Volcanism: Of danger, death and life

The eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcanic chain on La Palma made headlines in 2021. © Sander Meertins/iStock

Targeting planetary hot-bloodedness: bild der wissenschaft reports on the exciting aspects of volcanism on earth in the August issue. The ambivalent role of the fiery potential becomes clear: On the one hand, it is about assessing the dangers of the awakening of "silent killers" - such as in the Eifel - as well as the global effects of large eruptions. On the other hand, it is also about the life-friendly developments that volcanic eruptions can also lead to.

The home of life almost seems alive itself: the "body" of the earth is warm, dynamic and molten rock flows like blood within it. This has shaped the development of our world to this day: the hot force of the deep drives plate tectonics and thus determines the development of the earth's surface. While many processes, such as mountain folding, take place slowly, there are also sudden effects of geological dynamics: in addition to earthquakes, our hot-blooded planet also has volcanic eruptions.

In the first article of the three-part title story, bdw author Klaus Jacob focuses on a prominent volcanic area in Germany: the Eifel. There a "hot monster" slumbers underground, which last raged about 13,000 years ago. It is currently being investigated in which "sleep phase" it is currently, because in the depths of the Eifel it is not as quiet as it seems. The author explains how geophysicists use various measurement methods to explore the extent to which a new eruption could be feared. Weak earthquakes, but also CO2-rich sources and uplifts on the earth's surface provide important information, Jacob reports in the article "Signals from the depths".

Curse and blessing

Then it's about a hellish inferno that raged in 2022: A volcano in the Pacific Ring of Fire had exploded in the middle of the island nation of Tonga. The bdw author Thorsten Dambeck reports on the latest findings on this violent eruption, which is estimated to have reached the strength of around 1000 Hiroshima bombs. This led to enormous shock waves and piled up tsunamis of up to 45 meters in height. The example also made it clear how large volcanic eruptions can also have far-reaching effects on our planet: Among other things, large amounts of water vapor got into the stratosphere, which could now play a role in ozone depletion over the South Pole, reports Dambeck in the article "Shockwaves from the South Seas “.

From the deadly and problematic aspects, bdw author Bettina Wurche then focuses on the life-friendly potential of volcanism. Biodiversity in areas shaped by the seething embers is often astounding—on islands, on land, and under water. Researchers are getting to the bottom of this phenomenon in the Caldera de Taburiente National Park on the Canary Island of La Palma. A number of factors are emerging that have to do with the life-giving effects of volcanoes. For example, the fire mountains can offer different ecosystems with different temperature, humidity and radiation conditions in a small space. In addition, special nutrients are often available there - this also applies to living environments under water, reports Wurche in the article "Oases of Life".

You can read the articles on the title topic "Life on the volcano" online as part of a bdw+ subscription, or you can find them in the August issue of bild der wissenschaft, which will be available in stores from July 18th.

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