Science 16 Aug 2016 Extinction events: T ...

Extinction events: The rumbling giants

Published Aug 16, 2016, 2:21 am IST
Updated Aug 16, 2016, 7:11 am IST
Deep in the South of India lie hints of a global killer.
Just recently — in an  extremely rare event — three giant  volcanoes on the famed Ring of Fire erupted at the same time.
 Just recently — in an extremely rare event — three giant volcanoes on the famed Ring of Fire erupted at the same time.

Some weeks ago, geologists inspecting the beautiful Araku valley hill-station, which neighbours Vishakhapatnam city, stumbled upon certain “foreign elements” at two separate sites. Further studies into the ground revealed that the foreign elements were in fact ash deposits from a volcano eruption nearly 3,400 kilometres away.

That eruption, though, was not the usual spewing of hot rocks and smoke which grounds holiday flights. The Toga supereruption was a cataclysmic event nearly 74,000 years ago. It wiped out most life on Earth. Some scientists claim the eruption nearly killed off mankind leaving just over a few thousands of our species standing, and breathing. So massive was the ensuing cloud of hot gas and smoke the Earth's weather system changed. The Toba catastrophe theory claims the planet was plunged into a volcanic winter that lasted a decade. For comparison, consider the last big eruption of our time - the event of 1815 involving Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Tambora caused the “Year Without a Summer” across the northern hemisphere the following year and created shifts in global weather patterns. The Toga supereruption was 100 times more powerful.  All of South Asia was blanketed by ashfall 15 centimetres thick. If it had happened in our day, the skies above would be blackened for years.


Volcanologists worldwide constantly come in contact with worrying measurements and there's always the question, when will the next big event be? Some say the “Big One” is 10,000 years away. Others say, one will not be here for another million years. But while we wait, there are indications of considerable movement deep within the planet. For example, recently - in an extremely rare event - three volcanoes along the famed Ring of Fire erupted at the same time. Mount Rinjani near Bali, the Sinabung volcano on Sumatra Island and Mount Gamalama in the Moluccas chain of islands have been spewing ash and lava for the past several days now.


Scientists rushed to claim the triple eruptions were “not unexpected” and that a series of tremors in the region had stirred up hints. But here's a disturbing fact about volcanoes. There's no escaping them. They are not a flood, an earthquake or a pestilence. A volcano is Mother Nature’s very own Nuclear Football.

Because a supereruption can make the most important source of life unavailable in a fortnight - sunlight. Without the Sun, there can be no healing, no recovery. And there are a total of four of these Earth-killing giants — Lake Toba in Indonesia, Yellowstone hotspot in the United States, Pacana Caldera in Chile and Mount Whakamaru in New Zealand.


Scientists threw up another disturbing discovery this week — that humanity will have about year to brace for such an event. “As far as we can determine, none of these places currently houses the type of melt-rich, giant magma body needed to produce a supereruption. However, they are places where supereruptions have happened in the past so are more likely to happen in the future,” said lead researcher, Guilherme Gualda.

A year’s a long time. But how far do you think you can get from a mountain that has the capability of changing the weather, in a few days?


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