Let’s Talk Volcanoes


I am occasionally surprised that more people aren’t interested in volcanoes.  They are things of beauty; in the same way a tiger is beautiful.

Part of my fascination stems from the fact that the US has a super volcano nestled in it, a super volcano that if it erupts could be an extinction level event and it’s due.  Of course, volcanoes are notoriously fickle.  This is the Yellowstone Caldera, a caldera is a crateresque volcano, meaning it doesn’t have a mountain peak that readily identifies most volcanoes.  The majority of the world’s super volcanoes are calderas.

Humans have never seen a super volcano erupt, we can only use computer models and archeaologic excavations to give us an understanding of what happens when a super volcano erupts.  The last eruption was Toba, which happened around 70,000 years ago.  Interestingly, the term super volcano is a misnomer.  It refers to the amount of ash forced from the volcano during the eruption.  Volcanoes like Toba (which is another caldera) don’t always erupt at the magnatude that designates it as a super volcano.

And there have been some seriously large eruptions of non-super volcanoes that have come close, like the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted with enough force that the mountain lost it’s top making it shorter now than it was 200 years ago and it created a nuclear winter.  As a matter of fact 1815 is referred to by historians as the year without a summer because Tambora released so much volcanic material into the sky that the summer was rather cold and dreary, around the world, not just in Indonesia.  There actually hasn’t been another eruption like the one in 1815 since then although there have been some that were close.

Volcanoes threaten humanity is ways we don’t realize.  Lava is slow.  The moment it exits a volcano it begins to cool and harden, animals and people can easily outrun a lava flow.  It is the pyroclastic cloud (the scary black could that races down the volcano) that kills most people.  Or the lahars.  Since most volcanoes are also moutains, they often have glaciers and snow on them.  Lahars are basically mudslides.  The soil is heated up by magma (it only becomes lava once it exits the ground) flowing under it, causing the glacier or snow to melt which mixes with the highly acidic heated soil and creates a mudslide that is very fast moving and slightly more acidic than a regular mud slide.  It isn’t going to eat your skin off, but it can poison water and destroy land used for farming.

Or like Tambora in 1815 and Pinatubo in 1991, a large volcanic eruption can disrupt weather patterns, as can numerous smaller eruptions.  Volcanic eruptions can create cooler weather during the summer by blocking some sunlight from reaching the surface of our planet and creating acid rain.  Tropical fruit crops in the Pacific were devastated by the eruption of Pinatubo and the explosive eruption of Kilauea will again, it isn’t the lava that is the problem, it’s the acid rain that will come now that the explosive eruption has occurred.  Acid rain falling on pineapples creates smaller, more bitter pineapples.

The devastation of tropical fruit may not sound like a big deal, but it is.  The diets of most Americans and Western Europeans contain a large amount of tropical fruits; bananas, pineapples, oranges, mangoes, kiwis, star fruits, and coconuts have become staples; the price of them will go up thanks to the eruption of Kilauea and del Fuego, because let’s face it, Guatemala also has a massive tropical fruit industry. Coupled with a loss of oil imports in the US and suddenly all American grown tropical fruit becomes even more expensive.  It will hit the wallets of Europeans and Americans more than lives, but research has shown that tropical fruit makes people happy and no one is quiet sure why, it appears to be a naturally occurring placebo effect, but the placebo effect is real and it could be that with a decrease in tropical fruits and the increased prices of it, the placebo effect may lead to more depression this summer due to a lack of cheap, readily available tropical fruit.

Everything is connected and I seem to have lost focus on this blog post.  However, it’s still pretty good.  I was going to discuss calderas, but I guess I will make that a different post.

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