by: Daniel Barker
Scientists are warning that there is a chance that the world could experience a catastrophic volcanic event within this century that could wipe out millions of people and spell destruction for modern society.
Researchers at the European Science Foundation estimate that there is a 5 to 10 percent chance of a major volcanic explosion occurring before the end of the century that would have the potential to effectively send us back to the Stone Age. Their predictions are based on analysis of geological data going back tens of thousands of years that suggest it is only a matter of time before the next major eruption takes place.
The conclusion of the experts’ report, entitled “Extreme Geohazards: Reducing the Disaster Risk and Increasing Resilience,” is that a major volcanic explosion poses a far greater risk to humanity than earthquakes or any other natural phenomenon.
A relatively recent example of such a devastating volcanic event was the explosion of Tambora, which occurred in Sumbawa, Indonesia, back in 1815. The disaster killed 100,000 people and sent an ash cloud into the air that reached a height of more than 26 miles. The volcanic ash released into the atmosphere from the Tambora eruption caused what became known as the “year without summer” and had a widespread impact that the report says triggered “temperature changes which heavily impacted the harvest and led to famine and epidemics in several areas of the planet.” The report goes on to say that since the year 1700, volcanic eruptions have killed more than 250,000 people and completely devastated entire communities.
The scientists warn that if a volcanic event of this magnitude were to happen today, the impact could be far greater because of increased population levels and the effect such an occurrence would have on air travel. “According to some estimates, the population directly at risk from volcanoes in the year 2000 stood at 500 million or more, a figure certain to grow,” the report said.
Although there is little or nothing that can be done to prevent such occurrences, the experts believe that investing in early warning systems could save many lives and far outweigh the cost of developing and implementing them. “The cost of response and the ability to respond to these events is beyond the financial and political capabilities of any individual country. An international geopolitical response will be required, where science has a unique and key role in preparation, response and mitigation.”
In recent years, there has been much speculation regarding what would happen if there were a “supervolcano” eruption at Yellowstone. Although the odds are low of such an occurrence taking place any time soon, no one can predict if and when it will happen. If it did occur, it could produce enough ash to cover much of North America in a blanket of varying thickness, according to Jacob Lowenstern, scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.
If those living in the vicinity had enough warning, many lives could be saved through evacuation, but the aftermath would be potentially deadly for a great number of people. An ash cloud would remain in the air for at least several days, and it would pose a serious threat to those exposed to it. Moreover, the long-term effect of the ash blanket on crops and vegetation, not to mention the pollution of water supplies, would likely produce devastating results.
What can you do to prepare for a possible volcanic eruption?
If you live in an area where volcanic activity is a possibility, you should have goggles and masks for everyone in your family included in your emergency bag. Make sure you also have a battery-powered flashlight on hand.
If you have to evacuate, avoid low-lying areas where lava or volcanic mud might flow. Keep in mind that volcanic ash can affect your car’s engine, so evacuation by automobile might not be a good idea.
If you decide to stay at home, remember that the weight of the volcanic ash could put a strain on your roof. Be prepared to shovel off the ash if necessary. As with prepping for any emergency, make sure to stockpile plenty of fresh water and non-perishable food supplies.