Are humans capable of outwitting asteroids, volcanoes or other causes of mass extinction?
Although the chance of these events occurring is low, are we wrong to be worried?
Earth has a much longer history than humans do, and there’s evidence that several past extinction events millions of years ago wiped out the dominant species on the planet at the time. The kind of extraordinary geological and extra-terrestrial hazards thought to be responsible for the death of millions of lives do still exist.
So is there really any way that humans could survive where the dinosaurs – and plenty of other species – have failed?
It turns out that in real life most things we can think of which could cause an extinction event are being watched closely by scientists and governmental agencies.
How worried we should really be by the possibility of a sudden super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone in the USA, or one of the other enormous volcanoes dotting our planet’s surface?
The term Extinction event has a specific meaning: We are talking about something that can cause a massive decline in the number and type of living things on our planet, a truly global disaster.
If we look at the Earth’s past mass extinctions it does seem we are right to be a bit concerned about asteroids. It’s pretty well accepted now the big lump of space rock is to blame for wiping out the most infamous reptiles in Earth’s history the dinosaurs.
But it’s also possible that another type of Rock played a part in that and other Extinction events. Enormous volumes of oozing liquid rock or lava erupting over thousands of years from giant volcanoes could have produced enough toxic gas to cause subsequent planet-wide climate cooling.
Some volcanoes will erupt once and then and some volcanoes will erupt over millions of years so it really depends on the specific personality of each volcano depending on how long it’s going to erupt and how frequently. What are the chances that one of these giant fiery Earth pimples is going to cause us humans some serious damage or even wipe us out? Can we tell which ones are going to explode?
There are 800 million people living within 100km of a potentially active volcano and on top of that we are visiting volcanoes more frequently. The next step is to actually monitor the volcanoes with all the scientific equipment technology and expertise that we have around the world to see if there are changes in the background of the normal activity of a volcano.
Knowing what their background activity over past years helps us understand when a volcano is about to ramp up and do something. So monitoring volcanoes and knowing what the volcano personality is can help us keep people safe. How many of the volcanoes that we are currently keeping an eye on could realistically cause a serious world-changing problem for Humanity?
That’s the thing with volcanoes, we don’t know which one might blow next. The eruption in 1991 in the Philippines was the second largest eruption of the 20th century and a complete surprise, so we could be looking at these volcanoes that we think of the highest risk while the one we’re not quite looking at yet could be the next one to blow.