World ‘underprepared’ for planet-altering volcanic eruption

Hundreds of millions are invested in preparing for an asteroid hitting Earth, but there’s far higher likelihood of a major volcano eruption capable of changing our atmosphere. 

The world is ‘underprepared’ for a catastrophic volcanic eruption cable of altering the planet’s balance – from air quality to sunlight hours – for years after the event itself, with devastating implications for all forms of life. 

black and white mountain under orange sky

Research by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), and the University of Birmingham, published in the journal Nature, highlighted the disproportionate approach to investment in mitigating apocalyptic events, citing the vast sums of money going into early warning systems for an asteroid strike, compared to a widespread lack of funding to mitigate the worst outcomes of a major volcanic eruption, even though the latter is far more likely. 

‘Data gathered from ice cores on the frequency of eruptions over deep time suggests there is a one-in-six chance of a magnitude seven explosion in the next one hundred years. That’s a roll of the dice,’ said article co-author and CSER researcher Dr Lara Mani, an expert in global risk. ‘Such gigantic eruptions have caused abrupt climate change and collapse of civilisations in the distant past.’

Citing the Tongan volcanic eruption in January of this year, Dr Mani compared this to a near-miss asteroid incident, warning the event ‘needs to be treated as a wake-up call.’ An eruption between 10 and 100 times that force happens every 625 years, twice as often as previous estimates believe, with the last incident recorded in 1818 in Indonesia. This led to 100,000 localised deaths, a drop in global temperatures due to sunlight being blocked, mass crop failure, socio-political unrest and epidemics. 

Revisit Air Quality News‘ long-read on the air pollution impact of volcanic eruptions

Image credit: Toby Elliott


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