The devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and the Tōhoku earthquake in Japan in 2011 highlighted some of the worst-case scenarios for natural disasters. But humanity has not had to deal with a cataclysmic volcanic disaster since at least 1815, when the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia killed tens of thousands of people and led to a ‘year without a summer’ in Europe and North America. And now a team of leading volcanologists say the world is unprepared for next major eruption and needs to do more to prepare for the next huge volcanic eruption as the next big blast could hobble global trade, communications and financial systems if nothing is done.
The potential consequences of the next VEI-7 eruption is discussed in a new paper published in Geosphere. And conclusions are clear: the next VEI-7 eruption could occur within our lifetimes, or it could be hundreds of years down the road. But researchers and government officials should sit down and discuss right now to plan and prepare before an emergency strikes.
In contrast to the VEI-5 eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980, or to the VEI-6 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, a VEI-7 eruption would be of an entirely different scale. In 1257, a VEI-7 eruption in what is now Indonesia probably cooled the planet down enough to kick off a centuries-long cold snap called the Little Ice Age. These things are hugely important for the planet, but the next one will take place in quite a different environment.
A globalized world
Agriculture, health care, financial systems and other aspects of modern life are much more globally interconnected than they were just a few decades ago. Eight years ago, an eruption that ranked at just VEI 3 — Eyjafjallajökull, in Iceland — grounded European air traffic for days because of the danger of flying through volcanic ash. The event caused an estimated US$5 billion in economic losses.
Researchers should start to prepare for a VEI-7 eruption by studying potential effects on crucial communications links or to improve their understanding of how large amounts of magma accumulate and erupt, thus helping to forecast where the next VEI-7 event might occur.
The researchers already have a long list of candidate volcanoes that might be capable of a VEI-7 blast. They include Taupo in New Zealand, site of the world’s last VEI-8 eruption 26,500 years ago and Iran’s Mount Damavand, which lies just 50 kilometres from Tehran.
Preparing for rare but deadly eruptions is as important as dealing with smaller, more-frequent ones. Even with the lower probability of these larger events, when they do occur people will look to scientists, emergency managers, governments and other entities and expect them to be prepared. We owe it to our communities to be researching potentially devastating eruptions, so we can guide people on what to do.
This is nother reminder – among hundreds – to prepper and get ready for any large cataclysms that are inevitably going to strike earth and change its shape in the next years.