Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

IS EYJAFJALLAJOKULL THE END OF THE WORLD?

with 23 comments

Great, the apocalypse is upon us, and no one can pronounce its name. I mean, Eyjafjallajokull doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue or easily stick to mind. Catchy name or not, this could be the end of life as we know it. Let me restate, there is a small but very very real chance that this volcano could destroy global civilization. I’m not being alarmist, I’m someone with a background in both volcanology and history, and this is the scariest eruption of my life. Yes, the 2012 people might be wrong, the end as we know it may have arrived 2 years early. And God ain’t gonna be rapturing anyone to safety. A few years from now a third of the human race could be dead, and the survivors could be living lives of struggle and hunger and hardship that the world hasn’t seen since the Dark Ages.

So wait, this is just a  volcano, right? Wrong. This is not your everyday continental volcano. This is not a volcano is a rift zone. This is a volcano in  what is termed a “Large Igneous Province.” See map:

What does that mean? That means that in these regions volcanic eruptions have completely flooded the Earth’s surface with lava, often thousands of feet deep, in eruptions that can last for years, or decades, or longer. Or more simply put, it’s an area of the earth where the Earth’s crust is very thin,  and there’s a magma  (molten rock) plume underneath it. And for those unfamiliar with Iceland’s location on the globe, it’s in the centre of the second largest LIP on this map, in the upper section of the map just left of the centre line.

The last major eruption in Iceland was the Laki volcano in 1783, one of the greatest eruptions in historic times, and was known as the “Mist hardships” in Iceland. Some 14 cubic kilometres (about 3 1/2 cubic miles) of magma emerged. Most of Iceland’s livestock died, 2/3rds of it’s farmland was destroyed, at least a fifth of the population died. The dust thrown into the air cooled the Earth dramatically, in the winter of 1783-84 the Mississippi froze as far south as New Orleans and there was ice in the Gulf of Mexico. Tens of thousands died of famine and direct poisoning from the ash in Europe, especially England. Ships couldn’t sail  because the volcanic induced fog was so thick, the Sun was described as being the colour of blood. In fact the poverty and hardships caused by years of extreme weather was one of the contributing factors to the French Revolution.

So could Eyjafjallajokull do this? Well, no, probably not. The problem is that Eyjafjallajokull is next to a very dangerous volcano named Katla. And Katla is a potential destroyer of worlds. Not that Eyjafjallajokull is chicken scratch, for those who haven’t been following, volcanic dust from Eyjafjallajokull has already shut down air traffic over much of Europe. If volcanic dust gets sucked into a jet engine, it melts, turns into glass, and can shut the engine down. And volcanic dust is invisible to both radar and pilots, making it impossible to avoid. There hasn’t been a  crash yet caused by volcanic dust, peeps do tend to avoid flying near active volcanoes, but in 1982 a British jumbo jet suffered the failure of all four engines on a flight to Australia. The pilot was able to restart the engines as the plane fell, but it was later determined that the engines had shut down due to volcanic dust. So despite the massive cost and economic disruption caused by the air travel ban, which may last for months, it’s a wise precaution.

And the reason that the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull is so alarming, is that historically whenever Eyjafjallajokull has erupted, it has almost always been followed by an irruption of Katla. And Katla has been rumbling since 1999. And while Katla hasn’t destroyed civilization in the past, it’s certainly capable of it. Katla was the source of the Vedde Ash about 10,000 years ago, more than 6 to 7 cubic kilometres (1.4 to 1.7 cubic miles) of ash that can be found throughout Scandinavia and in North Atlantic cores. What would happen if Katla erupted like this again? If it pumps enough ash into the atmosphere, global weather will cool and become erratic for years or decades. This means global crop failures. And to put it mildly, the world’s food supply is absolutely dependent on reliable and constant food production, there is virtually no wiggle room in the system. Granted most of the people who died of starvation would be in the third world, because the first world would use their massive military superiority to make sure their populations got fed, but we are still talking war and famine on an almost unprecedented scale.

Almost unprecedented? Yes, once before a volcanic eruption destroyed civilizations the world over. In 535 AD “The Sun became dark, it’s darkness lasted for 18 months.” I’ve written about this before, for over a year the Sun was so dim and diffuse that on a cloudless day at noon, it didn’t cast shadows. Yes, crops failed the world over. Civilizations collapsed the world over. Europe entered a period of history we now call “The Dark Ages.” What are the odds that this is about to happen again? Who knows, I don’t have a crystal ball. It’s certainly a real possibility though, and the world over and especially in Europe, governments are going to be paying close attention to this. Well, maybe not certain corrupt, politicized, decadent, bloated governments; but I digress.

And even as I type, I notice in the news that the disruptions in air travel caused by Eyjafjallajokull are still spreading. This could get really interesting really fast, and not the good kind of interesting. Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above top image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, and arguably it is an historically important image. Credit and copyright: Icelandic Coast Guard-Reuters. The second image was produced by the US government and is Public Domain under US copyright law. And just so I can’t be accused of being a complete downer, my next post will cover what people can do to protect themselves and their families should this situation continue to worsen and civilization starts to fail. Talk about providing a public service, nu?)

Written by unitedcats

April 16, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in enviroment, History, World

23 Responses

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  1. I want to cry a little whimper

    nicole

    April 16, 2010 at 10:37 am

  2. Hmm….well, I think if the worst were to happen, Humans would still survive, though most of us would die. 100 years ago, no way, but today we have a lot of tech, if it were put to use on a massive scale we as a species would be able to survive. That is if we don’t kill each other off fighting over the scraps of civilization, god the politics would be a nightmare!
    Good Post…..

    Peace
    Pyrodin

    pyrodin

    April 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm

  3. “there is a small but very very real chance that this volcano could destroy global civilization”

    “And Katla is a potential destroyer of worlds”

    “And Katla has been rumbling since 1999. And while Katla hasn’t destroyed civilization in the past, it’s certainly capable of it”

    Interesting article but it seems like fear-inducing hyperbole throughout. You essentially say that it’s pretty unlikely that the world as we know it will end as a result of these volcanoes, and nobody has any idea if Katla will erupt or what effect the combination of both volcanoes erupting would have on the globe. These two volcanoes are surely not going to be the end of the world, if history is any indication. I think we should all relax a bit and not draw conclusions unless the situation gets drastically more serious than it is right now.

    PB

    April 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    • It’s Doug’s Darkworld, not Doug’s Puppyworld. There’s a word for people who relax when danger threatens: casualties. I will be expounding more on this in my next post. :)

      unitedcats

      April 16, 2010 at 6:48 pm

      • good post, very interesting and factual. Dougs Puppy World has a nice ring to it, you should expand youre blogging to a second alter ego sight.

        Josh V

        April 19, 2010 at 1:32 pm

  4. Sorry Doug, I’m not convinced. I live within 500km of a couple of volcanic systems that make Katla look like a toy. Taupo darkened the skies in ancient Rome, on the other side of the world, and that wasn’t its biggest eruption. The Okataina system is even larger, a mega-caldera like Yellowstone. Both are still active. Likewise Krakatoa, not to mention Yellowstone itself. I’m pretty sure the Pinatubo eruption in 1991 was in the class you’re talking about, and the world failed to end then (although we had some spectacular sunsets here in the Antipodes).

    If you want to have nightmares about volcanoes, worry about that peak in the Canary Islands coming to life and sending a tidal wave across the entire North Atlantic.

    Chris

    April 17, 2010 at 12:41 am

  5. None of which are currently erupting, nor are they disrupting air travel over Europe. And I’m not asking you to “buy it,” I’m simply covering a ongoing current event in my own particular style. And I am going somewhere with this. Glad you’re enjoying it, thanks for commenting. :)

    unitedcats

    April 17, 2010 at 6:32 am

  6. Ready to be picked up by “Space Ship!”

    GREG ARROW

    April 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

  7. I found your website because I am wondering if this earthquake, I mean volcano means the end of the world, or the end of the world as we know it. 2012 two years early. Your writing is excellent with facts.

    Carla

    April 17, 2010 at 8:43 pm

  8. Good writing, thanks. Now I know Doug is back.

    rob

    April 18, 2010 at 9:49 am

  9. This is probably kind of a dumb question, but if there was a big volcanic eruption that cooled the earth, could there be a little bit of a silver lining in the way that it might partially cancel out global warming?

    Homer Jay Simpson

    April 18, 2010 at 10:16 am

    • The silver lining would be that then the environmentalists would see the disaster that global cooling is, as opposed to our friend, a warm climate, and forget about this whole global warming scandal.

      JV

      April 18, 2010 at 9:00 pm

  10. […] you want to hear about the Worst Case Scenario, that’s covered (and I still peg Yellowstone as a more likely candidate for a flood basalt eruption, and that as […]

  11. The accompanying question, of course, is:

    “Is Eyjafjallajokull the end of TV journalism, since no-one outside Iceland seems to be able to pronounce it?”

    Print journalists, on the other hand, can just cut ‘n paste. Good times… :)

    Sentinel

    April 20, 2010 at 7:36 pm

  12. I found this incredibly amazing, i was wondering the exact same thing about the volcano, i was thinking that it will erupt constantly for two years then end in a huge eruption from Katla and cause alot of events which result in the end of the world. Thank you!!

    Lucy Rose

    April 23, 2010 at 9:30 am

  13. […] obscure volcano in a country most Americans couldn’t find on a  map. Which if one read the comments on the previous post, segues into why I write these posts. I write them to provoke thought and […]

  14. BOOM! The world gets flooded with lava, water gets coated with stone, because it cools the lava, all food is destroyed, all animals gone, except at the bottom of the ocean.

    Benjamin

    April 30, 2010 at 8:45 am

  15. just be careful i did dream tonight I was trying to get to top of a church to get away from lava as I watched people and and my family being burned alive slowly by the lava…If this is true then this is going to be a very slow and painful way to die.

    unknown

    April 30, 2010 at 11:54 pm

  16. omg!! get a life! it aint the end of the world its a bloodly volcano erupting. they happen all over the world, have done for eternity and tht aint gonna change! its a little ash and lava. the biggest cause of damage its dein is not letting people get on fuckin planes and thts stopped now anyway!!!

    ellie

    September 16, 2010 at 4:09 am

  17. […] you want to hear about the Worst Case Scenario, that’s covered (and I still peg Yellowstone as a more likely candidate for a flood basalt eruption, and that as […]

  18. Keep up the good work!!!

    Good and helpful

    April 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm

  19. We have to know nature’s law.

    aliasthedriver

    April 7, 2011 at 9:32 am


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