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Here Are the Places Most at Risk of a Volcanic Explosion

New research will help countries prepare

(Stephen Belcher/Minden Pictures/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Toxic gas clouds. Lethal mudflows. Tsunamis. Those are just a few of the hazards of life in the shadow of a volcano—and now a new report shows which populations are most at risk of a volcanic explosion.

Becky Orskin reports for LiveScience that a soon-to-be-released United Nations report on global volcanic hazards shows that Indonesia is at the top of the list of countries most threatened by volcanic activity. The report, which was prepared by the Global Volcano Model Network, ranks countries’ vulnerability based on the hazards of volcanoes, how often they’ve erupted over the past 10,000 years and how many people live within its blast zone. After Indonesia, the most at-risk countries include the Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Italy, El Salvador and Kenya. 

Lava and ash deserve the awe they inspire, notes Orskin: they can be incredibly destructive. About 278,000 people have perished due to volcanoes since 1600. Of these casualties, 24 percent were due to indirect causes like disease and famines, brought on by the  climate change and physical destruction from incidents like Indonesia’s Tambora Explosion. That eruption was so massive it directly killed 70,000 people. But it also led to a “year without a summer” across the entire Northern Hemisphereand is thought to have caused thousands more deaths due to famine and disease.

In addition to pyroclastic flows (solids and gases rushing down the sides of volcanoes) and lahars (fatal mudslides), says Orskin, experts warn that there could be even more risks in the future—air traffic disruptions, evacuation challenges and unknown dangers due to unmonitored volcanoes.

In fact, volcanoes present such a threat to island nations, says Orskin, that the report has a special ranking just for islands. Among the most-threatened are Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the West Indies, Dominica, the Azores, St. Lucia, the Atlantic-United Kingdom Islands, El Salvador and Costa Rica, whose active Turrialba volcano is being compared to a pressure cooker as lava levels rise.

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