Quirks & Quarks

Big Ash Volcano

Volcanic ash from an Alaskan eruption is found in Europe, suggesting large eruptions may be worse than we thought....
Co-author Duane Froese exploring trees buried by the White River Ash.

Volcanic ash from an Alaskan eruption is found in Europe, suggesting large eruptions may be worse than we thought.While eruptions like Mount Pinatubo, Eyjafjallajökull, and the currently erupting Mount Ontake in Japan can be deadly and destructive, they're really not very large by historical standards - not even as large as the kind of eruption we could expect every 100 years. That means that in the modern era, we have no good idea how disruptive a larger volcano can be. But new work from Canadian geologist Dr. Britta Jensen, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen's University Belfast, and her colleagues, suggests that it's likely worse than we thought. They've found layers of volcanic ash from an Alaskan volcano that erupted 1150 years ago as far away as northern Europe. That volcano was ten times as powerful as Pinatubo, but is the kind of eruption that historically occurs about every century. Dr. Jensen suggests that, if volcanic ash can travel as far as she's found, an eruption today would have a catastrophic impact on global transportation systems.

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