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Science: Volcanic Eruptions



What we class as a volcano is an opening in the surface of the Earth´s crust which allows the flow of hot magma, volcanic ash and gases to pass through. Ordinarily, volcanoes are cone shaped rocks which are formed when the magma below the surface has erupted on a number of occasions.

Magma is formed by the build-up of pressure in the upper mantle and the lower crust where we find the tectonics plates as we discovered in the article, Science: Earthquakes. Essentially, magma is produced when the rocks become so hot they melt. If the density of the magma is less than that of the surrounding and overlying rocks, it reaches the surface and erupts through the opening funnel of a volcano. When magma erupts it is called lava.

Although volcanologists are aware of the processes, they cannot accurately predict when a volcano is due to explode, though they have made significant advances in forecasting volcanic eruptions.

The gravest threat to the planet comes from super-volcanoes, a large mass of land with a huge caldera. There are currently eight known super-volcanoes on Earth, namely Yellowstone National Park, Long Valley Caldera  and Valles Caldera, all in the USA, Lake Taupo in New Zealand, Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia, Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania, Krakatoa near Java, Indonesia and Aira in Japan.

In itself, a volcanic eruption would cause a mass loss of life providing authorities reacted in enough time to evacuate nearby city´s that were in danger. Even super-volcanoes would only affect an area up to around 100 miles. The threat volcanoes offer to humanity is the aftermath of a severe explosion.

When a volcano erupts, not only does it emit lava, but also throws out gases and dust particles. Some of these emissions fallout almost immediately, others stay airborne for a few days. The dust that is thrown into the upper atmosphere though can stay there for several months. If a super-volcano were to blow it´s top, the particles could stay there for years.

The results of long-term airborne particles would reflect the sun´s rays and cause a cooling in the atmosphere over large areas of land. Over a prolonged period of time this would create adverse living conditions like in the days of the ice-age – or Alasaka and Siberia as we know it today. This would have a knock-on effect with agriculture and livestock thus causing food prices to soar. Many areas of the world would suffer famine.


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