IS EYJAFJALLAJOKULL THE END OF THE WORLD?
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?)