Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Volcanic Eruptions and Revolutions

Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano’s activity  increased last week with eruptions spewing lava up to 100 feet from a new fissure on the side of the volcano. The heightened activity in Hawaii was joined by other eruptions this year from volcanoes on the Island of Kyushu in Japan, Eastern Kamchatka in Russia, the Mariana Islands, Ecuador, Montserrat, Sulawesi, Guatemala, and Luzon. The massive earthquake in Japan last week was accompanied by an eruption of Mount Karangetang in Indonesia just hours later and renewed action from Shinmoedake Volcano in Japan. History has numerous examples of volcanic eruptions triggering revolutions.

The French revolution has been attributed to the Laki Volcano eruption in 1783. That year, the Laki Volcano spewed ash and gasses across Europe and North America creating what became known as the “sand summer” due to all the falling volcanic ash. The year of the eruption was followed by the coldest winter on record in North America with record snow on the East Coast and a frozen Mississippi River at New Orleans with the Gulf of Mexico reported to have had ice floating in it. The eruption was followed by years of wild storms, loss of livestock, and poor crop yields causing widespread famine.

A similar “Year without a Summer” occurred in 1816 when the average global temperatures decreased enough to cause food shortages worldwide. Food riots and famine spread across Europe and huge storms and flooding were widespread. The cold weather was caused by a large number of volcanic eruptions culminated by a colossal eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia, which is considered the largest eruption in over 1,630 years. The falling ash resulted in red and brown snow in far away Italy and Hungary.

It should be no surprise then that less than a year after the massive eruptions of Iceland’s Eyjafalljokull Volcano in April 2010, revolution is spreading across North Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia’s revolution began in December 2010 and led to the ousting of their President in January 2011. The demonstrations were attributed to the people’s frustration with high unemployment, high food prices, and lack of freedom. Tunisia’s success spread revolution to Egypt, which met with the same success by ousting their leader. Demonstrations and riots have spread throughout the Arab peninsula and China. But the riots started even earlier in 2010 when European workers rioted over their austerity programs and Asian countries like Thailand had severe political unrest.

The year before the onset of revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, Iceland’s Eyjafalljokull Volcano eruptions were joined by 25 other erupting volcanoes in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, US Mariana Islands, DR Congo, Italy and the US Aleutian Islands. This was a substantially larger number of volcanic eruptions than the preceding years with less than 10 reported annually.

During the summer of 2010, the snow in Siberia never melted which is being blamed for the summer’s heat and this winter’s unusually cold temperatures. Climatologists claim that the snow layer that remained in Siberia last summer kept the arctic air mass from moving south and cooling North America in the summer as it normally does. They also predicted a cold winter this year. Snowbirds we know say the snow on the golf course in Canada is melting off slower than normal this year.

Living on Hawaii Island, volcanoes are always on our mind, along with earthquakes and tsunamis. Kilauea Volcano has been erupting for decades spewing thousands of tonnes of sulfuric acid into the skies above the Hawaiian islands and extending all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Guam. We feel the effects of the increased Volcanic smog (VOG) by seeing a reduction in our solar panel output by about 50%. On heavy VOG days, the temperature of the swimming pool drops by about 4 degrees and we notice on heavy VOG days we can skip the sunscreen and not get burned. History tells us that increased volcanic haze from volcanic eruptions will result in food shortages, high food prices and in many places revolutions.


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