In April 2015 we counted 200 years since the explosion of the Tambora volcano, the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history. It isn’t something you’re going to find easily in our media, but just like many volcanologists out there, you need to wonder: “will we face a similar volcanic eruption in our lifetime?” Unfortunately the news are not good and it seems that nobody wants to discuss about what lies beneath the ground…
The temperature is unbearable and you sweat through every pore. Everything is black. You cannot even see your hand in front of your eyes. The worst part is that ash is everywhere and it covers you so fast that it blocks every opening. You are trying desperately to breathe hot air, but viscous ash mixed with saliva in the mouth acts as a barrier. It is suffocating you. It gets hotter and hotter as minutes go by. Each heat wave attacks you, burning the skin throughout the body and bringing you unimaginable agony. The last act is to open your mouth to scream, but no sound would come out. Instead of screaming, you inhale overheated gases that destroy your trachea and lungs.
Death brought by a volcano is far from pleasant. It is what 12,000 residents of the Indonesian island of Sumbawa learned 200 years ago. In April 1815 the Tambora volcano, located on the island was part of the largest known eruption in history. But what happened in the weeks and months following the massive volcanic eruption was much more worse. It affected the entire planet with a devastating outcome.
In many ways the people that succumbed in the ash and burning gas floods were the lucky ones. In the months following the massive volcanic eruption five times more people lost their life, due to hunger and diseases. And, that was not all, the huge volume of sulfuric gases injected into the stratosphere caused a climatic chaos on the other side of the planet.
In the spring of 1812 the first sounds of the volcano were heard, sounds which made people worry. The sounds were followed by small explosions of steam and ash.
The first massive volcanic eruption took place on April 5th 1815. The sounds of the explosion were so powerful that it reached Java. It sparked rumors of battles and invasions and many people decided to leave Java.
After only five days, a second massive volcanic eruption launches the peak phase of the eruption that removes approximately 1,640 ft from the top of the volcano. Pyroclastic flows destroyed the communities. According to the historic writings, the eruption lasted for five days. A huge column, 147,637 ft high, reached to the edge of space. Storms of hot gases burned everything around the volcano, destroying all life forms. A tsunami triggered by the large volumes of ash and debris that hit the water reached the surrounding coasts.
Related reading: The Eight Principles of Emergency Evacuation
In July 1815 the volcanic bursts end leaving a hole with a diameter of 3.7 miles. More than 12,000 people died and a scorched landscape is buried under tons of ash.
The following months are hell for the survivors whose homes and crops were destroyed by the hot ash. Disease and hunger were widespread, causing another 60,000 deaths. Huge pieces of brimstone some with an impressive size of 3 miles covered the surrounding waters. Naval transport was blocked for three years after the eruption.
While the statistics of the Tambora massive volcanic eruption are impressive, the event is best known for the climatic impact it had. The huge volumes of ash from the atmosphere settled a few weeks after the eruption. The 200 million tons of sulfate particles injected into the lower atmosphere have remained there for longer forming a wave of aerosols that covered the entire planet.
The Great Cooling
The wave of aerosols caused by the massive volcanic eruption proved very efficient in blocking the sunlight and causing a drop in temperature. It caused a strange cooling in the northern hemisphere, marked in the historic writing as the year without summer. The year 1816 brought snow in New York in June and unprecedented frosts during summer. This anomaly caused the destruction of crops in eastern states. In Europe the summer was the second most cold from the last six centuries. Most of the crops were destroyed. The riots, the hunger and the famine that followed were described as marking the last big subsistence crisis from the west world, causing to 44,000 deaths in Ireland.
What comes next?
Now, 200 years after, we wait for the next massive volcanic eruption. It seems that volcanic events of such magnitude seems to happen, on average, two-three times in each millennium. The probability of another massive volcanic eruption to happen in the next 50 years is of 10% or even more. If more money would be allocated to study the current volcanoes that are a real threat, maybe we will have a warning before the next massive volcanic eruption happens. If the warning comes in time, it will give us a chance to plan our actions. Seeing that many volcanoes are swelling in certain regions, the scene could be already set for the next “big eruption”.
The unknown culprits which can cause a massive volcanic eruption
There are more than 1,300 active volcanoes around the world. Only a small part of these volcanoes are monitored (makes you think, doesn’t it?). However, there are scientists that are following closely a number of volcanoes that, they think are the biggest threat for humanity. Here is the list with the three most dangerous ones that can cause a massive volcanic eruption. This is the type of information that you won’t find in the media:
The Paektu volcano
This is an active volcano on the border between North Korea and China. At 9,003 feet, it is the highest mountain of the Korean Peninsula and in northeastern China. You might not now know this, but the government of North Korea, concerned with the recent activity of the volcano, invited many volcanologists to study the mountain. Since 2014 two famous geophysical scientists (James Hammond and Clive Oppenheimer) are studying the volcano. Their work is expected to last for three years. The report will be presented to Kim Jong-un and based on its results. It’s expected that the North Korean leader will take action for the “well-being” of his people in case of a massive volcanic eruption. It doesn’t take much to realize how serious the situation is if North Korea is asking for help from outsiders.
The Uturunku volcano
If you’ve traveled to Bolivia, chances are you’ve heard of Uturunku, the highest summit in southwestern Bolivia. Here is something the media isn’t telling us: researches marked in 2015 the Critically Index of this Potent SuperVolcano are VI6 to 8. The Uplift measures suggest a Magma Chamber equal size to Yellowstone. There are clusters of active fumarole near the summit. This means the volcano is awake and angry, and it may cause a massive volcanic eruption sooner than we expect. To top it all, the land surrounding the volcano, approximately 44 miles across has been rising at 1 to 2 cm per year since the early 1990s, talking about a time bomb…
The Laguna del Maule volcanic complex
Unfortunately this is not a single volcano. It is a caldera measuring 9 miles by 15 miles over which sit several stratovolcanoes, lava domes and pyroclastic cones. This volcanic complex is located in Chile. The area under and around Laguna del Maule has recently exhibited a significant uplift. Field investigations and analyses have determined that a large body of molten rock is accumulating beneath the surface, signifying a potentially massive volcanic eruption sometime in the near future.
I would like to be able and tell you that these are made up facts and these volcanoes do not exist, but the reality is something different. You won’t find this type of information in our media, but you can do a little research and find out on your own about how real this threat is and how a massive volcanic eruption can occur in our lifetime.
What should we do?
Since we already know enough about what a massive eruption can cause and about the disastrous impact it will have on the climate, will we be ready or it will catch us off guard? The chances are, most people will be caught off-guard and it wouldn’t be the first time. After all, we were caught totally off-guard by the relative minor eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano from Iceland, in 2010, which caused chaos in air traffic in Europe. It is certain that when it comes to volcanic eruptions we have a short memory and it is better to not forget the lesson Tambora left in history.
You can prepare for a massive volcanic eruption. It requires more or less the same emergency preparedness as for any other disaster:
If you live near a volcano you’re quite unlucky and you should have an exit strategy, regardless the country you live in. If your government cares even a little bit about its people, they should have a monitoring program for all the active volcanoes in the country. Chances are you will have a fair warning before a massive eruption and you need to be ready. You won’t be able to carry everything with you and your first concern should be to get out alive.
Having a bug out ready for every family member should be a must. Having an escape route planned is something you should have done yesterday. You need to evacuate and you need to stay alive during that time. You have to consider and make use of all the chances you’ve got, bugging out by air or water are the only options in case you live on an island, so make sure you have access to these options in case a massive volcanic eruption will happen.
Food and water
If you live on the other side of the planet and you have never seen a volcano you’re in luck. However, chances are you have a spot reserved for the “after-party” just like the rest of the world. A massive volcanic eruption will cause a disruption in the supply chain and it will destroy crops due to temperature drops. I’m not going to stress this again, but you need to have food or water. You also have to make sure you have options for when the supplies run out. You could put up in place you own solution for producing food and become self-sufficient just as shown in this video.
I guarantee that if news channels broadcast a warning message about a massive volcanic eruption right now, the next thing that happens will be mass chaos. Stores will get looted, people will protest and everyone will throw a punch at you if you have something of value. You will have to protect yourself and your loved ones at any cost. Guarding your supplies will be your second duty and it’s better to get help. Your friends and family and even your neighbors could give a helping hand if things go south. Having a few reliable firearms and enough ammo should help you ride it out.
Watch the world, adapt and improvise
Since we didn’t face anything like Tambora in modern times, it is difficult to predict how events will unfold during a massive volcanic eruption. However, one thing is certain, you will need to keep an eye on the world and change with it. This means that you need information and you have to make sure it reaches you. Your best chance to stay up-to-date with the changing world would be a HAM radio, if all other communication sources fail. Once you know what’s going on out there, you’ll be able to adapt to the new scenario.
You will probably make use of your survival skills in ways you never thought of. In a disaster scenario like a massive volcanic eruption only the ones who can adapt will survive. You will have to improvise with what you’ve stored and with what you can find. Here is where knowledge plays a huge role and you will be tested. Learn, learn and learn some more!
Some of you may think that something like a massive volcanic eruption can’t hit us, while others know differently and search for additional information on how to get prepared. The truth is that there are people out there much more prepared and entitled than I am when it comes to predicting scenarios like the one described in this article. If you are interested in facts and if you want to know more about this, I recommend reading the following book: “Waking the Giant” by Bill McGuire (Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at UCL).
Stay Safe and God Bless!
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