Dec. 19, 2000 While a giant asteroid may have wiped out the dinosaurs, modern Earth is at much greater risk from a threat closer to home, said volcanologists this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. “On any given day there are probably 25 volcanoes erupting around the world,” says William Rose, a professor of geological engineering and sciences at Michigan Technological University. Rose says volcanoes pose a bigger threat than asteroids for people around the world, “there are volcanic crises every day, there are not meteorite crises every day.”
Rose, who presented new research at the meeting, says people need to be more aware that they are living near active volcanic systems. Rose points out that in addition to volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, places like Yellowstone, Valles Caldera in New Mexico, and Long Valley Caldera in California are still active systems that could pose a threat at some point in the future. “A volcano is like an animal that sleeps almost all the time,” says Rose, “but it’s still alive.”
And just as planetary scientists are working on ways to predict and mitigate the threat of asteroid impacts, Rose and other geophysicists are working to determine what kinds of risks volcanoes pose. In order to predict future activity, scientists study past eruptions, try to date them, and look for patterns that can tell them how long some of these volcanoes sleep. Rose hopes that eventually geophysicists will be able to predict the likelihood of activity, “we hope that we can see much longer into the future.” Rose says eventually that prediction time could be measured in years. “We are trying,” Rose says, “to convert risk from a vague concept into a meaningful number.”
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