Volcanoes don’t erupt often. And when they do, lava flows are usually the last thing to worry about. Volcanic gasses and ashe are the biggest concerns, especially to those in the towns and cities in the surrounding area.
To understand the dangers of volcanic ashe, one needs to look no further than the well known story Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, only 6 miles away. Obviously Pompeii is an extreme example, however, the many ways that the volcano’s ashe and gas and heat killed nearly 15,000 inhabitants in less than an hour is a good warning about the numerous possible ways that a volcano can kill people.
There are some more recent examples that are very telling as well. Here are a couple examples:
The 1783 eruption of Mt. Laki in Iceland – Killed 50% of the countries livestock population. The chemicals in the air travelled over europe and had a dramatic cooling effect, with unusual side-effects such as raining sand.
The 1815 Eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia – The explosion was heard more than 1,200 miles away and the death toll was estimated at 71,000 people. This was the largest volcanic eruption known in human history.
The damaging aftermath of volcanic eruptions
There are number of ways in which volcanic activity affects both the local surrounding area and the globe at large.
#6. Ozone Destruction
Carbon dioxide is an important part of the environment. Plants are composed of mostly carbon dioxide taken from the air. However, when a volcano explodes, it releases an over-bearing amount of Carbon Dioxide and chlorine monoxide into the atmosphere that the ozone cannot sustain. In fact, this destruction of the ozone results in increased global temperatures.
#5. Blacked Out Sky
One would imagine that volcanic activity increases the temperature of the planet. And that’s true regarding the Ozone. However, as a paradoxical effect, when volcanoes release ashe into the atmosphere, the ashe acts as a protective barrier which reflects sunlight away from the planet. This results in cooler temperatures in the areas up to 2000 miles from the eruption.
#4. Acid Rain & Destroyed Water Supply
Volcanoes are a pressure pot of chemicals. Once the pressure is release, those chemicals are released into the atmosphere and have a significant environmental impact, including impacts on humans.
- Carbon dioxide
- Sulfates (sulfur dioxide)
- Hydrochloric acid
- Hydroflouric acid
These chemicals, among many others, are dangerous when released in large amounts. They destroy local water supplies, kill plants and animals and destroy structures and human dwellings.
#3. Animal and Plant death, Leading to Famine
Volcanoe eruptions disturb nearby natural habitats. Plants, animals and humans die when there is significant gas in the air, ashe covering or lava flowing. As lava reaches wooded areas, it often causes fires which can decimate local forests.
As plant and animal deaths rise in numbers, human resources are put under strain. Local food supplies suffer, which means limited food for all of those in the area.
#2. Suffocation & Silicosis (damage to lungs)
Silicosis is the the long term affect of inhalation of volcanic ashe and gasses which results in lung impairment and scarring. Gasses are the most damaging effect of volcanoes, followed by ashe and then heat.
#1. Extreme Heat
When the Pompeii ruins were investigated by experts and historians (pics above), they mostly assumed that the inhabitants died from suffocation from gasses and ashe falling from the sky. The city was covered under 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) of volcanic ashe, which preserved the bodies perfectly in place.
However, scientists have discovered that an instant flash of extreme heat was the most likely culprit. In an instant, indoor and outdoor heat rose up to 300°C [570°F]. The majority of the bodies were discovered in-place, where they were living their life in the same moment that they died. In other words, they didn’t have time to suffocate.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted, the volcano produced six different pyroclastic surges. These were surges of gas and heat that reached Pompeii in less than a minute. The temperature changed instantly and then the heat lingered, essentially working in unison with the ashe, covering and baking the bodies in place.
Thanks for reading!