Earth hides the biggest threats: Super volcanoes that can destroy humanity

Updated: Aug 05, 2022, 11:36 PM(IST)

When you ponder the end of the world, what pictures come to mind? Asteroids like the one that took out Dinosaurs? A world war? What about aliens?

What if we were to tell you that a much larger danger actually lurks just under the surface of our planet? 

Earth houses many volcanoes that contain tonnes of magma constantly bubbling away, waiting for a way out. Many of these have the power to destroy human civilisation, yet remain unknown to most people.

Let's take a look at some volcanoes that can wipe out humanity:

Yellowstone National Park

In the previous 2.1 million years, the Yellowstone supervolcano, which scored an 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, has erupted three times, most recently 640,000 years ago. An eruption at Yellowstone would be beyond anything the human race has ever known.

According to a team of experts who wrote a paper on catastrophic geohazards for the European Science Foundation in 2015, it would be "the greatest catastrophe since the dawn of civilization".

Yellowstone has had three significant eruptions, in 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. This translates to an average interval between eruptions of around 725,000 years. Accordingly, there are still roughly 100,000 years to go, but this estimate is irrelevant because it is based on the average of only two intervals between eruptions.


Mount Vesuvius

You must remember stories of how Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD completely destroying human civilizations at the mountain's base, including Pompeii. 

The eruption is believed to have lasted two days, expelling a cloud of extremely hot gas in apocalyptic fashion over 30 kilometres into the atmosphere, dumping pumice and ash on the earth below. It was one of the deadliest eruptions in recorded human history.

What if something like this occurred today? Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano that lies on top of a massive deposit of lava that extends 154 miles into the earth.

The United States Geological Survey categorises the volcano as "type S," which denotes that its magma is extremely viscous and would cause explosive eruptions that would generate tall columns of ash. Geologists believe the volcano is overdue for an eruption, thus it is very possible that one will occur, and if it does it will be (spectacularly) bad.


Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is among the most hazardous volcanoes in the US due to a multitude of causes.

Its most last known eruption is dated around 1450 CE. 

The USGS points at the dangers: it's high elevation, chemical make-up, closeness to the Seattle and Tacoma suburbs of Washington, as well as the volcano's capacity to generate powerful pyroclastic flows, lava flows, and volcanic ash.

According to the USGS, a Mount Rainier eruption poses the greatest risk of large lahars. The Global Volcanism Program estimates that an eruption would have an impact on more than two million people.


Cumbre Vieja

A catastrophic eruption of Cumbre Vieja may send the entire western flank of the volcano into the sea, triggering a "mega-tsunami" in the Atlantic, US and British experts had warned in 2001. They said w ith waves up to 160 feet high and a speed of 500 mph, it would completely destroy Florida, coastal Brazil, and sections of Europe.

However, the 2021 eruption while the longest lasting 85 days and 8 hours (almost three months nonstop)did produce the most lava (more than 200 million m3) of any eruption in La Palma's history, it didn't bring this destruction.

Hazards from toxic fumes produced during the burning of buildings and materials were very serious. Over 7,000 people were evacuated as a result of the eruption. The lava flow, which has reached the sea and was 6.2 kilometres long and 3.9 miles wide at its widest point, destroyed more than 3,000 structures, severed the coastal roadway, and created a new peninsula.

According to the government of the Canary Islands, the volcano has caused 843 million euros worth of damage overall.


Mount Pinatubo

In a populous area of the Philippines, Mount Pinatubo gained notoriety during a huge eruption in 1991 that was the second-largest eruption of the twentieth century.

Although Pinatubo had not previously seen any explosive eruptions, the 1991 eruption, which resulted in pyroclastic flows that created a lake-filled caldera, killed at least 722 people. According to the Global Volcanism Program, more than 21 million people who live within 100 kilometres (about 62 miles) of Mount Pinatubo could be at danger if it erupts.


Mount St. Helens

The deadliest and most devastating volcanic event in US history occurred in 1980 at Mount St. Helens in Washington. The eruption claimed the lives of 57 people, thousands of animals, and destroyed 200 square kilometres of forest. 

The USGS claims that given Mount St. Helens' history of violent eruptions, additional occurrences are very likely and that that another powerful eruption would result in significant ash fall across the Pacific Northwest. Due to this the volcano is being closely watched.


Mount Agung

The continuously erupting Mount Agung in Indonesia last experienced a significant eruption in 1963, which was among the most catastrophic in the nation's recorded history. In 1963, it erupted for 11 months, resulting in hazardous ash fall and pyroclastic flows that caused more than 1,000 fatalities and extensive property damage.

Following an eruption in November 2017, ash plumes over the volcano have been continually seen throughout 2018. 

Agung erupted in June 2018, disrupting air travel with 2 kilometre high plumes. On July 3, there was a Strombolian explosion that scattered debris in all directions. An eruption that occurred in late May 2019 spilled lava and rocks across a distance of around 3 kilometres, with part of the ash falling on surrounding settlements and briefly disrupting international flights.

If this volcano undergoes a major eruption as per Global Volcanism Program four milion people located in the region can be affected.


Mount Merapi

Mount Merapi has been continually erupting since 1548, making it one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes.

The southern and southeasterly slopes of Merapi erupted on the afternoon of October 25, 2010. A total of 353 individuals lost their lives over the course of the following month, and 350,000 were forced to flee their homes. 

NASA claims that pyroclastic flows, which can spread over large areas and endanger people, are Merapi's biggest risk. According to the Global Volcanism Program, the neighbourhood is home to more than 24 million people.


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