I always knew that volcanoes could bring our civilization to its knees, if not destroy it completely. There are a few global challenges for humanity, and the ancient Roman god of fire is undoubtedly one of them. I said volcano, and you have probably imagined a cone-shaped mountain, erupting fire and ash, right? And most of them obey that description – old, solid, grumpy and, on occasion, making some trouble for local settlements. You might even witness one during your travels across seas and continents. Of course, a selfie with an erupting volcano is something special! You can’t hold it. As well as those overheated gases, that were relieved from inside pressure to spread at a near-sonic speed cremating every living creature on their way. Hope you’ve been streaming to your cloud!
But let’s take a minute for a serious discussion. Is it something worth worrying about? Frankly, most of us have only seen a live volcano on a screen. And look, the majority of them are located on the edges of tectonic plates and will only be a problem for island and coastal people, right?
Well, no. Even if you’re living thousands of miles away from the shore, you will still be affected. All that chunk of GDP being raised on the coastal shelf will shrink dramatically, and people will need places to go. For our awareness, United States Geological Service has just listed these 18 North American volcanoes as “very high” risk.
Credit to USGS, once again
That’s quite a lot of red. But all of those have been behaving considerably quiet lately, so why should anything change? Fortunately, global natural disasters did not occur long enough and memories of their terrors faded. Unfortunately, natural processes are cyclic, and new massive cataclysms are inevitable. Remember the funnily named volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, shaking Iceland in 2010? Back then it could even have a positive effect on the environment, considering it only produced about 40% of CO2, compared to the part of European air traffic that had to be halted. It was a big deal for the affected countries, not used to much transport delays. These local troubles were just a TV report for the rest of the world. Volcanoes Best Price: $42.41 Buy New $57.57 (as of 05:05 EDT - Details)
The game changes radically if an eruption is big and long enough to cause global effects. A persistent dust cloud over a continent or two will create a massive climate change, followed by acid rains and unprecedented refugee waves. Food shortages will become an immediate threat as well as diseases spreading throughout the affected population of humans and animals alike. If we consider the worst case scenario, we might look back to the great Permian Extinction, which was caused by massive eruptions in Siberia about 250 million years ago and led to unparalleled extinction. Few animals bigger than cats survived it. Many millions of years later some other civilization may rise on our bones if we can’t find a way to prevent the great dying of our own. To do so, let’s take a closer look at the tectonic dragon and its heads.
Danger factors of volcanic activity:
Lava. Maybe the most feared and recognized, but quite easily avoidable factor. I mean, you can see it coming, bursting from the top and some side channels, usually predicted by the upcoming smoke. Though a liquid enough lava stream on a steep enough hill can become a racing challenge. Especially with a bonus of melting icecap rushing down. If you see those molten springs, you have probably come too close. Back up a little.
From a definition of lava, being a magmatic substance, which has lost most of the dissolved gases to a much thinner atmospheric pressure, we get our second and much more insidious danger factor – pyroclastic waves, – extremely heated gases, which can boil running water on contact. Spoiler: you mostly consist of water and will boil too. Respect the fire god. Keep your distance.
Ash, ash, ash, IT’S EVERYWHERE!
Well, it’s not ash at all, in spite of being called that way. Forget the soft, dissolving fire or cigarette ash. This one mainly consists of tiny pieces of molten rock, solidified in the atmosphere. Small and light particles, but solid and very abrasive. Cover your breathing hole, take your belongings and leave.
Dust and ash, nasty enough on their own, with a prolonged eruption, become the ultimate villain, stealing our most precious resource – sunlight. Exhausting darkness killing off plants, ocean plankton, food, and eventually oxygen is not a glorious end for humanity. We’re all feeding on the sun. Indoor farms with lights and air filters may go a long way, considering you’ve got enough fuel. Enough canned sunlight. Most persistent might survive.
Tephra. Sometimes the cork is just too tight, and it’s easier to break the bottle. Incoming pressure may not find a quick enough way through the main entrance and burst a mountain open. During the process, rock sizes from shrapnel to twice as big as your car get enough kinetic energy to shame any modern weapon launchers. Again, the best protection is distance. Also, thankfully light is way faster than sound when you see something explode you usually have a second to fall to the ground and open your mouth as wide as you can. Meeting a shockwave while laying down is incommensurably better than otherwise. Also, those jaw bones covering your ear channels might save your hearing for the future evacuation routine. Volcanoes (Smithsonian... Best Price: $0.10 Buy New $2.75 (as of 06:35 EDT - Details)
Earth rumble. Infrasound is low-frequency sonic waves, indistinguishable by the human ear. Some animals seem to be more aware, becoming uneasy and trying to escape the place shortly before an eruption or an earthquake. Subjective reactions include stress, panic, and psychosis, all of which are debatably helpful in case of an emergency.
A discerning reader will notice, that most of the evading danger advice sums up to running away.
Well, these are basic rules that work for many hazards – minimize your exposure, maximize your distance (if possible evacuating perpendicular to the vector of danger factor), and use any screening (filters, walls, landscape) available. Most of your pets will instinctively try to do the same (maybe not the filter part), because evolution gave them legs and limbs, unlike those doomed plants. Retreat or adaptation, fight or flee – those were always the ultimate choices. But adapting to extreme heat and toxic gases might be a little hard if you’re not a bacterium. Thus, fleeing is usually the best option. And if it is not a civilization-ending event, your id, a smartphone and a toughly packed backpack for immediate needs are all you need. But what if it is? What if we run out of places to run to?