Volcanoes: Hawaii Versus Iceland

On January 3, 1983 I was golfing at the Volcano Golf and Country Club on the Big Island of Hawaii, when, on our back nine, the ground shook and we saw fountains of lava. It was a Kilauea Volcano eruption that continues until today, 27 years later. I cite this experience because Eyjafjallajokull (E), that Icelandic volcano which erupted on March 20, continued on for 14 months when last active in 1821. Worse still, every time this volcano has gone off (only three in a millennium), its much larger sister, Katla (K), has also erupted. The combination of E and K could well be truly ominous. While air travel is beginning to return, and this current phase could end today, what will happen to Europe if this episode continues for years?

Iceland, like the islands of Hawaii, was formed by volcanoes. In 1783, Laki (L) killed half the livestock and a quarter of the population, and in 934 Edlgja might well have had the largest basalt flow in the history of Planet Earth. Oh, there are 35 active volcanoes on Iceland.

AccessScience has an excellent summary of volcano eruptions and the potential impact on humanity. Simple Solutions for Planet Earth describes various potential natural disasters, including the mega hyped Cumbre Vieja volcanic eruption said to be capable of creating a mega tsunami. Further described is a similar scenario where a portion of the Big Island of Hawaii falls into the ocean, with the potential for generating a mega (normal amplitude max is 40 feet, while mega starts at 40 meters and could go up to 500 meters and higher) tsunami.

Located on the Big Island, Kilauea is the most active and visited volcano in the world. It is so accessible and "safe" that the Hawaii Volcano Observatory actually began doing science right on that mountain nearly a century ago. It's still there.

When the wind blows from the Big Island towards Honolulu, we become Los Angeles of 1960 when the smog was truly terrible. I have canceled golf outings when these days occur.

There is no question in my mind that lifelong exposure to the Hawaiian vog must damage lungs, much more so on the Big Island than other islands. The concrete wall structures on my roof are turning a shade of yellow (from the sulfuric acid fallout) and small black particulates are visible, which can only mean that your lungs breathe in these micro lava shards.

Okay, the situation in Iceland is different, but here in Hawaii, we have taken advantage of this potential calamity: Kilauea eruptions increase the visitor count! A few surveys have been undertaken, and the general data shows that cardiorespiratory influences can be detected, and crops have been damaged. This is not a particularly big deal in the media, partially, I worry, because the economy of Hawaii is fully dependent on tourism, and as poorly as the industry is currently doing, a condemning conclusion could be yet another dagger that can sink us into a local depression.

While as earlier mentioned, our eruptions, with rare exceptions, tend to mostly flow, with sulfurous gases, Icelandic ones, perhaps because of the overlying glaciers, are much more explosive, tossing a lot more particulates into the air. As a result, the bankruptcy in Iceland might well turn out to be contagious if E is joined by K (no, not Kilauea, but Katla, and sure, why not add Laki, plus Edlgja), and continues belching. Thus, the European Union can add to the PIGS list yet another economic thorn. Worse, if prolonged, the health of citizens could be affected. So learn how to pronounce EYJAFJALLAJOKULL, for like in Hawaii, this natural disaster could well hang around for some time to come.

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