Gambling on a volcano

Gambling and volcanoes go hand-in-hand?

Somehow I didn't pick up on this, but people are gambling on volcanoes now?

I mean, I suppose if they bet on the coin toss at the Super Bowl, people will bet on anything. Now, I'm not one to judge the taste in any of this, but here are the current odds for volcanoes to have a VEI 3 eruption:

3/1 Mt Unzen (Japan)
9/1 Mauna Loa (USA)
10/1 Ulawun (Papua New Guinea)
10/1 Merapi (Indonesia)
10/1 Santorini (Greece)
11/1 Colima (Mexico)
11/1 Rainier (USA)
11/1 Taal (Philippines)
11/1 Teide (Spain, Canary Islands)
12/1 Mt Nyiragongo (DR Congo)
12/1 Popocatepetl (Mexico)
14/1 Sakurajima (Japan)
16/1 Stromboli (Italy)
22/1 Avachinsky (Russia)
22/1 Galeras (Colombia)
28/1 Mt Vesuvius (Italy)
28/1 Chaiten (Chile)
28/1 Etna (Italy)
33/1 Santa Maria/Santiaguito (Guatemala)
33/1 Yellowstone (USA)

First off, I suppose Unzen is a decent choice for good odds. However, Santa Maria with the same odds as Yellowstone? I suppose if the cutoff is a VEI 3 eruption, Santa Maria tends to have small events and if Yellowstone has pretty much anything, you can guess it will be VEI 3 or greater. However, the point here is: is it OK to gamble on disasters? I mean, is this like placing bets on what airline is going to have the next air crash? Sure, a lot of volcanic eruptions are harmless in terms of injuries/fatalities, but if a lot of these had a VEI 3, there would likely be casualties. Just have to wonder if people need to read a book rather than spend their time with endeavors like this on the internet.

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Erik, there are folk who'll gamble on two flies crawling up a window! Granted, it's in rather poor taste, but the odds are, well, a bit odd. Firstly, what's the time limitation? Unzen might well have a VEI3, but the gambler might have to wait 200+ years to pick up his winnings. And why, to take just one example, are the Kamchatkan volcanoes so poorly represented? - Shiveluch, Kliuchev, Karymsky, Bezhymiammy would all get good odds in my book. Somebody had too much time on their hands, methinks.

Erik - you are right, this is extremely distasteful, can I get $10 on the Mount St Helens "supervolcano"?

Firstly, there is definitely some bad taste in trying to make money out of possible disasters.
Secondly, the list - especially the first two positions - has little relationship with volcanic reality. Unzen's geological history (published in a special volume of Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research dedicated to Unzen: volume 89, 1999) reveals that this volcano erupts rarely (the last two eruptions came at an interval of 200 years), its eruptions are effusive rather than explosive (thus, VEI 1-2) and the 1990-1995 eruption - which was largely dome-building - was exceptionally large in the recent history of the volcano. Mauna Loa seems like a candidate for a sizable eruption in the near future but probably with a max VEI of 1. The volcanoes out of this list that might REALLY produce something major soon are Ulawun, Merapi, Colima, Taal, Popocatépetl, and Avachinsky. Vesuvius and Yellowstone may well not erupt for many centuries, whereas Campi Flegrei - immediately west of Naples - might indeed do so. Chaitén just had a massive explosive eruption and will not repeat this for quite some time.
Certainly, Kamchatkan (and Kurile) volcanoes are lacking, as are those of Alaska, and I fear Indonesia has many other volcanoes capable of producing serious eruptions, as do many other countries, and I fear the next big big eruption might come once more from a volcano that nobody (or nearly so) has heard of before, as was the case at El Chichón, Pinatubo, Chaitén ...

I wouldn´t think, that betting on volcano eruption is something bad. There are results of bettings on election which are more true than the surveys. So maybe betting on eruptions could have a good effect, especially if you trade desaster-stocks. So reals experts would try to buy the right stocks at the right time (befor a likely eruption) and this could make a predection more precisely or at least more comprehensible for ordinary people.

By Thomas Wipf (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

totally tasteless
enough hardship in the world without 'rooting' for it.
And i bet Boris knows more than the bookies.
Boris, i kept up with the Italian Volcanoes several
years ago when the internet came to Alaska and visited Your
site often.
Besides being interesting, it was therapy to watch the
sun over the Mediterranean during the dark days of winter.
i was one of the first to 'predict' the volcanoes of
Cook Inlet erupting. i'm old and have been here for most of my life. Volcano observation has certainly improved over the years. i can see Redoubt out my back window and even had DH cut some branches for a clearer view.
Thanks for all Your work.... it reaches farther than You know.


Iguess some idiots will bet on anything. I agree with Boris. Totally tasteless. And the people who set this up most likely don't know much about volcanoes.

Boris, I monitored your site years ago, too, until you had to quit for reasons we both know. I was really happy to see that you post to this blog and also you had a chance to answer our questions. Anyway, I appreciate the info you and Erik provide because I learn a lot. There seems to be something new almost every day. You know, when it comes to volcanoes, I think there will be a time when we will be very surprised as to which one will come to a VEI 3. It just might come up in a corn field somewhere! How about Mt Ararat? Or Kilamenjaro? When was the last time these erupted? How about Fuji? Now I am not betting here!!! Just thinking of some that have not erupted in eons. Chaiten was certainly a surprise. In short, we just watch and wait. And I hope there will not be any that causes fatalities. There probably will be, but I hope not. In the mean time, we can monitor the ones we know will and are erupting and learn as much as we can from them.

Mots, I wish I could have looked out your window to watch Redoubt. That must have been something to see.

Vegas baby, "put me down for 50 on a Cat 4 in Lauderdale this year!" Yeah, not exactly the land of ethical principles.

Are they actually taking bets or just laying out odds? I heard that it was illegal to actually bet on an election in Vegas, but they could still give the odds. Its still distasteful in any case and we know that if odds are given, someone somewhere uses them.

Football players get knee injuries and concussions, and I bet half of us are in a football pool. Betting on a volcano has the beneficial aspect in that its very difficult to bribe the players.

And besides, when I look at the odds there, and say I was thinking of buying a house near Mt Rainer, I'd probably think twice, and maybe pick a safer location, like near Mt Etna or Stromboli.

How about a house near Shasta?

Well, Diane, You can be too close to a volcano to see anything. We have seen some terrific ones but the most spectacular event to me was the hugh lightening during one nighttime event. It seemed to light up the entire Cook Inlet. Much larger than normal thunderstorm lightening.
And You couldn't depend on it just being up in the sky. It could dischange right next to You. Very Weird. and frightening.


Just to offer a dissenting opinion, gambling is pretty good way of exposing the validity of analysis and the quality of inputs. The bettor has some real skin in the game and the house has to do a pretty good job of analysing risk if they want to stay in the business. Gambling, contests and awarding prizes has a long and honored history in science. Scientists, though some may be loath to admit it, are risk takers at heart. There are many safer professions than climbing exploding peaks or descending to the depths of the ocean on the chance of discovering something new or to confirm a theory to disbelivers.

While setting up a betting pool on the next VEI3 might seem frivalous and in bad taste, I would rather look at it as another way of educating the public about safety and risk and involving more people in understanding the science. Afterall, if you want to win, you have to try to learn something. The simple act of publicizing this betting pool might cause some unaware people living in these areas to take a look at their risks, figure out their escape routes and ulimately save some lives.

Well Doug, looking at the list above of volcanoes considered likely to erupt explosively in the near future, I feel that in terms of education there's still a long way to go. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, the volcanoes in the first 2 positions are not very likely to produce a large explosive eruption anytime soon, and possibly the volcanoes most likely to do so are either further down in the list or fully absent. If the people doing the gambling were to take the occasional look at this blog or the Volcanism blog or some similar forum, they might have a chance placing more accurate bets next time ...

Apart from the tackiness of the idea, it doesn't make much apparent sense. After all, most live volcanoes are CAPABLE of a VEI3 eruption, but you might have to wait a very long time for one. Like, centuries. OTOH eruptions of this magnitude are not uncommon; about ten a year, I believe. So a sweepstake on which volcano would be the next one to do it might work

In which case the odds quoted are pretty bizarre. Unzen? Mauna Loa? WHAT?

I like Doug's spin on this a lot. If we can turn this into something like fantasy baseball - heck, I know more about baseball players I would have never heard of thanks to that - then it could be a very useful educational tool. Interesting.

Y'know with all this talk of Yellowstone this and Kamchatka that--isn't it about time for Hekla to go again? It's good for a day's worth of VEI 3 and 12 months of lava flows :-)

By damon hynes (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

I tihnk the idea is meant in good taste but does that make it right? I mean there is nothing wrong with betting on things but there are some things you just should not bet on like when the president will be shot or when the next terror attack will occur. These people will most likely think these volcanoes will erupt very soon and have no idea of the science involved in predicting when a volcano will erupt.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

Chance--Ma Nature doesn't care whether we bet or not, so I don't get upset one way or the other. This discussion comes on tornado- and hurricane-chasing boards often. That boils down to the fact that a tornado is going to happen whether we're taping it or not, so we might as well tape it. (and sell our footage, and make a donation to the Red Cross...)

Now, if we're betting on what the next eruption to kill 1000, 5000, 30000 people or do 1B, 10B USD damage? That's morbid.

By damon hynes (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

Thanks! Just threw a hundy on Rainier. C'MON RAINIER!!

You're kidding, Teide could blow us all up? I thought it was safe living here. Nobody talks about this as a danger. I don't think the local government has a plan for that or anything. You make me want to move back to Dorset, no volcanoes there! But it is a foot deep in snow today and here in the Canary Islands I'm basking in the sun!

Well at the rate we are going the next thing will be betting on how many people will die during an eruption. people will do anything for a couple of bucks.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

Why gamble at all? You're talking about people with some psychological issues; who knows and who cares what they bet on.

I can't help but laugh at the list though - the bookie obviously doesn't know his/her volcanoes. Or perhaps the bookie does know and is relying on other people not having a clue. It's a bit like betting on who will win the World Series while having a choice between the LA Lakers and the Dallas Broncos - only the bookie can win.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

Dallas Broncos? man none wil lever win that bet. lol. Kinda a scam too in a way.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

Tourists who know nothing about the sciecne behind volcanoes or the dangers around any volcano,active or not?

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 06 Jan 2010 #permalink

When Hekla blows again, there probably won't be much warning; if I remember right one recent eruption gave about 40 minutes of increased seismicity before the explosive start of activity.

Hey, Where's Mt Penatubo or Mt Reboubt? I'd pick those - better $20 says Mt AlGore blows before any of these.

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