Volcanic Eruption - Consequences of Continental Drift

Plate tectonics theory states that the outer shell of the Earth is separated into several plates that slide across the mantle, the rocky surface above the core. Similar to the mantle of the Earth, the plates serve as a solid and strong shield.The plate tectonic theory was originally coined when the phenomenon of seafloor spreading was observed. Scientists acknowledged that the spreading of seafloors and moving of continents had to be due to an unknown mechanism. The researchers investigated the concepts of the plate tectonics, continental drift and seafloor spreading. Convection currents are currents that pass energy from one position to another through a fluid's mass movement such as liquid, wind and molten rock. Convection currents are responsible for moving the tectonic plates. Continental drift is a hypothesis put forth in 1912 by geophysicist and meteorologist, Alfred Wegener, which demonstrates how continents drift apart on the surface of the Earth. Continental drift occurs due to convection currents. Volcanoes are formed when magma works its way to the surface of the Earth from within the upper mantle. The magma erupts on the surface to create lava flows or clouds of ash. The amount of magma increases greatly as the volcano continues to erupt.

The mantle melts and produces magma; this process is caused by subducting plates. Melting may happen as tectonic plates fall apart or once one plate is forced under another. As molten rock or magma rise up to the surface, volcanoes erupt. Rising magma caused earthquake fractures and breaks in the surrounding rocks. This phenomenon is mostly present in naturally occurring hotspots such as the one under Kilauea. The Kilauea volcano is a mid-plate volcano and part of a hotspot chain that is a long line of volcanoes indicating where the plate rises above the slow-moving hotspot's tip. Kilauea's eruption is powered by the buoyant upwelling of a warm mantle plume, which supplies the energy under the volcano to produce magma. This magma had the potential to erupt from the volcano in various directions due to strong winds.

The 2010 volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull was an event that led to the devastating economic disruption, particularly in the travel and tourism industries, of Iceland. Strong winds advocated southern and south-eastern ash, resulting in widespread air traffic disruptions. Due to the plume of volcanic ash ejected over several kilometres, inbound and outbound flights across Europe were delayed and cancelled. Figure 3 is an instance of the volcanic ash plumes. Such an unprecedented occurrence stranded many business people, travellers and residents. Industrial production was impaired because it was not possible to fly in raw materials. Estimates ran as high as 100,000 cancelled flights, with the airline industry suffering the worst economic disaster. The volcanic eruption lasted about 6 days with a death toll of zero. The eruption of the Mount Kilauea volcano in Indonesia in 2018 triggered significant destruction of the climate. Mount Kilauea created ash nests, lahars, heavy ash and pyroclastic flood deposits. Sulphur dioxide, a colourless gas that can affect human health and cool Earth's climate, was also emitted by the eruption. Figure 4 illustrates that dumping sulphur dioxide into the air induces rain, which gradually causes marine sulphate and decomposition over time. While both natural disasters have had many adverse environmental effects, there has been one positive outcome, which is biodiversity growth. Heat and nutrients are transported from the dust to the ground owing to volcanic ash, which increased biodiversity over time.

These catastrophic events have significant financial, environmental and social effects. Kilauea flooded the region 10 times the size of New York's Central Park over the next three months after the eruption, damaging more than 700 houses, including 200 families, and displacing 3,000 residents. The economic loss to homeowners amounted to almost $300 million, with another $236 million in damage to highways, rivers and public parks. The Eyjafjallajökull event did not leave much physical damage compared to the eruption of Mount Kilauea, although there was evidence of groundwater contamination due to flooding. However, airlines had a loss expense of $1.7 billion.


Therefore, in contrast with the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the 2018 Mount Kilauea volcanic event caused more damaging and disruptive results. While both events had similar causes one of them is continental drift, the eruption of Mount Kilauea surpassed the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in terms of lives lost with a death toll of 69 people. There have also been economic, environmental and social consequences. 

07 July 2022
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