Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

The High Ground: Reasons Volcanoes Are Terrifying

I spent years not giving volcanoes enough credit. Living in a country in the middle of a tectonic plate, they’re just not relevant beyond primary school science projects. Australia hasn’t seen a volcanic eruption since before the Europeans first decided to settle here.

It took a family holiday to New Zealand, where they do have active volcanoes, for me to really understand what people were talking about.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but here are three reasons to be worried about volcanoes, especially if you don’t live in Australia.


The Company

A little volcanic activity can be a good thing, sort of. Volcanic soil is some of the most fertile dirt the world, which is probably why we keep building cities on top of smoking death mountains.  But as they say, everything in moderation.

200205618-001We don’t touch lava, even though we want to.

Unfortunately, where there’s one disaster, there’s a good chance of two more. Though we’re not sure exactly why, volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis often happen in close succession.

The Ring Of Fire

I’m not talking about the Johnny Cash song, or what happens when you eat too much cheap Mexican food. I’m talking about the big ring of active volcanoes surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

Johnny CashEasily the more enjoyable Ring of Fire.

It’s about three quarters of the Earth’s active volcanoes, all gathered together in one tidy ring (and neatly avoiding Australia). Right there with them are 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes.

Long story short, it’s a miracle San Fransisco still exists.


I’m not the only one who hasn’t given volcanoes enough credit. After all, even after seeing the damage they can do, we keep building cities on top of them.

The eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD is probably the most famous of all time, and for good reason. The citizens of nearby Pompeii were baked alive, killed instantly by a sudden rise in temperature to 300 degrees Celcius, and then preserved for millennia in volcanic ash. Pliny the Younger described the scene so well that the devastating eruption type was named after him, something he may or may not have appreciated.

1297526510929_originalHe may not have appreciated a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, either.

It’s also worth noting that Mt Vesuvius is still active. Its last eruption was in 1944, and it’s about due to go again. Pompeii may be long gone, but Naples’ and its population of almost one million are well within Vesuvius’ potential range.

Sources (in order of appearance)

Oregon State University, Has there ever been any volcanic activity in Australia?, Oregon State University, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Volcanology, Soils from volcanoes, Volcanology, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Lava, Huffington Post, 8 May 2016, <>.

USGS, 2016, USGS FAQs, USGS, 8 May 2016, <>.

NOAA 2013, What is the ring of fire?, NOAA, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Hulton Archive, 2014, Johnny Cash, Rolling Stone, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

How Volcanoes Work, Plinian eruptions, geology.sdsu, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Valsecchi, MC 2010, Pompeiians flash-heated to death—”no time to suffocate”, National Geographic, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>., Deconstructing history: Pompeii, History Channel, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Singer, E, Geology of California’s imperial valley, sci.sdsu, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Connors, D 2015, What is the ring of fire?, EarthSky, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

National Geographic, Ring of fire, National Geographic, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Pompeii 2014, film, Constantin Film, Munich.

Oregon State University, What’s the most recent eruption of Vesuvius and will it erupt again?, Oregon State University, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

Kington, T 2013, Mount Vesuvius ‘could erupt at any time’, Telegraph, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

UN, 2016, City population by sex, city and city type, UN, retrieved 8 May 2016, <>.

2 comments on “The High Ground: Reasons Volcanoes Are Terrifying

  1. cjhadley
    May 8, 2016

    It is interesting that although volcanoes are so destructive yet are essential for new life to grow. Have you heard of the super volcanoes? I think there is 2 in NZ. The Yellowstone National Park in America owes its landscape to the fact it is a super volcano, one of the largest i think. Its caldera is one of the largest in the world, and scientist think its due for an eruption and when it does the whole world will suffer the consequences.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jasmanpotra
    May 17, 2016

    Interesting article. Touched on great human interest stories involving volcanoes. Have you looked at science behind the eruption and the potential for geothermal energy? There is great technological advances being made in geothermal energy and harnessing it as a viable renewable energy source. Probably worth having a look at.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2016 by in Geelong - Wednesday 3pm, Uncategorized.

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