According to researchers, there is a one-sixth chance of a magnitude 7 or greater volcanic eruption in 100 years. The world was “deplorably unprepared”.
Cambridge/Birmingham – The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai off Tonga, the Merapi in Indonesia, the Cumbre Vieja on La Palma – these are just three of the volcanoes that erupted within a year and caused great destruction. Scientists from the Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge and the University of Birmingham now warn in a paper published in the journal Nature to take the risk of an even larger volcanic eruption seriously and to invest more money in the observation and to prepare for an emergency.
Volcanic eruptions: Researchers warn of great danger – world “regrettably unprepared”
A massive volcanic eruption could plunge the world into a crisis of similar financial proportions as the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers warn. According to them, there is a one-sixth chance of a magnitude 7 or greater eruption in 100 years. The published paper states that the world is “regrettably unprepared” for a massive volcanic eruption and the likely consequences for global supply chains, climate and food.
Eruptions of this magnitude have triggered abrupt climate changes and the collapse of entire civilizations in the past, warned risk expert Lara Mani from the CSER, according to the release. She compared the climatic consequences of a massive volcanic eruption with the impact of an asteroid one kilometer in diameter on Earth.
Researchers warn of the danger of volcanic eruptions: “Massively underestimate the risk”
Although the combined risk of an asteroid or comet colliding with Earth is only one-hundredth that of a massive volcanic eruption, far more money is spent on observing asteroids than on studying volcanoes, the researchers say. “That urgently needs to change. We massively underestimate the risk posed to our societies by volcanoes,” said Mani.
According to the researchers, the volcanic eruption off the South Sea island of Tonga in January this year should serve as a wake-up call. Researchers discovered mysterious waves in the atmosphere as a result of the eruption. Had the eruption lasted longer, emitted more ash and gas, or taken place in a region with more critical infrastructure, such as the Mediterranean, the global impact might have been devastating.
Ticking time bombs: Scientists call for better monitoring of volcanoes
The last magnitude 7 volcanic eruption occurred in Indonesia in 1815 and had dramatic climatic consequences that were also felt in Europe, leading to famine, violent uprisings and epidemics. The year 1816, which followed this eruption of the Tambora volcano, is also known as the “year without a summer”. “We now live in a world with eight times the population and forty times the trade than back then. Our complex networks could make us even more sensitive to the shocks of a large eruption,” said co-author Mike Cassidy, a University of Birmingham volcanologist.
The researchers therefore hope to better monitor volcanic activity – for example by means of a dedicated satellite – and explore methods to mitigate eruptions and their consequences. There could still be dozens of dangerous volcanoes that humanity doesn’t know about, especially in regions like Southeast Asia that have so far been neglected by science. Less than a third of volcanic eruptions since 1950 have had seismometers nearby to record ground vibrations, and again only a third of the data recorded has been entered into a global database.
The risk of a massive volcanic eruption that would devastate global society is significant, Mani said. The expert explained that the current lack of investment is “simply irresponsible”. In the Californian Sierra Nevada, the super-volcano Long Valley Caldera has been seething for almost 800,000 years. A volcano also slumbers in Germany – under the Laacher See in the Eifel. (ph/dpa)