Living With an Active Volcano: A Closer Look

Category Technology

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500 million people live and work under the shadow of active volcanoes worldwide, either for their strong cultural beliefs, economic opportunity, or due to poverty. Centers of identity and economic opportunity provide these people the incentives to remain near volcanoes, and many religions revere them as places of ritual and tradition.

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The thought of living near an active volcano probably sounds like an unimaginable risk to you – and rightly so. An active volcano is never safe and can turn a forested hillside into a lifeless wasteland in a matter of seconds. From molten avalanches of rock to razor-sharp lung-shredding ash, volcanoes threaten people’s lives and property.

Yet 500 million people worldwide live and work under the shadow of active volcanoes. As a geologist who’s studied many volcanoes over the years, I’ve come to realize it’s naïveto ask, "Why don’t these people just move to less risky places?" .

Most volcanoes are found at boundaries of Earth’s tectonic plates

Their motivations range widely. For some, strong cultural beliefs and traditions keep them in place. For others, volcanoes offer significant economic opportunity. For the most vulnerable, poverty traps them in dangerous locations.

Whatever the reason, many people’s lives and welfare are so intimately linked with a volcano, moving elsewhere is unthinkable.

Centers of identity .

Numerous cultures and Indigenous peoples revere volcanoes as places of worship, ritual and tradition that are celebrated for their power over fertility, life and sustenance.

There are about 1500 active volcanoes in the world

For a number of religious traditions, Mount Fuji in Japan is a place where ancestral spirits congregate. It has been a symbolic and sacred site of pilgrimage for centuries. Every summer, thousands of people ascend through the clouds to reach the summit.

For the Tenggerese people on Java, Mount Bromo is a deeply sacred site – the abode of gods. Every year they hike up the volcano carrying agricultural products and livestock to be sacrificed during the Yadnya Kasada festival. Pilgrims gather at the rim to express gratitude and seek blessings with prayer, chanting and sacred offerings.

Krakatoa, a volcano in Indonesia, is the most closely watched and monitored

In Ecuador, the Quechua people follow a religion that combines pre-Columbian and Catholic elements. Local people see the Tungurahua volcano as a familiar but unpredictable matriarch who can offer support and guidance.

Economic opportunity .

The land surrounding volcanoes often offers significant economic opportunity.

Volcanic soils are among the most fertile in the world. They contain essential minerals and nutrients such as iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and trace elements that are essential for plant growth. They also have high organic matter content, good pH balance, high porosity and strong water retention, making them ideal for agriculture.

Earth's most powerful eruptions come from 'supervolcanoes' which have the ability to produce eruptions 1000 times larger than a normal volcano

In addition, volcanic terrains often create unique microclimates that are ideal for growing high-value crops such as grapes, coffee and bananas.

Striking landscapes, unique geological features and the thrill of proximity draw tourists to active volcanoes worldwide. Visitors to sites like the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park on Java, Mount Kilauea in Hawaii andMount Etna on the island of Sicily can boost local economies and significantly enhance the livelihoods of residents.

Volcanic activity can be monitored with Global Positioning System (GPS), satellites, and seismometers

Volcanic landscapes can also offer rich mineral resources such as gold, silver, amethyst and more. For example, the rich volcanic landscape around El Misti in southern Peru is valued for its industrially mined copper and other metals.

On Java, in Indonesia, miners still excavate brighly colored sulphur crystals from Mount Ijen’s acid lake.

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