The occurrence of a super-eruption would have severe environmental effects and might threaten global civilisation. This is the assessment of a Geological Society of London working group [Notes 1,2] composed of senior Earth Scientists. The effects of a super-eruption would be comparable to those predicted for the impact of a 1km-diameter asteroid with the Earth. In fact, super-eruptions are 5-10 times more likely to occur than such an impact. The assessment of the working party has been presented to the UK Government’s Natural Hazard Working Group [Note 3].
Many very large volcanoes on the Earth are capable of colossal eruptions with global consequences. Such eruptions are quite frequent on a “geological” timescale, although not one has occurred on Earth in the short time that an interdependent human civilisation has existed. However, our present civilisation depends on global trade and food production, air travel and space-borne communications, all of which could be at considerable risk if a super-eruption occurred.
There may be several super-eruptions large enough to cause a global disaster every 100,000 years. This means super-eruptions are a significant global humanitarian hazard. They occur more frequently than impacts of asteroids and comets of comparable damage potential.
1. Sparks, R S J & Self, S et al., 2005: Super-eruptions: global effects and future threats: Report of a Geological Society of London Working Group. Other authors include: Dr David Pyle (Cambridge University) Dr Clive Oppenheimer (Cambridge University) Dr Hazel Rymer (Open University) and Dr John Grattan (University of Wales, Aberystwyth) Published at: www.geolsoc.org.uk/supereruptions
2. The Geological Society of London is a learned and professional body, of some 9000 Earth scientists with a remit to investigate, interpret, discuss, inform and advise on the nature and processes of the Earth, their practical importance to humanity, and, in the interests of the public, to promote professional excellence. The Society offers advice to Parliament and Government, at individual and corporate levels. Registered Charity No. 210161.
3. The Natural Hazard Working Group (NHWG) has been established under the auspices of Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, as an ad hoc advisory group to advise the Prime Minister on the mechanisms that could and should be established for the detection and early warning of physical natural hazards. This group has been established as part of the Government’s Response to the Asian Tsunami disaster. http://www.ost.gov.uk/policy/bodies/nhwg/
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