Researchers warn of the risk of a massive volcanic eruption. The consequences for the climate and global society could be devastating.
Cambridge/Birmingham – A massive volcanic eruption could plunge the world into a financial crisis similar to the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers at the Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge and the University of Birmingham warn against this scenario.
The researchers published their warning in the journal Nature . In the article, they urge people to take the danger seriously and invest more money in observing volcanoes and preparing for emergencies. The world is “regrettably unprepared” for a massive volcanic eruption and the likely consequences for global supply chains, climate and food. The probability of an eruption of magnitude 7 or higher in 100 years is one sixth. Statistically, such eruptions occur every 625 years. This was revealed by the analysis of sulfur concentrations in ice cores.
Volcanic eruption on Tonga as a wake-up call
Historically, eruptions of this magnitude have triggered abrupt climate changes and the collapse of entire civilizations, according to CSER risk expert Lara Mani. She compares the consequences of a massive volcanic eruption for the climate with an asteroid impacting the earth with a diameter of one kilometer.
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.
Worse than Corona? Volcano eruption could destroy global society
According to the researchers, the outbreak on the South Sea island of Tonga in January should serve as a wake-up call. The consequences for the archipelago were dramatic. Had it lasted longer, more ash and gas would have been emitted. If the outbreak had taken place in a region with more critical infrastructure, such as the Mediterranean, the consequences would have been devastating, the researchers say.
The last magnitude 7 eruption was in Indonesia in 1815. The volcanic eruption had dramatic consequences such as famine – also for Europe. “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 and a University of Birmingham volcanologist.
They also call for more research into geoengineering methods, for example to counteract aerosols emitted by volcanoes or to influence magma chambers under active volcanoes. The risk of a massive outbreak that devastates global society is significant, Mani said, adding the current lack of investment is “simply irresponsible.” (Jan Wendt with dpa)