Scientists believe that a massive eruption could occur in our era, and it may be closer than previously thought.
The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai last January changed the perception of this type of volcanic event and redirected how terrestrial volcanoes are studied. The event, which had a magnitude of 10 megatons, left marks that are still visible, affecting the atmosphere, and the ozone layer and destroying the islet that housed it. Observing such impacts, scientists wonder how likely it is that a massive eruption will occur in our era, and it appears that it may be closer than previously thought.
The Tonta eruption lasted only 11 hours, but researchers estimate that if it had lasted longer or occurred in a populated area, it would have had repercussions on global infrastructure. In addition to the disaster itself, supply chains, climate, and food resources would have been the first to be affected, demonstrating that the world is not prepared for a major volcanic event.
According to research, the odds of the Earth seeing a massive eruption are hundreds of times higher than an asteroid’s impact. Despite this, planetary defense allocates millions of dollars annually to prevent an asteroid collision disaster, while the budget for prevention and mitigation of the consequences of volcanic disasters barely exists. This needs to change, say volcanologists.
Magnitude 8 massive eruptions
Although researchers have long known about the drastic impacts of large-scale volcanic eruptions, the likelihood of such an event has only recently been clarified by research at the University of Birmingham.
By searching for sulfate peaks in long-term records derived from gas released during globally significant volcanic events, scientists can estimate the recurrence rates of massive eruptions. Using these data, they found 1,113 signatures of major volcanic events at the Earth’s poles that occurred between 60,000 and 9,000 years ago.
They concluded that magnitude 7 events occur once every 625 years, while magnitude 8 events, the so-called massive eruptions, occur approximately once every 14,300 years. This changes previous statistics that suggested that magnitude 7 events occurred every 1,200 years and massive eruptions every 17,000 years.
The last recorded magnitude 7 event occurred in Indonesia in 1815. It is estimated that at that time nearly 100,000 people died as a result of volcanic flows, earthquakes, and tsunamis, as well as subsequent effects. In turn, the global temperature dropped by 1ºC due to the ashes and caused the so-called ‘year without Summer.
The authors of the research do not rule out a possible super-eruption during this century, although it must be said that these events cannot be predicted, it only remains to rely on research probabilities. And it is for this reason that the researchers suggest that discussions about this type of event, as well as safety protocols for volcanic events, should begin now.
Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera