Hawaii: Halemaumau volcano spews lava as it erupts
Volcanic eruptions remain a very real danger to life on Earth due to their apocalyptic power and our inability to accurately predict when they will occur. Yet despite their ever-ominous threat, human settlements have sprouted around volcanoes due to their fertile soils and – more recently – the potential for tourism and generating geothermal energy. As a result, forecasting when they will erupt is now more vital than for protecting these populations.
As well as their propensity to erupt and population density, several other factors come into play when assessing how dangerous a volcano really is.
The gas emission rate of St Helens is very high and suggests that significant amounts of magma are the surface
Professor William Rose
The types of magma spewed during eruptions and each volcano’s eruption history are also key.
An explosive volcanic eruption in a remote area is obviously not as dangerous as one in a populous region requiring immediate mass evacuation.
And somewhat counterintuitively, long-dormant volcanoes actually pose a higher risk for eruption due to mounting pressure in their bowels.
Each of the following five volcanoes – out of an approximate 1,500 active volcanoes – has its own unique history and poses its own distinct threat.
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Research conducted by the Japanese government last year revealed a major eruption of Mount Fuji would spew so much ash over nearby Tokyo, the capital’s infrastructure would become immediately paralysed.
Several centimetres of ash would clog the filters at power plants and visibility would vanish to zero.
Although Mount Fuji last erupted more than 300 years ago, the volcano remains active and occasionally goes through periods of activity, producing several hundred tremors a month.
And an eruption on the scale of Mount Fuji’s last eruption could last for a fortnight.
Etna is Europe’s largest and most active volcano, producing enough lava annually to fill a skyscraper.
Geologists recognise the 700,000-year-old Vesuvius as the world’s second most active volcano, after Hawaii’s Mount Kilauea.
Due to its situation between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, Mount Vesuvius is almost constantly erupting.
Etna each year produces more than tens of million tons of lava and seven million tons of carbon dioxide, water and sulphur dioxide.
Mount Vesuvius’ most severe recent eruption took place in March 2017, injuring approximately 12 people.
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Mount St Helens:
Viscous magma is known to be bottled-up inside the Mount St Helens volcano, which is now surfacing to form a lava dome.
William Rose, a professor of geology at Michigan Technological University said last year: “The gas emission rate of St Helens is very high and suggests that significant amounts of magma are the surface.”
However, Donald Peterson, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientist in charge of the Mount St Helens project, has warned how nothing is certain about this volcano.
He said: “Mount St. Helens has a wide repertoire. It’s likely to do anything that it has done in the past, but it could also come up with some new acts.”
July 1990 witnessed a magnitude-7.8 earthquake occur approximately 60 miles (100km) northeast of Mount Pinatubo on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, shaking and squeezing the Earth’s crust beneath the volcano.
At Mount Pinatubo, this major earthquake caused a landslide, earthquakes and a spike in steam emissions from a preexisting geothermal area, but otherwise the volcano otherwise appeared undisturbed.
However, in March and April the next year magma spewed to the surface from more than 20 miles (32km) beneath Pinatubo.
This, in turn, triggered earthquakes and violent steam explosions that blasted three craters on the north flank of Pinatubo volcano.
Although another catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone remains theoretically possible, USGS scientists thankfully remain unconvinced one will ever happen again on the apocalyptic scales of its predecessors.
The rhyolite magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is believed to be only five to 15 percent molten, while the rest is solidified but still hot.
This hopefully means it is less than likely there is sufficient magma beneath the caldera to feed another epic super-eruption.
And should Yellowstone ever erupt again, it need not be a large eruption.
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