One of the most frightening weapons of mass destruction in Mother Nature’s weapons arsenal is a volcano. Unlike humans, Nature has absolutely no intentions of neutralizing its most destructive forces. In fact, there are thousands of volcanoes throughout the world that, if unleashed together, will invariably mean – Doomsday! But what are these volcanoes? How terrible are they? Do they only bring death? There are many questions like these. Let us learn 10 interesting facts about volcanoes and in the process, find out the answers to those questions. Are you ready?
1. Let us being with the issue of life and death. Yes, usually volcanoes bring nothing but destruction and death. However, there is one life form on earth that uses volcanoes to ensure continued existence of the species. There is an endangered bird species known as the Maleo. It is the only known bird species on earth that uses geothermal energy from the volcanoes to incubate the eggs. Why? The mama bird lays eggs that are 5 times bigger than chicken eggs. It is not really possible for the mama bird to incubate them all together and hence, she seeks out exposed volcanic areas where the eggs can hatch using the geothermal energy from the volcanoes.
2. Volcanoes spew out lava, rocks, ashes and deadly gases. That’s frightening but volcanoes can take terror to a whole new level by screaming just before exploding. There is one volcano in this world that did this. Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano erupted in 2009 but right before erupting, the volcano started screaming. You can hear the scream right here. Seismologists have no idea of what caused this terrifying scream but the bottom line is that, it will scare the hell out of anyone. If one volcano can do that, others can do that as well.
3. The moment you hear the name Hawaii, you get in a holiday mood, don’t you? Everyone feels exactly the same. In Hawaii you will find two mountains – Mauna Lao and Mauna Kea. Do, you know what they are? They are massive volcanoes and they cover almost entire Hawaii. Mauna Kea in particular is the bigger one and above the sea level it measures 4,205 meters. However, the height of the mountain when measured from the ocean floor is 10,210 meters. So, how big is that? Heard of Mount Everest? It is considered to the highest mountain and measures 8,850 meters from base to tip. So, if we are to measure from base to tip (whether the base is above sea level or on ocean bed), Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in this world.
4. Volcanoes are of three types – ‘the cinder cone’, ‘the composite volcano’ and ‘the shield volcano’. The cinder cone volcano is the commonest type we can think of. It looks like a mountain with a hollow top having a lava pit. The composite volcano is nothing but a symmetrical steep mountain and is composed of layers of cinder, ash, lava vents and other several other materials. When this type of a volcano erupts, it shoots out rocks and lava in form of flying bombs known as lava bombs. The final type known as the shield volcano is nothing but a relatively flat mountain that can span over an area of 100 miles or 160 kilometers. Inside the shield volcano one can usually find massive lava flows. Mauna Lao and Mauna Kea are shield volcanoes.
5. There is a fourth type of volcano but is not usually considered as a volcano. It is known as lava dome. These are formed after lava flow from a volcanic eruption is trapped in a caldera or valley. The lava fails to flow far enough and forms a dome-like structure. The dome then gradually cools from inside. It may look harmless but can be a potential threat because the hot magma inside the dome can erratically explode and lead to massive eruptions.
6. There is only one volcano in this world that spews out a type of lava which geologists often call as ‘lava from another planet’. The volcano’s name is Ol Doinyo Lengai and is located in Tanzania. It is 2,200 meters tall and spews out ‘black lava’. Black lava is nothing but carbonatite substance which looks similar to mud and is dark in color. The black lava is cooler than usual lava and its temperature can reach a maximum of 540℃. When the volcano erupts the lava usually cools while in air and falls down in form of glass shards. It is a very active volcano but is relatively harmless.
7. Java’s stratovolcano known as Ijen is in the area which has very high volcanic activity. As a result of this the site is rich in sulfur concentration providing huge mining reserves. That’s the good side of the story but that area is also known to have some of the most lethal acid lakes in the world. The sulfur actually turned the water in surrounding lakes in sulfuric acid. Especially in the crater of the volcano is the lake Kawah Ijen, which is the world’s most lethal and largest acidic lake. The water in this lake is so acidic that it can literally eat up metals. The fumes that are released by the lake are also lethal.
8. If Ijen erupts, not only the lava flow, ashes and lethal gases will cause destruction but the lake will also pose enormous threat. The the acidic water from the lake can lead to acidic lahars. Lahars are nothing but mudslides and volcanic debris mixed with water.
9. Did you ever wonder how powerful a volcanic eruption can be? In 1982 scientists came up with what is known as VEI or Volcanic Explosivity Index. This is used to determine the power of a volcanic eruption. The VEI runs from 0 to 8. Eruptions with VEI 0-2 occur weekly or even daily. Scale 3 is considered severe. A category 3 volcanic eruption will shoot out ashes up to 15 kilometers high in sky. These eruptions usually occur once a year. Scale 4-5 are volcanic eruptions that take place once every few decades or centuries. Volcanic ash can shoot up up to 25 kilometers in sky. These are highly destructive eruptions. Scale 6-7 are called colossal eruptions and super-colossal eruptions respectively. They will shoot out lava bombs that can travel well over hundred miles or more, cause tsunamis and more! The destructive power is immense. In 1883 we experience a colossal explosion. The Krakatoa volcano erupted and was a category 6 explosion. It killed 36,417 people by thermal trauma and tsunamis.
10. 8 on the VEI scale is a mega-colossal explosion. How powerful is it? It is at least 100 times more powerful than a category 6 eruption. One explosion of VEI-8 can mean end of this world. Luckily human race has never experienced one. Of several super-colossal eruptions, three VEI-8 explosions that took place are in 24,500 B.C. in Taupo Volcano in New Zealand, 74,000 B.C. in Sumatra, Indonesia (Toba Supervolcano) and 640,000 B.C. in Yellowstone. A VEI-8 explosion can create a caldera that can accommodate a small country!
That concludes our 10 interesting facts about volcanoes but in no way covers everything. We have only scratched the tip of the iceberg. There is more to come. Stay tuned for new and more interesting volcano facts.