have said that the Permian extinction was caused by two things: volcanic eruptions and methane release. (source)
With volcanic activity increasing around the globe, particularly around the edge of the ‘ring of fire’ that circles the Pacific you have to wonder if it could happen again.
Active volcanoes bring many dangers, and not only to those people living near them. Depending on the scale of the eruption, populations half a world away can be influenced by their effects.
The April 10th 1815 event that saw Tambora blow its top sent enough debris into the atmosphere that weather patterns around the globe were affected for more than a year. So much ejecta was put into the atmosphere that 1816 became known as the year without a summer.
The ash that fell on nearby islands killed an estimated 92,000 people, and that was just the localized effects. Millions more were killed by the effects of famine and cold. Tambora ejected 12 cubic miles of magma and ejecta into the atmosphere. (source)
In April of this year the Seismological Society of America discussed Yellowstone at their annual meeting and they stated that :
“The magma reservoir is at least 50% bigger than previously imaged. This crustal magma body is a little dimple that creates the uplift,” Bob Smith a University of Utah seismologist said. “It’s like putting your finger under a rubber membrane and pushing it up and the sides expand.” (source)
It seems very likely that with the magma chamber measuring approximately 37 miles long 18 miles wide and 7 miles deep that an explosion at Yellowstone would be bigger than the Tambora eruption…much bigger. That means the effects would be much greater than it was in 1815.
There is no doubt that if Yellowstone erupted millions would die either from the initial impact of the explosion or by the weather pattern changes and crop destruction that followed. The disruption of the global food chain would kill far more people than the explosion itself and depending on the amount of ejecta the ‘volcanic winter’ could last for several years adding to the death toll on an ongoing basis.
Even discounting super volcanoes, volcanic effects are far reaching. The Icelandic eruption of Eyiafjallajokull (pronounced: Aya fiatla urcud (source)) in 2010 resulted in no fly zones that lasted for days and cost the airlines millions of dollars in lost revenue. Though no lives were lost that were directly attributed to the eruption at the time it occurred, there is always an increase in respiratory problems in those that are under the ash cloud for any length of time.
The casts left by the bodies of people in Pompeii, Italy is testament to the power of volcanoes. Engulfed when Mount Vesuvius blew in AD79, but it wasn’t ash or lava that killed them.
Pyroclastic flows are superheated gas clouds that move at hundreds of miles an hour giving no chance of escape. Although they contain ash and rock it’s the superheated gas that did the damage at Pompeii and Herculaneum. The heat of the gas killed the victims instantly, and the ash that fell onto them preserved the shapes of their bodies.
In Colombia in 1985 the Nevado del Ruiz erupted. The pyroclastic flows melted the glaciers on the mountain and a hot mud flow, termed a lahar sped down the mountain at 40 miles an hour engulfing the town of Armero below. More than 20,000 people died in the mud flows which travelled over 50 miles from the mountain.
Underwater volcanoes also pose a threat to humans. Silent and unseen when they erupt can cause massive carbon dioxide release. Thankfully these limnic eruptions are rare. Lake Nyos in Cameroon is located in the crater of an inactive volcano. A landslide disturbed the bottom of the lake causing 75 million cubic yards of carbon dioxide to rise through the water and escape into the air. 1,700 people in local villages suffocated.
The ash thrown up by volcanoes is fine and easily inhaled. Containing a high percentage of silicon it resembles minuscule glass particles under the microscope and breathing it for anything but the shortest time is lethal.
Lightweight ash particles are blown high into the stratosphere and move on the winds falling back to Earth where they will. It’s this height that allows some of the sun’s radiation to be reflected back into space and drops the temperatures accordingly. The Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 caused a drop of 0.6 degrees Celsius across the globe.
With 68 major eruptions so far during 2013 (source) it’s only a matter of time before another Tambora event occurs. The cumulative effect of major eruptions on the Earth also has to be considered. The effects of the gases and ash thrown up by volcanoes can seriously impact weather, food production and commerce. Volcanoes have almost wiped out life on Earth before, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do so again.
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Contributed by Chris Carrington of The Daily Sheeple.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple. Wake the flock up!