- SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters)
- Scientists said on Friday they were stepping up research into the global
threat posed by massive volcanic eruptions -- devastating and inevitable
explosions of magma, ash and gas that promise to have severe and lasting
impact on the world's climate.
- ``The risk of volcanic eruptions to human populations
is not very well defined,'' William Rose, a geologist at Michigan Technological
University, told a news briefing at the American Geophysical Union.
- ``But the probability of very large eruptions is probably
significantly higher than that of meteor impact.''
- At a symposium held at the AGU meeting, volcanologists,
atmospheric scientists and other specialists have launched an effort to
begin modeling the impact of severe volcanic eruptions, which potentially
could be many times larger than the worst experienced in recorded human
- The most powerful recent eruption, Philippine volcano
Mt Pinatubo, exploded with astonishing force in 1991 killing 800 people
and forcing thousands to evacuate.
- Pinatubo blasted rock and dust 12 miles into the atmosphere
-- leading to measurable changes in world weather patterns.
- Other volcanoes have been even more destructive. Tambora,
in Indonesia, blew its top in 1815, killing more than 90,000 people and
venting so much material into the atmosphere that Europe effectively lost
its summer growing season.
- And historical records indicate that earlier eruptions
were many times more powerful than that.
- Hans Graf of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
in Hamburg, Germany, said a drive was underway to establish a clearer understanding
of the effects of volcanic explosion on the atmosphere, which range from
venting huge amounts of ozone-damaging chlorine and bromine compounds to
filling the skies with aerosol droplets that can absorb solar heat.
- ``This leads to dynamic consequences, like the warming
of continents,'' Graf said.
- While researchers are only beginning to understand the
potential lasting impact of volcanic explosions, scientists are growing
more confident of their ability to forecast the deadly explosions more
- ``It's not so much that we expect one technical breakthrough
... there's a confluence of a lot of things going on that should improve
our ability to make predictions in the next 10 years,'' Stanford University
geophysicist Paul Segall said.
- Volcanologists say the increasing use of satellites to
monitor volcanic activity on Earth will help to refine measurements indicating
the build-up of magma -- often the precursor to a volcanic eruption.
- This satellite observation system, which scientists say
may develop into a permanent volcano early warning system covering some
600 potentially active volcanoes around the world, will help deliver earlier
and more precise notice of volcanic activity -- like the warning delivered
before Pinatubo, which enabled the safe evacuation of tens of thousands
- ``Unlike earthquake prediction, we can actually do something
about volcanoes,'' Segall said.
Site Served by TheHostPros