The risk of a catastrophic volcano eruption is staggeringly high – and the world is ‘absolutely unprepared’

Experts believe that an eruption of a volcano with a magnitude of seven would cause damage similar to an epidemic.

Experts say the risk of a catastrophic outbreak is to “roll the dice.”

According to experts from University of Birmingham The Center for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) in Cambridge UniversityThe world is “miserably ill-prepared” for a catastrophic volcanic eruption and its projected effects on global supply networks, climate, and food.

They claim that there is a “widespread misconception” that the probability of massive eruptions is low and describe the government’s current lack of investment in monitoring and mitigating potential volcanic disasters as “reckless” in a recent journal article. temper nature.

However, researchers assert that preventive measures against volcanic destruction can be adopted, including better monitoring, enhanced public education, and magma manipulation, and the resources required to do so are long overdue.

Data collected from ice core samples on the frequency of eruptions over deep time suggests that there is a one in six probability of an eruption with a magnitude of seven in the next 100 years. “It’s a throw of the dice,” said the article’s author and CSER researcher, Dr. Lara Mane, an expert in global risk.

“Such giant eruptions caused sudden climate change and the collapse of civilizations in the distant past.”

Mane likens the threat of a massive volcanic eruption to the threat of a one-kilometer-wide asteroid colliding with Earth. Similar climatic consequences may result from such disasters, but the probability of a volcanic catastrophe is hundreds of times greater than that of an asteroid or comet impact.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are poured into asteroid threats every year, and yet there is a severe lack of global funding and coordination for volcano preparedness,” Mani said. “This urgently needs to change. We completely underestimate the risks volcanoes pose to our societies.”

The largest volcanic eruption ever recorded occurred in Tonga in January. According to experts, if the eruption lasts longer, emits more ash and gas, or occurs in a location with basic infrastructure, such as the Mediterranean, global shock waves could be catastrophic.

“The eruption of the Tonga volcano was the volcanic equivalent of an asteroid that just lost Earth, and it needs to be treated as a wake-up call,” Mane said.

CSER experts cite recent research that revealed the regularity of major eruptions by analyzing the effects of sulfur spikes in ancient ice samples. A volcanic eruption ten to 100 times larger than the Tonga eruption occurs once every 625 years – twice the rate of eruption previously thought.

“The last volcanic eruption of magnitude seven was in 1815 in Indonesia,” said co-author Dr. Mike Cassidy, a volcanologist and visiting researcher at CSER.[{” attribute=””>University of Birmingham.

“An estimated 100,000 people died locally, and global temperatures dropped by a degree on average, causing mass crop failures that led to famine, violent uprisings, and epidemics in what was known as the year without summer,” he said.

“We now live in a world with eight times the population and over forty times the level of trade. Our complex global networks could make us even more vulnerable to the shocks of a major eruption.”

Financial losses from a large magnitude eruption would be in the multi-trillions, and on a comparable scale to the pandemic, say the experts.

Mani and Cassidy outline steps they say need to be taken to help forecast and manage the possibility of a planet-altering eruption and help mitigate damage from smaller, more frequent eruptions.

These include a more accurate pinpointing of risks. We only know the locations of a handful of the 97 eruptions classed as large magnitude on the “Volcano Explosivity Index” over the last 60,000 years. This means there could be dozens of dangerous volcanoes dotted the world over with the potential for extreme destruction, about which humanity has no clue.

“We may not know about even relatively recent eruptions due to a lack of research into marine and lake cores, particularly in neglected regions such as Southeast Asia,” said Cassidy. “Volcanoes can lie dormant for a long time, but still be capable of sudden and extraordinary destruction.”

Monitoring must be improved, say the CSER experts. Only 27% of eruptions since 1950 have had a seismometer anywhere near them, and only a third of that data again has been fed into the global database for “volcanic unrest”.

“Volcanologists have been calling for a dedicated volcano-monitoring satellite for over twenty years,” said Mani. “Sometimes we have to rely on the generosity of private satellite companies for rapid imagery.”

The experts also call for increased research into volcano “geoengineering”. This includes the need to study means of countering aerosols released by a massive eruption, which could lead to a “volcanic winter”. They also say that work to investigate manipulating pockets of magma beneath active volcanoes should be undertaken.

Added Mani: “Directly affecting volcanic behavior may seem inconceivable, but so did the deflection of asteroids until the formation of the

Reference: “Huge volcanic eruptions: time to prepare” by Michael Cassidy and Lara Mani, 17 August 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/d41586-022-02177-x