Volcanoes are one of the most fascinating natural phenomenons that occur. Many regions of the world have active volcanoes; some of which threaten the lives of inhabitants. The purpose of this discussion is to evaluate volcanic hazards as it relates to people and the environment. According to the United States Geological survey Volcano hazards are inclusive of the after effects of a volcanic explosion. The Survey explains that a volcanic explosion is marked by the ejection of molten rock and rock fragments that can be hot or cold, wet or dry (Types and Effects of Volcanic Hazards). In addition, some of the hazards associated with volcanoes can be severe depending upon the magnitude of the eruption, the population of the location and the amount of property that is in direct danger of being destroyed by the eruption. The survey also points out that volcanic hazards can also occur when the volcano is quiet. These hazards include Gas, Lahars, Landslides, Lava Flows, Pyroclastic Flows and Tephra (Types and Effects of Volcanic Hazards).
Volcanic gases are released in the air and through the soil as a result of the Magma which is composed of dissolved gases. The most common gases that are released are water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. In addition to these gases, volcanoes also release smaller amounts of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, helium, hydrogen, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride. The survey explains that of the aforementioned gases the most harmful tend to be are sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen fluoride. The survey explains that Locally, sulfur dioxide gas can lead to acid rain and air pollution downwind from a volcano. Globally, large explosive eruptions that inject a tremendous volume of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere can lead to lower surface temperatures and promote depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. Because carbon dioxide gas is heavier than air, the gas may flow into in low-lying areas and collect in the soil. The concentration of carbon dioxide gas in these areas can be lethal to people, animals, and vegetation (Volcanic Gases and There Effects).”
In addition fluorine-compounds can deform or kill animals that eat vegetation that is covered in volcanic ash. The fluorine compounds usually become fine-grained ash particles that are ingested by animals.
In addition to the volcanic gases that are present during a volcanic event, Lahars also pose a hazard. Lahars occur as a result of a volcanic explosion. According to the geological survey lahars consist of a mixture of hot or cold water combined with rock fragments (“Lahars and Their Effects”). Lahars flow from the slopes of an erupting volcano and occur in various sizes and speeds (“Lahars and Their Effects”). Lahars are hazardous because they can create a great deal of economic and environments problems. As it relates to economics lairs can destroy costly infrastructures such as roads, bridges, homes and telephone lines (“Lahars and Their Effects”). Lahars are also dangerous because they can trap people and make them even more susceptible to other volcanic hazards (“Lahars and Their Effects”). Environmental hazards caused by lahars include volcanic deposits in the headwaters of rivers contributing to serious flooding; rock debris that can cover towns and agricultural land. Lahars deposits can also obstruct tributary stream valleys (“Lahars and Their Effects”).
Other types of volcanic hazard include landslides and lava flows. Land slides are composed of large masses of rock and soil that slide, very quickly as a result of gravitational force (Volcano Landslides). Landslides are hazardous because they destroy everything in their path (Volcano Landslides). In times past volcanic eruptions have created landslides that have caused explosions, buried river valleys, generated lahars and tsunamis, and formed deep craters (Volcano Landslides). Lava Flows are streams of molten rock that seep from an erupting vent (Lava Flows). Lava flows are similar to land slides in that they destroy everything in their path (Lava Flows). Although lava flows can be extremely destructive, they usually do not cause a loss of life because they move slowly and people usually have enough time to move away from where the lava flow is occurring (Lava Flows).
The two final volcanic hazards are Pyroclastic Flows and Tephra. Pyroclastic Flows are high-density mixtures of hot, dry rock fragments combined with hot gases (Pyroclastic Flows and Their Effects).
Pyroclastic Flows travel away from the vents at high speeds. Pyroclastic flows also destroy everything in their paths and because they travel at high speeds they tend to kill people because they do not have enough time to get out of the way (Pyroclastic Flows and Their Effects). Historic Pyroclastic Flows have occurred at Mount Saint Helens, Washington in 1980, Soufriere Hills, Montserrat and Unzen Volcano, Japan (Pyroclastic Flows and Their Effects).
Tephra is Tephra is a term that is used to describe fragments of volcanic rock and lava of all sizes that are blasted into the air through eruption or carried in the air by hot gases found in eruption columns or lava fountains. The smallest type of Tephra is volcanic ash. According to the geological survey
Volcanic ash is highly disruptive to economic activity because it covers just about everything, infiltrates most openings, and is highly abrasive. Airborne ash can obscure sunlight to cause temporary darkness and reduce visibility to zero. Ash is slippery, especially when wet; roads, highways, and airport runways may become impassable. Automobile and jet engines may stall from ash-clogged air filters and moving parts can be damaged from abrasion, including bearings, brakes, and transmissions (“Tephra: Volcanic Rock and Glass Fragments”).”
Historic events and studies concerning volcanic hazards demonstrate the severe outcomes that can be a result of a volcanic eruption. In addition, in many areas of the world there is an even greater hazard because warning systems are poor and the infrastructure is not in place as it relates to the evacuation of massive amounts of people.
As it relates to the most likely places for a volcano to occur the geological survey points out the pacific ring a fire is one of the most prominent areas of volcanic activity. The pacific ring of fire encompasses a large area that is full of volcanic arks and oceanic trenches. The ring of fire is located along the edge of a tectonic plate and spans form Mt. Hudson in Chile to Mt Ruapehu in New Zealand (the Earth’s Ring of Fire). In fact greater than 50% of active volcanoes above sea level are contained within this ring (the Earth’s Ring of Fire).
Also from a historical point-of-view dormant volcanoes have killed many people. Such was the case near Manila with the Taal volcano which erupted violently and killed many. The depth of the destruction was not immediately apparent because rescuers could not get to the island right away. During this eruption witnesses actually reported seeing two villages slide into the water as a result of lahars and lava flows (Dormant Volcano Erupts near Manila).
Another devastating eruption occurred with Mount Lamington in 1951. Mount Lamington is located in the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea. The explosion that occurred there in 1951 resulted in hundreds of people being killed by the initial blast or being burned to death by the lava that created fires (Mount Lamington). In addition, between 3.000 and 4,000 people were killed as a result of the Pyroclastic Flows (Mount Lamington).
Over the last two decades scientists have gotten better at protecting people from volcanoes. Scientists now have the tools to monitor volcanoes in such a way that they can determine when a volcano might occur and by doing so warn the people that would be adversely affected if the volcano was to erupt. It appears that the best defense against volcanoes is early warning so that people can be evacuated early. This is one aspect of a Volcanic Hazard management strategy. In the United States this strategy is handled by that United States Geographical Survey. The survey has a color coded plan for handling such threats this includes: Green-No immediate threat, Yellow-Watch; Orange- Warning and Red- Eruption in progress. There are certain measures that are taken at each threat level.
Indeed there are active volcanoes around the world that make many people vulnerable. In most cases scientist can now predict when an eruption may occur with some accuracy. The best protection seems to be early warning. The research also indicates that people should heed such warning if they desire to live.
Dormant Volcano Erupts near Manila; Hundreds Feared Dead under Lava. New York Times September 29, 1965.
Lahars and Their Effects. United States Geological Survey. 4 April 2007 http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/Lahars/lahars.html
Lava Flows. United States Geological Survey. 4 April 2007 http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/Lava/lavaflow.html
Pyroclastic Flows and Their Effects. United States Geological Survey.
April 2007 http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/PF/pcflows.html
Tephra: Volcanic Rock and Glass Fragments”).”
Volcano Landslides. United States Geological Survey. 4 April 2007 http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/Landslides/landslides.html
The Earth’s Ring of Fire. Monday, 5 June, 2000. BBC News.
April 2007 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/136248.stm
Volcanic gases and the Their Effects. United States Geological Survey.
April 2007 http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/Hazards/What/VolGas/volgas.html.
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