Volcanic eruptions are some of the most terrifying yet fascinating natural disasters that happen on Earth. They’re capable of wiping out entire towns and creating new islands, leaving us mere mortals to just watch in awe, albeit from a safe distance. But while we think that we may have a good grasp on how eruptions work, most of us really don’t. There are all sorts of misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding volcanoes that we are all guilty of. This list below will help shine a light on what some of them are.
1. Eruptions Start at the Top of a Volcano
Now, we can’t exactly be blamed for assuming this one; after all, there have been countless sightings of magma and ash being expelled from a volcano’s crater. But this isn’t always the case. The molten rock flowing inside a volcano will exploit any zone of weakness it meets. One such example was when Mount St. Helens exploded sideways in 1980 after a landslide weakened the surrounding walls. This type of eruption can be way deadlier than regular ones because there’s usually little to no warning that the volcano is about to erupt.
2. Molten Rock Powers Eruptions
Many of us assume that because magma explodes out of volcanoes that it must be what powers eruptions. Science says otherwise, though; it’s actually gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide that have been dissolved in the molten rock. The gases bubble out of the magma as it gets higher since the pressure is decreasing because there is less rock. This speeds up the rising melt, causing a chain reaction that leads to an eruption – but only if the gases don’t run out and or if they don’t encounter some sort of barrier along the way.
3. Lava Always Erupts in Flows
Some volcanoes give us a couple of warning signs before letting it all out. But others will violently explode in a spectacular plume of molten rock. Either way, the eruption isn’t always a Hawaiian-style flow. As mentioned earlier, volcanoes are powered by natural gases, which build up a lot quicker in magma with high levels of silica, leading to more internal pressure. The more pressure, the less likely you’ll see the slow flow that we see in so many movies. All that’s left is for the volcano’s rock to give way, even just a little bit and then… BOOM! It goes off, like removing the cork of a champagne bottle that’s been shaken.
4. Volcanoes Erupt Smoke
That towering cloud of smoke often seen expelled from a volcano? Those are actually tiny bits of jagged stone and natural glass that can do serious damage to both your body and nearby buildings. They can get into the lungs if inhaled and even behind contact lenses. And it’s heavy too, with just four inches of this plume weighing a shocking 120-200 pounds per square yard – which is probably more than enough to collapse your roof. Electronics are also at risk of getting damaged, since volcanic ash is a conductor of electricity.
5. Any Super Volcano Eruption Means the End of the World
The word “super volcano” sounds really intimidating, which is why many people believe that such a volcano exploding would be some kind of apocalyptic-level event. In reality, these kinds of eruptions are actually rare and occur every few thousand years. The last known super eruption took place at least 630,000 years ago. But smaller ones do happen pretty often. Take for example the Yellowstone Volcano in Wyoming where every two or three years, it has a small hydrothermal explosion. And according to scientists, it’s next explosion will either be a hydrothermal blast or a lava flow.
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