Here are five of the world’s deadliest volcanoes

Mount Etna, 2015. Image: Getty.

An eruption of Mount Etna recently caught out some BBC journalists who were filming there. The footage was extraordinary and highlighted the hazards volcanoes pose to humans and society. The Conversation

Since 1600, 278,880 people have been killed by volcanic activity, with many of these deaths attributed to secondary hazards associated with the main eruption. Starvation killed 92,000 following the 1815 Tambora eruption in Indonesia, for example, and a volcanic tsunami killed 36,000 following the 1883 Krakatoa eruption.

Since the 1980s, deaths related to volcanic eruptions have been rather limited, but this is not entirely a result of increased preparedness or investment in hazard management – it is significantly a matter of chance.

Research shows that volcanic activity has shown no let up since the turn of the 21st century – it just hasn’t been around population centres. Indeed, there remain a number of volcanoes poised to blow which pose a major threat to life and livelihood.

Here are five.

Vesuvius, Italy

Known for its 79AD eruption, which destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Vesuvius is still a significant hazard given that it overshadows the city of Naples and its surrounds, which are home to over 3m people.

It is also known for a particularly intense form of eruption. Plinian (after Pliny the Younger who was the first to describe the 79AD event) eruptions are characterised by the ejection of a vast column of gas and ash which extends into the stratosphere, far higher than commercial airliners fly.

Were such an eruption to occur at Vesuvius today, it is likely that much of the population would already have been evacuated as a precursory swarm of earthquakes would likely herald its imminent approach. But those who remained would initially be showered with huge pumice rocks too large to be kept aloft by the column of gas.

Then, as the volcano began to run out of energy, the column itself would collapse, causing smaller particles of rock (from fine ash to small boulders) to fall from the sky and back to Earth at high velocity. Asphyxiating clouds of gas and pulverised rock – pyroclastic density currents – would then flood down the slopes of the volcano, annihilating anything in their path. Such gas-ash features have been known to travel tens of kilometres and at terrifying speeds, potentially turning modern Naples into a new Pompeii.

Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo

This central African volcano has erupted several times over the last few decades and while its eruptions aren’t particularly explosive, it produces a particularly runny – and dangerous – form of lava. Once effused, this lava can rapidly move down the flanks of the volcano and inundate areas with little or no warning.

In 2002, the lava lake at the volcano’s summit was breached, resulting in streams of lava hurtling towards the nearby city of Goma at 60km/h, engulfing parts of it to a depth of two metres.

Fortunately, warnings had been issued as the volcano’s unrest has made it the focus of intense research – and over 300,000 people were evacuated in time. Should such an event occur again, we have to hope that the authorities are equally prepared, but this is a politically unstable area and it remains seriously vulnerable.

Popocatepetl, Mexico

“Popo”, as the locals call it, is just 70km south-west of the one of the largest cities in the world: Mexico City, home to 20m people. Popo is regularly active and its most recent bout of activity in 2016 sent a plume of ash to an altitude of five kilometres.

In recent times, and indeed throughout much of its history, eruptive events at Popo have consisted of similarly isolated ash plumes. But these plumes coat the mountain in a thick blanket of ash which, when mixed with water, can form a dense muddy mixture which has the potential to flow for many kilometres and at relatively high speeds.

Such phenomena, known as “lahars”, can be extremely deadly, as exemplified by the Nevado del Ruiz disaster of 1985 when around 26,000 people were killed in the town of Armero, Colombia, by a lahar with a volcanic source that was 60km away.

The Nevado del Ruiz tragedy was the direct result of volcanic activity melting ice at the volcano’s summit, but a large volume of rainfall or snowmelt could feasibly generate a similar lahar on Popo. This could flow down-slope towards nearby settlements with little or no warning.

Krakatoa, Indonesia

Otherwise named Krakatau, Krakatoa’s name is infamous; 36,000 people were killed by the tsunami triggered by its 1886 eruption, which released more energy than 13,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. The eruption destroyed the volcanic island completely, but within 50 years, a new island had appeared in its place.

The new island is named Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatoa) and since the 1920s, it has been growing in episodic phases, reaching about 300 metres in height today. New and significant activity commenced in 2007 and since this time, further episodes of activity were noted at the volcano, most recently in March 2017.

No one knows for sure whether or not the spectacular growth of Anak Krakatau means it may one day repeat the catastrophe its “father” unleashed, but its location between Indonesia’s two most populated islands, Java and Sumatra, means it poses a grave threat to life.

Changbaishan, China

Few have heard of this volcano in a remote part of Asia – and its last eruption was in 1903. However, its history tells a rather scarier story. In around 969AD, the volcano produced one of the largest eruptions of the last 10,000 years, releasing three times more material than Krakatoa did in 1886.

One of the chief hazards is posed by the massive crater lake at its peak (with a volume of about nine cubic kilometres). If breached, this lake could generate lahars that would pose a significant threat to the 100,000 people that live in the vicinity.

In the early 2000s, scientists began monitoring the hitherto under-monitored volcano, and determined that its activity was increasing, that its magma chamber dormancy was coming to an end, and that it could pose a hazard in the following decades.


Further complicating things is the fact that Changbaishan straddles the border of China and North Korea. Given such a geo-politically sensitive location, the effects of any volcanic activity here would likely be very hard to manage.

Matthew Blackett is a senior lecturer in physical geography and natural hazards at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.