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Volcanoes are in the news this May. A new study published earlier this month suggests that the supervolcano that Yellowstone National Park sits in is not about to blow. When it erupted more than 600,000 years ago, its ash covered half of today’s United States. Dire predictions about that volcano’s ability to wipe out North America and threaten life on earth today are common. But it looks like things may be all right—for a while. As it turns out, the large, underground pool of liquid rock is actually not all that liquid. Only about 10% of it is. According to the study published this month in published in Geophysical Research Letters, unless and until more rock melts, the volcano is unlikely to explode.
While we’re celebrating the good news, here are some fun facts about volcanoes to contemplate:
- How fast does lava travel? The United States Geological Survey, which is a scientific agency of the U. S. government, says that on steep slopes, lava typically travels as fast as 6 mph. But often lava moves slowly enough for people to outrun.
- Hotter lava and lava confined within a channel or tube run more quickly. Thicker lava runs more slowly.
- The fastest speed at which lava has been clocked is 62 mph on an active volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mountain’s slopes are exceptionally steep.
- If a volcano’s lava doesn’t kill you, then its mudflows, debris, fumes, landslides, and attendant earthquakes and tsunamis might.
- So might thyroid cancer. Pappilary thyroid cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer. Doctors from the University of Catania Medical School in Italy have found more than twice the incidence of it among people living close to Mount Etna than among those in other areas of Sicily. Thyroid cancer rates are also higher near volcanoes in Hawaii, the Philippines, and Iceland.
- Killer Volcanic Lakes: Lake Nyos is a deep crater lake on the side of what, in 1986, was thought to be an extinct volcano in central Africa. But on August 21, 1986, 80 million cubic meters of carbon dioxide that had leaked from the volcano and been captured at lake’s bottom bubbled up through the surface and into the air, asphyxiating over 1700 people and 3500 animals. This is not the first time a freshwater lake has suddenly released CO2. The phenomenon is referred to as “lake overturn” or “limnic (freshwater) eruption.”
- Carbon dioxide is also one of the major dangers presented by Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is leaking from the volcano into Lake Kivu, on the border with Rwanda. An eruption or an earthquake could release millions of tons of the toxic gas into the air breathed by two million people living in nearby communities.
- Lake Kivu is also filling with volcanic methane, which theoretically detonate the carbon dioxide.
- Volcanoes in America secretly fume, too. The United States Geological Survey reports that large volumes of carbon dioxide are escaping from beneath California’s Mammoth Mountain. It’s killing trees.
- Belching volcanoes may contribute to climate change. And (BackAchya) climate change may cause an increase in volcanic eruptions. Warm weather reduces ice lice loads at the top of volcanoes, and that relieves downward pressure on volcanoes. This allows melting rock to decompress. Volcanic magma chambers can react to the reduced force by erupting.
- Now, that’s acid rain! When lava reaches an ocean and vaporizes seawater, the steam and chemical reactions create a large white plume known as a “lava haze” or “laze.” Lazes contain 10-15 parts per million highly corrosive hydrochloric acid.
- When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, it blew down in trees enough wood to build about 300,000 two-bedroom homes.
- Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy, is one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. About 1,000,000 people live within 4.5 miles of the volcano.
- Computer simulations created by a team of American and Italian scientists suggest that large- and medium-scale eruptions on Mount Vesuvius could produce complete destruction in that zone in about 15 minutes.
- Evacuation of the Mount Vesuvius area may be complicated by earthquakes, which often accompany volcanoes. If they destroy the transportation and communication systems surrounding the mountain, Mount Vesuvius’s modern death toll could make the destruction of Pompeii seem quaint.
- When a volcano erupted in 1815 on an Indonesian island and produced polluting clouds that darkened the sky in Europe and made it rain endlessly, Mary Shelley became so bored with being indoors that she wrote the Frankenstein.
- A forensic astronomer and astrophysicist at Texas State University has suggested that Krakatoa’s dust cloud caused the colorful, stratified sky recorded in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
- Fireworks on fireworks. Volcanic eruptions are often accompanied by lightning, possibly because electrically charged magma bubbles and volcanic ash may, by moving, build large, oppositely polarized electrical fields.
- While Mars is too cold to support life as we know it, NASA scientists suggest that three dormant volcanoes on Mars may one day change all that by adding lots of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
- The Dean of Science at National Taiwan Ocean University warns that there are more than 70 underwater volcanoes within a roughly 50 mile radius of the site of a nuclear power plant in Taipei.