One More Way in which Global Warming Can Kill You

Melting the glaciers might trigger massive volcanic collapses, like the one that occurred during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens but with less warning and more panic. Or at least, that’s the sensationalized version of a paper in this week’s Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. Lucia Capra looked at the dates of volcanic collapses during the last ~30,000 years and found that most of them occurred during periods of abrupt deglaciation.

Work done in Iceland has already shown a correlation between eruption volume and changing glacial cover. The kinds of volcanic collapse Capra talks about, though, are slightly different: rather than a simple outpouring of lava, these eruptions are initiated by a landslide. They start with a mountain that’s already been weakened by other developments in the volcano, and just need a little extra something – added ground water from climate change or glacial melt, for example – for the top to fall off and the whole mountain to blow. They’re much deadlier than Iceland’s nice effusive eruptions.

This note of doom only sounds for volcanoes that are currently covered by glaciers, of course. And the precise chronology of climate change, deglaciation, and volcanic collapse is still murky – the local paleohydrology of the volcanoes isn’t that well constrained, nor are the dates of many collapses. But still, if you felt like making another ridiculous global warming disaster flick, “melting ice caps set off explodey volcanoes explode explode fire boom” wouldn’t be a bad angle. Better than “it’s a hurricane AND a snowstorm AND a billion tsunamis!”, anyway.

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  1. External triggering of volcanic eruptions | Highly Allochthonous on 15 Jun 2012 at 5:35 pm

    […] would fit in with recent speculations about the effect of melting ice sheets and glaciers on volcanic activity (pronouncements of […]


  1. sciencewoman wrote:

    I’ve always been a fan of the ultimate Seattle disaster story. Cascadian earthquake, triggers tsunami, and also causes lahars on Mt. Ranier where weak hydrothermally altered rocks form slopes covered by snowcaps. And ~100,000 people live on old lahar deposits.

  2. yami wrote:

    But can you work in North Korean nukes to that story?

  3. Lab Lemming wrote:

    How many climatologically significant volcanoes were glaciated?
    Pinatubo? Nah
    el Chichon? Maybe very minor
    Mt. Agung? Nah
    Santa Maria? Nah
    Krakatoa? Nah
    Tambora? Nah
    Call me cheap, but I’d rather not shell out $30 to read this article from home.

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    A person skilled in the art can readily demonstrate the general concept of this invention at a controlled output level, using the following components, assembled as a series-wired, closed electrical loop: (1) graphite anode: a plain graphite cylinder containing pure water; (2) composite cathode: a mass of carbon, graphite, or refractory metal or alloy, of any convenient shape, coated or layered with permeable,
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  5. yami wrote:

    Were these all collapses?

    Half her examples are from the Andes, most of the rest are Mexico and Ecuador. Then there’s the Cascades, Egmont, and Meru. Not climatologically significant, perhaps, but the people living nearby probably don’t care about that.

  6. Lab Lemming wrote:

    firstly, this paper deals with ovlcanic edifice collapse that is NOt associated with an eruption, so the Mt. St. Helens analogy is flawed. Non-volcanic mountains (e.g. the Southern alps) also undergo an increase in mass wasting post-glaciation, so that’s really not news.

    Secondly, the relevance of the dates is impossible to judge without reading not only the referenced papers, but also all other studies of the same events, since there is no other way to rule out chronological cherry picking. I once read a G3 paper where the authors, in order to get data for their supercontinental-geocycle-800-million-year-timescale-bullshit-hypothesis, picked a reference that misdated the sedimentary basin where I did my thesis by 1 billion years. So there is no way to evaluate their numbers.

    Thirdly, when glaciated volcanoes do have significant eruptions, those eruptions invariably melt the glaciers on a timescale faster than that of climate change. So if you REALLY want to save the people of Seattle, shrink the Ranier glacier via global warming as fast as you can, so that there is less ice mass to melt when it does finally blow.

    Finally, if you want to melt those glaciers pre-eruption without global warming, perhaps a household cold-fusion generator will provide the thermal power you need.

  7. yami wrote:

    Hmm. Maybe I should go back to blogging about how everything is bullshit, it *is* more fun that way. And LL, I’m glad you’re around to cover my ass when I don’t do more than skim a paper before summarizing it :)

  8. blah wrote:

    Recycle, it is a good thing to do. P.S.this is not a 12 year old

  9. Revenge of Blah wrote:

    Luke, i am your father. Go to at 5:00 or else……

  10. Not Blah wrote:

    Global Warming Sucks!!!

  11. Not Blah wrote:

    Polar bears will die in 20 years says scientests at WWF. P.S. If you know anything you will recycle!! P.S.S. I am NOT John Pinkerton!!

  12. Nathan Brown wrote:

    I’ve never heard of volcanoes being affected by global warming. With more and more evidence about the possible fall out from global warming it seems like a good idea to make serious changes before it is too late!

  13. guy cortez wrote:

    Ahhhhh big volcano attaks inecent peoples

  14. guy cortez wrote:

    ahhh!big volcano takes ove the world and ps. don’t dis krakatoa!!!

  15. guy cortez wrote:

    dude this site is like two years old

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