All eyes were on the Hawaiian Islands and their volcanic activity over the summer. In the military community, we look to Hawaii and the Ring of Fire with envy because we all want to live there. But what we often forget is the risk that comes with living next to an active volcano. If you, or a loved one, lives there now, here are a few things you’ll want to know.
A Little Background
Volcanoes are quite possibly the most dangerous of the natural disasters. With hurricanes you have tracking systems that can help warn people, wildfires give a little bit of warning right up until the wind shifts, and tornadoes are usually seen before they hit. Volcanoes, well, they have a mind of their own.
The U.S. has over 150 active volcanoes, meaning the volcano has erupted in the past 10,000 years. Most of these are in the west, including Hawaii and Alaska. The world has about 1,500 active volcanoes, some of which ooze lava from time to time and others that may change the world as we know it.
What may strike you as odd is the number of people who live within a 60-mile radius of those active volcanoes. That number is 800 million, worldwide.
Where is the Ring of Fire?
The Ring of Fire, the incredibly descriptive moniker for the 25,000-mile perimeter area of the Pacific region is home to 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes and 75 percent of its volcanoes. It runs from Southeast Asia toward Russia and Alaska, and down toward South America.
The duty stations that fall in this region include installations in Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, the Philippines, and Japan. There are other countries with volcanoes, like Italy, but these are the ones where the public’s focus lies.
Remembering Earth Science
Plate tectonics is at the heart of volcanic activity. As a quick refresher, subduction of plates moves water into the Earth’s mantle, lowering the melting point of the rock, which then pushes its way up through the Earth’s surface. To clarify with a plumbing analogy: When pipes clog, pressure can force the clog free, allowing water to again flow through the pipes.
But volcanoes can form in the middle of the plates, not just on the edges. These are called hot spots, and they allow for the molten rock to escape in seemingly random places. Hot spots are what formed the Hawaiian Islands; molten rock cooled and layered on top of the previous eruption.
History Makes Volcanoes Scary
Because of the inability to accurately predict volcanic eruptions and the many ways volcanoes can kill, they are incredibly dangerous. History is full of stories that we’d rather not see repeated, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, which wiped out the entire town of Pompeii, Italy. Much more recently, in 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano killed over 20,000 people in Columbia.
Volcanoes can trigger rockslides, earthquakes, lava flows, and the release of sulfur dioxide gas. The gas is incredibly dangerous and can cause suffocation. It is colorless, but it has a strong odor. When mixed with water, it creates volcanic fog.
Preparing for a volcano is relatively simple. Know where to get reliable information, and then listen to the authorities when they direct you to evacuate. That, and don’t throw things into the lava, that’s never a good idea.
Want some inspiration on how to talk to your kids about the ring of fire risks without scaring them? Get some ideas in the appropriately named article, How to Teach Kids About Earthquakes Without Scaring Them.
Photo Credits: Pixabay