Tech UPTechnologyThere is a 1 in 6 chance of a...

There is a 1 in 6 chance of a massive volcanic eruption occurring this century


The world is “woefully ill-prepared” for a massive volcanic eruption, according to a team of researchers from the Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge and the University of Birmingham who have published their findings in the journal Nature. Experts are also warning that a catastrophic volcanic eruption is more likely than we think and that we are not ready for the possible repercussions on global supply chains, climate and food.


We are still unprepared

If we go back to 1815, that year the volcano Tambora (or Tamboro) located in the northern part of the island of Sumbawa, in Indonesia, erupted and killed 100,000 people. However, its effects did not end there. The soot thrown into the stratosphere caused temperatures to drop an entire degree around the world. There were collateral effects associated with the harvests, with the summer… at least it was the time in which the British writer Mary Shelley wrote the gothic novel Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus in her three days of confinement.

Now, according to scientists, there is a one in six chance that an eruption of a similar magnitude could happen again this century , and we are not prepared for it.

“Data collected from ice cores on the frequency of eruptions in deep time suggest that there is a one in six chance of a magnitude seven explosion in the next hundred years. That’s a roll of the dice,” said study co-author and CSER researcher Lara Mani. “These gigantic eruptions have caused abrupt climate change and the collapse of civilizations in the distant past.”

There is no coordinated action, nor large-scale investment, to mitigate the global effects of large-scale eruptions. This has to change,” says Michael Cassidy, associate professor of volcanology at the University of Birmingham.

It really is that. Although space agencies such as NASA are committed to investing in a planetary defense plan in order to prevent an asteroid from crashing into Earth (such as the DART mission project), there is no global program dedicated to protecting against devastation that could occur after a large-scale volcanic eruption, something that is hundreds of times more likely to occur than asteroids and comets colliding together.

Underestimating the odds

The researchers say there is a “widespread misconception” that the risks of major eruptions are low, and describe the current lack of government investment in monitoring and responding to potential volcanic disasters as “reckless”.

“This urgently needs to change . We are completely underestimating the risk volcanoes pose to our societies,” experts say. “We now live in a world with eight times the population and more than forty times the level of trade. Our complex global networks could make us even more vulnerable to the impacts of a major eruption.”

The impact of such events would disrupt transportation, food, water, commerce, energy, finance, and communications. Scientists have warned that due to changes in ocean and atmospheric circulation caused by climate change, a large-scale eruption in the tropics could cause 60% more cooling in the next century than today. The world is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the pre-industrial era , so the impact of a major volcanic eruption would be abrupt and immense , with uneven effects on climate, precipitation, and temperature.

Although it may seem far-fetched, we need to start thinking about ways to curb the destruction of volcanic eruptions.

“Directly affecting volcanic behavior may seem inconceivable, but so was asteroid deflection until the formation of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office in 2016,” Mani clarifies. “The risks of a massive eruption devastating global society are significant. The current lack of investment to respond to this risk is simply irresponsible.”

Referencia: Huge volcanic eruptions: time to prepare. Michael Cassidy & Lara Mani. Nature 608, 469-471 (2022)


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