Even small volcanic eruptions could create global chaos

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In spring In 2010, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull kaboomed, sends a cloud of ash into European airspace. The resulting air traffic disruption (ash + engines = bad) was the largest on the continent since World War II, and cost it is estimated at $ 5 billion.

Nevertheless, Eyjafjallajökull collapsed moderate, as classified by volcanologists. Na “volcanic explosiveness index”- which is based on ejection volumes like ash and stone – was 4. Compare this to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, which gets 7: So much material exploded into the atmosphere that it cooled the planet, leading to widespread crop failures. In the Philippines, Pinatubo MountainThe 1991 eruption was 6. It cost $ 740 million in economic impacts (adjusted for inflation), although it was 100 times larger than Eyjafjallajökull.

In the new paper published today in a journal Nature Communications, a team of researchers claims that Eyjafjallajökull was a warning, and that smaller eruptions could be perfectly set up to cause immense civilizational misery. This is not because they produce many deaths, but because they can cause the destruction of valuable infrastructure such as submarine cables and shipping channels. (As the world has recently learned, the only stuck ship in the Suez Canal is melting by itself.)

Researchers have identified seven main “shrinkage points” where there is critical infrastructure along with active volcanoes with the potential for small-scale eruptions. An explosion among any of them could trigger devastating cascades of economic effects, just as Eyjafjallajökull destroyed air traffic. “I was just thinking, they’re all in the same places – all these systems are getting closer,” says social volcanologist Lara Mani of the Center for the Study of Existential Risk (imagine their water cooler) at the University of Cambridge, the lead author of the new paper. “And it’s scary. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned it before? ”

One important point is Taiwan, which is home to large manufacturers of computer chips; their critical importance in everything from iPhones to cars has become quite clear current (non-volcanically induced) chip shortage. The other is in the south, between Taiwan and the Philippines. The Luzon Strait is loaded with submarine cables, nine of which were interrupted by underwater landslides after the 2006 earthquake, which led to almost complete disruptions on the Internet. And on the Sino-Korean bubble, volcanic ash could disrupt some of the busiest air routes in the world, plus transportation in the Sea of ​​Japan.

In Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca is a key point because it is also a critical maritime route, with the route being crossed annually by 40 percent of global trade. The same is true for another area in the Mediterranean: this area is home to Mount Vesuvius, Santorini and Campi Flegrei, which could cause eruptions between 3 and 6 on the volcanic explosiveness index. The authors note that a volcano-induced tsunami here could cut underwater cables, disrupt ports and close the Suez Canal. When a ship got stuck there for only six days in March, it cost global trade up to 10 billion dollars. Imagine now that a tsunami excludes you for even longer.

Thanks to Eyjafjallajökull, we have already seen what happens when ash spills over the North Atlantic shrink point. And finally, in the Northwest Pacific, the threat is posed by volcanic debris that could flow so far that it could potentially reach Seattle. The authors note that about 5,600 years ago, Mount Rainier generated a muddy stream that traveled more than 60 miles to reach Puget Sound and today’s busy Tacoma port. Modeling suggests that if the volcano were to cause a level 6 eruption today, the potential losses could be total $ 7.6 trillion over five years.

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