The Backyard Volcano
Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Hawaii is a favorite vacation destination. There the ocean is blue and the plants enjoy a lush environment. Though I’ve never been to that paradise, my white and red-blooming Hawaiian Queen-of-the-Night plants keep growing and bloom every year.
But the islands of Hawaii have more to offer; for example live volcanos like Kilauea and Mauna Loa (pictured). The Earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa, appears once again to be awakening from its decades-old slumber.
Volcanology is the science of volcanos, when, where, and how they erupt, how much lava and gases are being expelled with how much force, et cetera. If you like to get to the nitty-gritty of that, try visiting the Oregon State University web site and similar ones. Volcanos come in many varieties. Some explode every few hundred years with cataclysmic blasts of gas and pumice, others are content to regularly send out slow-moving lava streams which you can watch as it flows downhill, twisting and bulging as they progress.
More importantly, if it gets too hot underfoot you can leisurely walk away to cooler grounds. Not so in other areas of the world which experience powerful eruptions; occasionally so powerful that they affect all life on earth.
Cataclysmic volcanic eruptions are known to have occurred on earth repeatedly.
For example, the eruption of Mt. Toba in Indonesia approximately 75,000 years ago was such an event. It blasted nearly 3,000 cubic kilometers of ash into the air, together with one thousand million tons of sulfur dioxide and probably even more carbon dioxide. The effect on the earth’s climate was severe. It caused an estimated drop of 10 C (15 F) for several years.
In comparison, Mt. St. Helens’ (Washington) blast in 1980 was a pipsqueak. Toba’s blast was approximately 1,000 times stronger than that of St. Helens’ though that blast was the biggest ever recorded in U.S. history.
Volcanic Gas Emissions
Apart from lava, pumice and mountains of ash, volcanic eruptions typically are accompanied by great volumes of hot gases.
The sudden release of cubic miles of highly pressurized gas is what drives the ash high up into the atmosphere from where it can take years to settle back down to earth. The composition of volcanic gas is also quite variable but there are three major constituents that predominate: carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and water vapour.
In fact, long before humans arrived on this planet, the earth’s atmosphere contained much higher levels of CO2 than today. All that CO2 came from volcanic emissions, not just a few eruptions but a continuous stream released by the many thousands of volcanic vents, both on land and beneath the sea. Contrary to what many politicians and climate change activists may tell you, all that CO2 is good for life on earth. In fact, without these volcanic CO2 emissions, life on earth would come to a screeching halt.
All the hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil, bitumen, peat, and natural gas) consumed by mankind these days are not able to meet the CO2 requirements in the biosphere (land and water) on earth. If nature were to suddenly cease all CO2 emissions from all volcanic vents our atmosphere would soon become depleted of CO2 in just a few years. Then all life on earth would stop existing as CO2 is the gas of life, not just for all vegetation, but for all the creatures that depend upon it.
CO2, the Gas of Life
There is no organism on earth which does not have carbon in its body, not as elemental carbon but in the form of the many millions of carbon-based organic chemicals. All that “carbon” has a source and that is carbon dioxide (CO2), in water as on land. In short, CO2 is absolutely critical to all life on earth and once its concentration in air gets down to 200 ppm (parts per million) or so, its “partial pressure” becomes a growth-limiting factor.
That knowledge is being used by people who like to grow plants, like greenhouse operators and those growing vast numbers of tree seedlings for the replanting of forests. They boost the level of CO2 in their atmosphere to 1,000 ppm or higher. The plants are very happy about that and grow much faster than they would under normal conditions.
So, would you like a volcano in your backyard? Perhaps your answer depends on the variety, the Mt. Toba or the Hawaiian kind? Or are you content with your environment as it is?
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Most recent columns Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts convenientmyths.com Dr. Kaiser can be reached at: email@example.com