Researchers sound the alarm and point out that the risk of a catastrophic super eruption is largely underestimated.
Asteroids or solar flares, just to name a few, represent existential threats that could change the face of our civilization in the blink of an eye; just take an interest in the fate of the dinosaurs or the Carrington event to find out for sure.
But there are other even more concrete dangers and you don’t necessarily need to scan the space to spot them; they could be right under our noses, right on Earth. We can of course mention pandemics. But geologists wanted to recall another element that humanity tends to underestimate: volcanoes.
The latter are far from rare; the Earth is traversed from one end to the other and much of it is still active. A volcanic eruption is therefore not unusual. Most of them do not even pose a direct threat to populations.
But in some specific cases, the picture can be very different; some volcanoes could give rise to catastrophic eruptions, such as to disfigure our planet forever, with all the consequences that can be imagined for humanity.
Hunga Tonga, a well deserved booster
We were reminded again of this eventuality recently, during the massive eruption of Hunga Tonga in the Tonga archipelago on January 14, the largest of the 21st century. The consequences of this event were terrible for the local population.
Submarine cables were cut, which disrupted communications in the archipelago for several days. Agriculture, fishing and infrastructure in general were also damaged by the ash fall that covered everything for hundreds of kilometers around. Tsunamis have also been documented in Japan and America.
Fortunately, the eruption only lasted about ten hours and the most catastrophic scenarios can be avoided. Had it been longer, the consequences could have been much worse, with global repercussions on communications, supply chains, health and climate.
But it would be unconscious to think that humanity is now out of the woods. In a comment published in the prestigious newspaper Naturegeologists insisted that this warning shot was not an isolated case.
Super-eruptions, a threat too often understated
Based on readings from the ice sheets, they were able to determine that these events were much more frequent than previously thought. They explain that by the end of the century humanity has approximately 1 in 6 chance of experiencing a 7 in 8 magnitude eruption – 10 to 100 times more powerful than that of Tonga. This means that we are much more likely to experience a super eruption than the impact of a huge asteroid.
However, eruptions of this type have already caused radical changes in the climate and led to the fall of entire civilizations. And despite this well-documented reality, humanity has done almost nothing to limit the impact. “abrupt and immense”Of such an event if it occurred today.
Of course, research has made great progress; the most threatening volcanoes today are looked like milk on fire. But it remains that in the state the result is more or less the same as the most violent solar flares (see our article); we could not doing next to nothing to protect critical sectors such as agribusiness, transportation, commerce, finance, energy or communications … while policy makers have nonetheless devoted hundreds of millions to defending against asteroids, a rather anecdotal threat by comparison.
Better to prevent, but we must also know how to cure
“This has to change,” the researchers hammer in their publication. They explain that it will be absolutely necessary to multiply efforts on several very important fronts. To begin with, they explain that it is crucialincrease research work around active volcanoes to improve our ability to predict eruptions.
The authors take this opportunity to remind us that the time has come to deploy a satellite, or even a constellation of probes. entirely dedicated to the exclusive monitoring of volcanoes. At the moment, there is still no such object, which simply seems aberrant in our time where aerospace progresses very rapidly.
They also suggest exploring the path of Large-scale volcanic geoengineering to control the behavior of volcanoes. At the moment it still sounds like science fiction, but with such a huge threat, all angles of attack have to be considered.
Furthermore, given the potential consequences, it would be very unwise to stop at mere prevention; now it will have to be proactive. The authors want to encourage interdisciplinary research groups to actively work on these issues.
Being an ostrich is useless. It is absolutely necessary to face the problem head-on, ask uncomfortable questions and imagine the most catastrophic scenarios in order to propose solutions. Because if humanity is caught off guard by a cataclysm of this magnitude, there is a significant risk that it will never recover.