Wednesday Whatzits: The molten moon and the world's deadliest volcanoes

The move is complete (finally) ... so maybe I can settle down a bit, right? Right?

The world's deadliest volcano?

Anyway, a few things I stumbled across this week:

  • Forbes has a list boldly titled "World's Deadliest Volcanoes", which more or less is a slideshow of nice volcano pictures and some dubious ranking - mostly based on death toll (and cribbing a bit from IAVCEI's "Decade Volcanoes"). Of course, I find it amusing that they made a list of "deadliest volcanoes" and then proceed to tell people (read "tourists") what to do near the so-called "deadly" volcanoes. I suppose it is sort of like making a list of the world's most dangerous warzones ... and then told you of that great bed & breakfast to visit when you go to Somalia.

    The list itself is a bit of a mish-mash of volcanoes - some of which were deadly, but whether they would still be considered the "deadliest" is a bit of reach ... and any list like this that doesn't have Vesuvius at the top is off from the start.

    Anyway, here it is:

    1. Tambora, Indonesia
    2. Krakatau, Indonesia
    3. Pelee, Martinique
    4. Ruiz, Colombia
    5. Laki, Iceland
    6. Vesuvius, Italy
    7. Unzen, Japan
    8. Kelut (Kelud), Indonesia
    9. Santa Maria, Guatemala
    10. Galunggung, Indonesia

    The list is spawned from the recent National Geographic that features an article about the Yellowstone Supervol ... ahem ... Caldera.

  • In extraterrestrial volcanoes, the mineral mapping of the moon performed by India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar satellite mission (the country's first lunar mission) seems to have clinched the idea that the moon was once totally molten. Much of the surface of the moon is made of anorthite - a type of feldspar - that would have risen to the top of a "magma ocean" as it cooled (as it is less dense than the magma). I've always found the concept of a magma ocean hard to comprehend - the whole surface of a planet hot enough to keep basic (mafic) rocks like basalt molten is hard to imagine, but that was the primordial solar system for you. Not entirely a pleasant place to spend the day (well, if you had a TARSadly, the Chandrayaan mission was cut short when contact was lost with the satellite.

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Dear Erik, as always I appreciate your comments on certain offerings of the media, be they more or less scientific or pseudo-scientific (the media offerings, I mean). Yet I think it is important to note that Vesuvius in the entire historic period (which is very long compared to the rest of the world - more than 2000 years) has probably killed less than 10,000 people, although it has erupted dozens of times violently in that period. That is a much inferior death toll compared to those produced by SINGLE eruptions of the first four volcanoes in the Forbes Traveller list (wasn't Forbes the magazine that listed "volcanologist" sixth among the ten worst jobs on Earth a few years ago?). So I would certainly put Vesuvius on the top of a list of the world's most DANGEROUS (and potentially deadly) volcanoes, but historically it has not (yet) been the most deadly.
When it comes to visiting such deadly volcanoes, the lucky thing is that those really bad, deadly eruptions fortunately happen extremely rarely, so the chance of any visitor going to either of them and thoroughly enjoy a stay in a nice b&b is probably several orders of magnitude superior to that of ending up in a new deadly eruption. If you go visit Vesuvius today, the probability that you die in a car crash on the way to or from the volcano is about a million times greater than that of dying by an eruption! This obviously will change once that volcano gets ready for its next eruption, which I bet will not happen during our lifetime.
I do thoroughly share your dislike of the word "supervolcano", because after all such "supervolcanoes" are volcanoes like others, only that (very rarely) they produce larger eruptions than the rest of the lot. It's like calling humans capable of doing bigger things (or being physically bigger maybe) "superhumans", which has a bit of a bad taste for me.
As always, thanks for the excellent work and the fun I have reading your posts!

Great comments as usual, Boris. You're right about Vesuvius - I was muddling the difference between deadliest and most dangerous/hazardous volcano. Vesuvius is definitely not the "deadliest", although the potential is there. And clearly, visiting most of these volcanoes on the Forbes list is likely as safe as visiting San Francisco (earthquake hazard) - just seems like an odd way to pitch the list: "deadly" versus "fascinating". I suppose that shouldn't surprise me much.

It all depends what is meant by 'deadliest' it on total death toll? (as the list seems largely to be) it on the likelihood that an eruption will cause fatalities, even if the number of fatalities per eruption are not large? On that basis, Vesuvius would be well up the rankings, as would Mayon and Merapi. Or is it, as has been already mentioned, on the POTENTIAL for a major catastrophe? Then Vesuvius would again be near the top of the list, along with Sakurajima, Rainier, Popocatepetl, Pelee, Merapi (again)...along with some left-field contenders like El Misti and the Auckland Field. Tambora wouldn't be a contender, it's HAD its catastrophe

I won't consider ashflow calderas like Yellowstone and Taupo, there are too many imponderables

In terms of Location and proximity to population im pretty sure Vesuvius should be top of the list.

Cant say too much about the others, not suprising really that both Tambora and Krakatau are both there, the press really love to wheel those both out when making a list of deadly volcanoes.

I would agree with Mike that im suprised that Rainier wasnt on the list.

Completely agree that Vesuvius should be at the top. The Somma-Vesuvius complex has a long history of highly explosive events that excede the AD 79 eruption. Furthermore, the entire populace center of Naples is built upon and around an active caldera. So much attention has been placed on places like Yellowstone and Toba. However, I cannot think of any other place where you literally have millions residing at such close proximity. There have been VEI7 events in this location. The underground and sub-city of Naples is literally carved into Campanian Ignimbrite from the VEI7 eruption that occurred about 30-40kya.

I do thoroughly share your dislike of the word "supervolcano", because after all such "supervolcanoes" are volcanoes like others, only that (very rarely) they produce larger eruptions than the rest of the lot

By supra shoes (not verified) on 25 Sep 2009 #permalink