Volcanoes are often feared, and for good reason, due to their sheer destructiveness and unpredictability. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there is an estimate of around 1,500 potentially active volcanoes around the world today. A significant number of these active volcanoes are located in the Circum-Pacific belt, also known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. Volcanoes can be found in every continent, including Antarctica. In the United States, there are currently 169 potentially active volcanoes. As you read these words, at least 20 volcanoes will possibly be erupting around the world. Why are they erupting simultaneously, you may ask? Catastrophic as it may seem, there is no need to panic; volcanic eruptions are normal geologic activities, and not at all an indication of the end of the world. Despite how the world greeted 2020, the volcano "crisis" is not what we think it is.
Why do volcanoes erupt anyway?
Volcanoes erupt as a natural way for the Earth, as well as other planets, to release its internal heat and pressure. Volcanoes erupt due to the factors of density and pressure. Because the density of the magma is relatively lower than the rocks surrounding it, it rises up to the surface or to a depth that depends on the density of the magma and the weight of the rocks above it. Bubbles start to form from the gas dissolved in the magma as the magma rises. The gas bubbles in the magma build up a high amount of pressure. This pressure aids in bringing the magma to the surface, eventually causing an eruption, at which point the magma is then called lava.
The recent volcanic activities and eruptions are not connected with each other.
Are these volcanic eruptions connected?
The eruptions of these active volcanoes are not connected to each other. Each volcano acts independently of the others, and each volcano is unique. They differ in the manner of which they erupt, as well as how often they do so. Contrary to popular belief, volcanic eruptions are not entirely related to the effect of global warming.
Predominantly, there are two types of volcanic eruptions. Some volcanoes, such as Washington’s Mount St. Helens, erupt in violent explosions – spewing gas and volcanic ash into high altitudes. This type of eruption is called an explosive eruption. Other volcanoes, such as the Kīlauea in Hawaii, ooze red hot molten rock down the volcano’s slope. This type is called an effusive eruption. Although this type of eruption moves more slowly than explosive eruptions, it may still cause a considerable amount of damage to the wildlife and infrastructures surrounding the volcano. The styles of volcanic eruption mainly depend on the viscosity and the amount of gas in the magma material. Viscosity is the material’s ability to resist flow. If the magma is more viscous, essentially less fluid, the gas bubbles inside the magma will have a hard time escaping to the surface, and so will cause the volcanic material to rise up, causing a bigger, more violent eruption. If the magma is less viscous, the gas bubbles will escape more easily from the magma, so the lava will not erupt as violently. Furthermore, the gas content is also in direct proportion to the explosiveness of the eruption. The more gas bubbles are in the magma, the more explosive the eruption will be. This means that the most explosive eruptions are from volcanoes that contain magma with high viscosity and high gas content.
The Smithsonian / USGS Weekly Volcanic Activity Report (WVAR) highlights some volcanic systems that display significant changes in volcanic activity around the world every Wednesday at 23:00 UTC. For the week of 29 January - 4 February 2020, here is a list of some of the volcanoes reported to have new activity or unrest:
Kuchinoerabu-jima lies within the borders of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park. It is classed with the archipelago of Ōsumi Islands in Japan. The island has an area 38.04 km² and has a population of 147. The islanders mainly depend on fishing, farming, and seasonal tourism. The island can only be reached by boat. The island has a regular ferry service with Yakushima about 15 km to the east. American poet Craig Arnold, who was doing a research for a book on volcanoes, visited the island in April 2009; Kuchinoerabu-jima was his last known location before he went missing.
Kuchinoerabu-jima is an active volcano which has erupted multiple times during the modern period. Explosive eruptions have frequently taken place from its youngest and most centrally-located cone, Shindake, since 1840; the largest of these eruptions occurred on 24 December 1933, in which multiple people were killed when several villages were buried by lava masses. Shindake also erupted on 4 August 2014, generating a flow of hot gas and volcanic matter, known as a pyrocastic flow, but there were no injuries or fatalities reported.
On May 18, 2015, an increased seismic activity and steam rising from the Shindake's crater were detected by Japanese scientists, and on May 29, 2015, an eruption occurred, which ejected an ash cloud an estimated 30,000 feet (9,100 meters) into the sky. The eruption prompted a level 5 alert level (a scale of 1-5) and the island’s 140 residents were evacuated by the Japanese coast guard. The Japanese government reported no deaths and only one minor injury.
On December 18, 2018, Shindake once again erupted, which sent an ash cloud more than 2 kilometers into above cloud coverage. Shindake erupted again on January 17, 2019, just 30 days after the last eruption, sending pyroclastic flows about 5,000 feet (1.5 kilometers) to the southwest and northwest ends of the crater, along with an ash cloud at an estimated 20,000 feet (6 kilometers) into the atmosphere.
Most recently, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) reported that on 3 February, 2020, the Shindake crater erupted once again, producing an ash plume that rose 7 kilometers above the crater rim. A pyroclastic flow traveled about 900 meters southwest. Ashfall was reported in the northern part of neighboring Yakushima Island and southern Tanegashima. The alert level remained at 3.
Taal, a caldera largely filled by Taal Lake, is the second most active volcano in the Philippines. It has produced some of the country’s most powerful historical eruptions, with over 33 recorded historical eruptions. All these are concentrated on Volcano Island, near the middle of Taal Lake.
The Taal Volcano and Lake can be viewed from the Tagaytay Ridge in Cavite, which serves as a tourist attraction in the Philippines. The Volcano Island is a high-risk area deemed as a Permanent Danger Zone, and permanent settlement is prohibited by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS),. Despite the prohibitions, however, some families still live on the island, depending mostly on fishing and agriculture, utilizing the rich volcanic soil in the area.
In the past, the volcano has experienced multiple explosive eruptions, causing loss of life on the island as well as the populated areas near the lake, with the death toll recorded at about 6,000. On the afternoon of 12 January 2020, 43 years after the 1977 eruption, the volcano erupted again, with its alert level rising from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 4 (on a scale of 0-5). PHIVOLCS stated that, between January 29 - February 4, 2020, white steam plumes erupted as high as 800 meters above Taal's main vent and drifted southwest.
Rincón de la Vieja (Costa Rica)
Rincón de la Vieja is another active volcano complex, which can be found in Costa Rica in the province of Guanacaste, about 23 km (14 mi) from Liberia. Also referred to as the "Colossus of Guanacaste," it is the largest volcano in Costa Rica and contains 9 major eruptive centers.
This specific volcano is situated in the Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Trails run from the Santa Maria ranger station and winding through the park, passing through hot springs and waterfalls along the way. In the area, many lodges, resorts, and hotels offer biking, forest canopy tours, horseback riding, river rafting, wall-climbing, and all-terrain-vehicle trips.
OVSICORI-UNA announced that on January 31, 2020, an eruption in Rincón de la Vieja ejected material to the northern flanks, creating a plume that rose 2 km above the crater rim. About 40 minutes after the eruption, lahars descended rivers on the flank and entered populated areas 7-10 km downriver.
Kadovar (Papua New Guinea)
Located in Papua New Guinea, the Kadovar is actually a volcanic island. It is part of the Schouten Islands and lies about 25 km north of the mouth of the Sepik River off the coast of New Guinea.
The village of Gewai sits near the rim of the crater, with more than 700 people living on the island during the resettlement after the volcano had erupted in January 2018.
The eruption of January 2018 lasted several days and has resulted in lava covering at least half of the island. The ash cloud formed a plume reached 7,000 feet, as reported by the Australian Volcanic Ash Advisory Center. On February 2, 2020, they also reported an ash plume from Kadovar, which rose to an altitude of 1.5 km above sea level.
Nevados de Chillan (Chile)
The Nevados de Chillán is actually a group of stratovolcanoes, situated right in the Andes in Chile. This compound volcano is one of the most active of the Central Andes. The largest stratovolcano, Cerro Blanco (Volcán Nevado), is situated at the group's northwestern end. The southeastern end is occupied by Volcán Viejo (Volcán Chillán), the principal active vent during the 17th century to the 19th.
Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (SERNAGEOMIN) reported that during January 28 - February 4, 2020, white gas plumes from the Nicanor Crater of Nevados de Chillán rose as far as 900 meters above the rim and drifted east, east-southeast and southeast. During January 28-29, 2020, minor explosions ejected incandescent blocks that were visible at night. An explosion on January 30 created a gas-and-ash plume that rose above the crater rim, which is around 3.4km; portions of the plume exploded, creating pyroclastic flows that migrated northeast and southeast.
The earth is an active planet; its sources of thermal energy are constantly on the move, and that is why volcanoes all around the world are erupting at the same time. Most of the time, these eruptions are relatively minor, self-contained, and do not pose a threat to human life. So, yes, go ahead and write about volcanoes for your next essay assignment. Again, eruptions are normal phenomena that serve as the earth’s way of cooling down, and are not telltale signs of the end times. At least 20 volcanoes are likely erupting right now, but it is also likely that there is no need to panic. Still, though, eruptions can still pose a threat to human life, especially those living near the vicinity of volcanoes - more on that through this BBC feature.
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