Volcanoes and Their Effect on the Atmosphere

Volcanoes are known as both dangerous and beautiful. You may visit them, but you never know when they are going to erupt. Sometimes we can predict, but most other times they behave erratically. These volcanoes have destroyed several civilizations around the world in the past. Yet they stand tall as pieces of wonder and we are pulled towards them.

More than 100 million people visit different volcano sites every year. Not just active volcanoes but the dead ones too are popular tourist spots. The Hawaii volcanoes in the National Park in the United States attract about 2 million visitors each year – and it has been continuously erupting since 1983. The governments have made these volcanoes tourist destinations to rake in some money, but are these safe? According to experts, there are a number of factors which determine the safety around volcanoes.

It must also be noted here that, there are no accurate statistics related to volcano visitation injury. Each country handles these data differently, and fatalities or injuries associated with geotourism are often not accounted for in many places.

But there’s more to the picture – a volcanic eruption may not be the only way volcanoes are causing us harm.

How Volcanic Ash Affects Us

A Volcano erupting volcanic ash Source: en.wikipedia.org

A Volcano erupting volcanic ash
Source: en.wikipedia.org

Over the years many scientists have believed that volcanoes can cause weather changes and bring about storms and ash clouds. The volcanic ash clouds are said to float very high up above in the sky. They are so dense that they block out sunlight partially. This causes snowing and frosting in many parts of the world. In fact, such a change of weather occurs even during summers due to the volcanoes.

The coarser particles present in these ash clouds do not pass through our lungs with ease and cause asphyxiation almost always. It might affect other parts of the body as well. Those who are exposed to the ash clouds and or the ash-filled air report problems related to their eyes, ears and nose most commonly; also these can be long-term effects. Based on the historical reports, they do not pose any health risks if exposed to for a short while.

Even though long-term health hazards related to volcanic ash have not yet been demonstrated, those who suffer from chronic bronchitis, asthma or emphysema, should take special precautions to protect themselves from the particles present in the ash-filled air. They should also use an effective face mask if visiting such sites for a short while.

Which Emits More CO2 – Humans or Volcanoes?

Lack of volcanic activity in some parts of the world caused there to be rise in temperature over the first half of the last century. It must also be noted that even though a lot of believers are blaming volcanoes for the worldwide global warming, it has played little role in global warming that is going on since the 1970s.

There has always been a debate – do volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? For this reason, the volcanologists have always been interested to know about the volcanic CO2 emissions. This could give them an idea about the contribution of volcanoes in the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere.

It must be noted that the volcanic CO2 emissions happen only when the magma rises to the top level. In fact, at that time a huge amount of magma is released into the atmosphere – this means that the volcanic CO2 emissions depend upon the number of active volcanoes that are there in the world at present.

By collecting the volcanic data and tallying it with the human data available from all around the world, the volcanologists have come to the conclusion that volcanoes, both under the sea and on the surface, erupt about 200 million tones of CO2 every year. But this figure is far lower than that of the CO2 emissions caused by human activities. Some years ago there might have been a debate that volcanoes erupt more CO2 than humans create by driving cars and so on. But this has been ruled out as a myth.

Active & Inactive Volcanoes to be Aware of–

Even sleeping volcanoes erupt CO2, but not at such a high rate as the active ones do. Let’s take a look at the prominent active and inactive volcanoes around the world right now:

  • Mauna Loa is said to be the biggest active volcano around the world at present. This volcano has erupted for over 33 times since 1843. The mountains are gently sloping and it is known to still be quite active – causing anyone who wants to visit it to stay on the lookout.
  • Mount Vesuvius in Italy is another one of the most famous volcanoes which erupted and destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the year 79 AD. It is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. It last erupted in 1944.
  • Mount Merapi in Indonesia, also called the Fire Mountain, houses the volcano which has erupted quite regularly since 1548. It has caused the deaths of thousands of people ever since. It basically lies on the border of Indonesia and Central Java.
  • In what looks like a deadly volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, situated in the Virunga National Park in Africa is regarded as a deadly and a vicious active volcano. It is responsible for at least 405 of the volcanic eruptions around Africa since the pre historic times. Just its main crater itself is 2kms long and consists of what is known as the lava lake.
  • Taal Volcano – it is known to be the second most active volcano in the world. It has erupted 33 times as well and those eruptions have brought forth so much lava that it has caused an island to be made around it inside the Taal Lake. But still this place attracts tourists because it is highly picturesque. It is one of the most attractive tourist spots in Philippines.

These are the volcanoes which are wrecking havoc. But there are others which are just lying low – they are regarded as inactive as they have not erupted over a very long period of time. These inactive volcanoes are also said to exhibit fumes and CO2 into the atmosphere. Let’s take a look at the biggest ones on Earth:

Tamu Massif, largest volcano in the world Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Tamu Massif, largest volcano in the world
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

  • Tamu Massif – This is one underwater volcano which is situated in the Shatsky rise formation (1,609 kilometers east of Japan) under the ocean. It is enormous and can be said to be the largest dormant volcano which we have on the planet at present.
  • Mount Kilimanjaro situated in Tanzania, Africa is said to be a dormant volcano because the last time it erupted was some 360,000 years ago. The mountain itself is 19,335 feet tall and this is why the volcano situated atop it is the highest volcano in Africa – if it erupted frequently it would cause nuisance that is for sure.
  • Situated in northwestern Turkey, there is a giant volcano in Mount Ararat. It is made popular by the biblical faith that this is where the famous Noah’s Ark came to halt. But it is also one of the largest dormant volcanoes, which is at the highest place in Turkey. This volcano has erupted just once in the last 10,000 years and that was in 1840.
  • Situated 20,000 feet above the sea, Mount Fuji houses one of the largest dormant volcanoes in the world. But this volcano resembles Mount Vesuvius – it erupted just once in 1707 and caused great nuisance causing 16,000 people to die. But it hasn’t erupted ever since.
  • Situated in the south of Italy, this picturesque mountain houses a volcano which last erupted in 1158. It is quite dangerous to be near this one because even though it is dormant, it is notorious for a special type of sulfurous gas release. There are many fumaroles on its floor which causes this.

Conclusion

It must be noted that the line between a dormant and an active volcano can change any moment. The definitions of these terms vary between different volcanologists.

But volcanoes in general are known to cause some or the other effect on our atmosphere. Even though enough data is not available to be specific about their effects, most scientists are of the view that the release of CO2 and aerosols by Volcanoes cause serious damage to our atmosphere.

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