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Earth Sense: Volcanoes likely to affect millions within our lifetimes
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We know the zones where the Earth’s crust is thin and allows for devastating volcanic eruptions. But there seems to be no solution to the peril affecting many millions of people who live in the shadow of active volcanoes.

Sixty miles from Tokyo, Japan, Mount Fuji looms 12,388 feet high. The metropolis, counting its satellite towns, is home to 35 million people.

Fuji last erupted in 1707. In geological terms, the time span between then and now is less than the blink of an eye.

A July 2014 report by the Institut Des Sciences De La Terre in Grenoble, France, suggests the 2011 quake may have disrupted the structure of the mountain, making an eruption more likely. From southwest-facing high-rise windows, the volcano can be seen towering over one of the world’s most densely inhabited areas.

Mexico City is in a similar position, except there are two volcanoes 40 miles from the center of a population totaling 20 million. A “rumble” of Mount Popocatepetl prompted evacuation orders in 2000.

It’s doubtful that attempts to evacuate millions would work.

Even if “Popo” stays calm for decades to come, there is nearby Iztaccihuatl, a 17,000-foot giant in the same area. It’s been pronounced dormant.

But so was Mount St. Helens, Wash., until that volcano blew À of its height away in 1980. Its bigger cousin, Mount Rainier, last erupted in 1890.

Now there are 3.3 million residents in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and the National Park Service warns about the risk of huge mudflows that a future event will bring.

Quito, Ecuador, is a scenic town, located at almost twice the elevation of Denver. The view of 16,000-foot Mount Pichincha, one of several active volcanoes in the region, isn’t without beauty. But a small eruption in 1999 raised concerns that something big may be ahead for 2.2 million inhabitants in the metro area of Quito.

The list goes on, with some locations rarely in the news. The 2002 refugee crisis in the Republic of Congo was caused by an eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, an active volcano that in 1977 had killed 2,000 people. 

Can it happen in the U.S. Southeast? No. But we need to be prepared to open our minds, and wallets, to the plight of millions who will be affected by a massive volcanic eruption that is likely to happen in our lifetime.

 Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University.


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