6 ways volcanoes benefit Earth, our environment
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
The incredible sight of molten lava streaming down a volcano’s sides as voluminous ash plumes gush tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere will send nearby residents into a panic.
It’s for good reason. Volcanic eruptions and related earthquakes have been known to wipe out neighborhoods and claim thousands of lives.
Indonesia’s Tambora volcano, which was the largest eruption ever recorded, killed nearly 100,000 people both directly and indirectly in 1815, according to History.com.
These violent forces of nature are often associated with death and total destruction. However, it may come as a surprise that volcanic activity can positively impact the environment and people living in the region.
Some of the benefits occur in the short term as well as over hundreds to thousands of years, according to Dr. Tracy Gregg, associate professor for the University at Buffalo’s geology department.
1. Atmospheric cooling
One of the shorter-term benefits could be observed with recent large eruptions including 1991’s Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and 1982’s El Chichón eruption in Mexico, which both exploded ash and sulfur gas into the stratosphere, according to Gregg.
“The sulfur gas combines with water in the atmosphere, creating microscopic droplets that can stay in the atmosphere for years,” Gregg said. “The effect of those aerosol droplets is cooling the lowest level of the atmosphere, which is the level in which we live and breathe.”
Both eruptions cooled the atmosphere about over a half a degree Celsius, she said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we’re talking about anthropogenic global climate change, volcanoes have actually helped to keep the world about 2 to 3 degrees cooler than it otherwise may be,” she added.
2. Land formation
A long-term benefit of volcanic activity is seen in the Hawaiian Islands’ very existence.
“We’re seeing this right now on the Big Island of Hawaii with Kilauea’s current eruption, as lava is pouring into the ocean and creating new land,” Gregg said. “All of the land in the Hawaiian Islands was created this way.” This land formation can take thousands of years, she added.
3. Water production
Over 4.5 billion years, the amount of water that has been produced by volcanoes has actually given us the water that we have on Earth, Concord University volcanologist Dr. Janine Krippner told AccuWeather.
“It comes out of steam,” Krippner said. “Over time, it’s just built up the water that we have on this planet. Water can actually come out of magma itself, as well.”
Volcanoes have also helped create a large portion of Earth’s atmosphere, she added.
4. Fertile land
Fertile soil is another advantage of volcanic activity. “In places like Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and Hawaii, volcanic material mixed in with the soil provides a lot of important nutrients,” Krippner said. “It gives us really fertile soils, which are great for farming and crops.”
Volcanoes also provide a good environment for the formation of new habitats for animals, plants and insects, she said.
Key volcano terms you need to know to understand these fiery geological structures
Why volcanic ash can be so detrimental to your health
How massive volcano eruptions can alter global temperatures
The Ring of Fire: A guide to Earth's most powerful geological forces
5. Geothermal energy
Hot springs and geothermal energy are additional benefits. “People use geothermal energy in places like New Zealand and Iceland,” Krippner said.
Places on Earth with the highest underground temperatures are located in regions with active or geologically young volcanoes, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The most active geothermal resources are normally found along major plate boundaries where volcanoes and earthquakes typically occur, like the Ring of Fire, according to the University of Colorado Boulder.
6. Raw materials
Sulfur, copper and gold are produced from volcanic activity, Krippner said. Diamonds are also brought up to the surface from the mantle from a rare kind of magma, called kimberlite.
“Volcanoes also provide a lot of building materials,” Krippner said. “Volcanic material can be made into blocks, and lot of the materials are mined, especially in places like Indonesia, where it’s used for conglomerate building blocks.”
The volcanic material can be ground down to help make cement, she added.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - April 20, 2019, 3:09:51 PM EDT
While dry, warm and tranquil conditions are in store for a large part of the nation on Easter Sunday, there will be some areas that have to deal with showers and cool weather.
Coachella 2019: Strong winds may whip unsecured tents late Saturday before heat gets trimmed for Sunday
Weather News - April 20, 2019, 1:54:32 PM EDT
Before heat gets trimmed for the final day of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, gusty winds threaten to whip tents and other camping supplies that are not properly secured later Saturday into Saturday night.
Weather News - April 20, 2019, 12:16:17 PM EDT
Calmer weather settling in over the southern and eastern United States into the early week will assist cleanup efforts in the wake of a three-day severe weather outbreak.
Weather News - April 20, 2019, 10:58:30 AM EDT
More than 1 billion people will be celebrating Earth Day on Monday throughout the world, including in several cities across the United States.
Weather News - April 20, 2019, 1:00:54 PM EDT
The historic numbers indicate one thing, but a look at the last five years -- and even this year -- shows something else.
Weather News - April 19, 2019, 4:12:57 PM EDT
A U.S. man is one of three world-renowned climbers presumed dead after avalanche in Banff National Park -- and his father, also an accomplished climber, will attempt to bring him home.
Weather News - April 20, 2019, 10:54:05 AM EDT
People in part of the southwestern United States will need to take precautions during the Easter weekend due an elevated risk of wildfire ignition and rapid spread.
Weather News - April 19, 2019, 2:19:25 PM EDT
The National Hurricane Center announced Friday that the deadly storm, which struck Florida last October, is stronger than was first believed. Here's why.