Experts at the European Science Foundation (ESF) have warned that the world is going through a 300-year period of heightened volcanic activity, and that there is up to a 10 percent chance within the next 70-80 years of a major supervolcano eruption that could kill millions of people and devastate the planet.
The report titled, “Extreme Geo-hazards: Reducing the Disaster Risk and Increasing Resilience,” warns that supervolcanoes — like the Yellowstone supervolcano at the National Park in Wyoming, with a caldera measuring about 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 kilometers) — are a bigger threat to the Earth and human survival than other geo-hazards, such as earthquakes, asteroid impacts, and tsunamis.
The report estimates the risk of a major devastating eruption in the next 80 years at five to 10 percent.
A major eruption of one of the world’s largest volcanoes — such as Yellowstone supervolcano in Wyoming, Mount Vesuvius in Italy, and Popocatepetl in Mexico — could kill hundreds of thousands of people and millions more by throwing millions of tons of ash and other toxic matter into the atmosphere. The ash clouds could disrupt global climate by blocking out the Sun and causing a global volcanic winter.
The impact of a major eruption, according to scientists, could be “beyond the imagination of anything man’s activity and global warming could do over 1,000 years.”
The report illustrated the grave danger with reference to the Yellowstone supervolcano. Scientists have warned of the risk of a major eruption of the volcano in the next 70-80 years that could wipe out the entire western U.S. and disrupt global climate.
The Inquisitr reported earlier in June that Indonesia’s Toba supervolcano — which has greater potential eruptive power than the Yellowstone supervolcano — caused panic among residents and concern for scientists when it came alive in May of 2015 producing steam and gas. There are fears that Toba supervolcano — believed to have produced two major global environment altering eruptions 840,000, 700,000, and 75,000 years ago — could erupt once again.
Some researchers believe that a massive eruption of Toba supervolcano 75,000 years ago caused a global volcanic winter that lasted about a decade, leading to a global human population bottleneck and mass extinction of many species.
The report noted that the potential impact of a major volcanic eruption is exacerbated by the fact that governments worldwide are unprepared for the looming catastrophe. The little attention given to preparing for a major volcanic eruption is due to the fact that we have had more earthquakes, tsunamis, and other disasters in the last 2,000 years and thus we have focused less on how to deal with major volcanic eruptions.
According to the report, “Although in the last few decades earthquakes have been the main cause of fatalities and damage, the main global risk is large volcanic eruptions that are less frequent but far more impactful than the largest earthquakes. Due to their far-reaching effects on climate, food security, transportation, and supply chains, these events have the potential to trigger global disaster and catastrophe. The cost of response and the ability to respond to these events is beyond the financial and political capabilities of any individual country.”
“Although in the last few decades earthquakes have been the main cause of fatalities and damage, the main global risk is large volcanic eruptions.”
The report continued: “Volcanic eruptions can have more severe impacts through atmospheric and climate effects and can lead to drastic problems in food and water security, as emphasized by the widespread famine and diseases that were rampant after the Laki, 1783, and Tambora, 1815, eruptions. Hence extreme volcanic eruptions pose a higher associated risk than all other natural hazards with similar recurrence periods, including asteroid impacts.”
More than 100,000 people were killed in the April, 1815, Tambora eruption on Sumbawa Island in Indonesia. The eruption, which ranks among the most powerful ever recorded in history, threw millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere. The ash blocked out the Sun and caused unusually cold summers.
The report described the Tambora eruption as “one of the most important climatic and socially repercussive events of the last millennium.”
The resulting lowering of global temperatures caused widespread harvest failures. The global cooling effect of the eruption is often referred to as Year Without Summer.
The Laki eruption in Iceland on June 8, 1783, caused more than 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride and about 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, causing the so-called “Laki haze” that spread across Europe.
More than 10,000 people were killed instantly. About 25 percent of the population of Iceland died due to long-term effects, including famine and fluoride poisoning. About 80 percent of sheep, 50 percent of cattle, and 50 percent of horses died in Iceland due to the effects of fluoride poisoning.
The report warns that volcanic eruptions of similar scale to the Tambora and Laki eruptions would cause greater carnage in the 21st century due to larger and denser global populations and increased reliance on technology for survival.
[Image via R. Clucas/Wikimedia/Public Domain]