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Posts Tagged ‘Tsunami’

Comparing Volcanic Eruptions

Disruptive as it’s been to international aviation, the Icelandic volcano is just a piker.  The ash has been up at around 30,000 to 40,000 feet- right where commercial jets fly.   The ash would have to reach much higher into the atmosphere to actually have an effect on the earth’s climate and much lower to the ground to impact people’s health.

The greatest volcanic eruption of modern times occurred on August 27th, 1883 on the Pacific island of Krakatoa.   It was a monster.  After years of ocean quakes near the island and with tremblers and minor volcanic activity just a few weeks before, the mountain on Krakatoa finally erupted on that August day with four powerful blasts, the last one, a colossal explosion that emitted possibly the loudest sound that’s been heard on the planet Earth over the last 127 years.

Krakatoa Image- Discovery

For sailors unfortunate enough to have been on ships within a few miles of Krakatoa, many suffered broken ear drums.  The sound of the mighty explosion was heard on the British Island of Diego Garcia in an entirely other ocean (Indian), 2000 miles away. 

It also unleashed tsunamis, gigantic 120-foot waves that killed an estimated 36,000 people on nearby islands.

And there was lots of gruesome floating debris.  Pumice, chunks of solid lava, came down from the sky and landed in the ocean and on the decks of ships.  Some of the pumice, light enough to float atop the water, eventually made its way to east Africa, embedded with the skeletons of animals and humans.

The sheer amount of ash dispersed into the atmosphere created cooler summers for years.  It’s estimated there was a loss of 20-30% of direct solar radiation. 

The Krakotoa blast also created memorable sky conditions.  Accounts in Atlantic Monthly magazine from 1884 reported sea captains seeing green sunrises.  Sunsets around the world turned a vivid red for as much as three years after the Krakatoa eruption. 

Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines created similar climactic and visual effects in 1991.  Residents of the Philippines along with U.S. military personnel at American bases there were doubly ill-fated, for shortly after the Pinatubo eruption, a hurricane hit turning the falling ash into wind-swept balls of a mud-like substance that rained from the skies.

So the Iceland volcano has certainly made history for its impact on air travel for so many days.   But it comes nowhere close to Pinatubo and is not even in the same universe as Krakatoa.

Tsunamis, Rockets and Earth-rises

There are moments when you realize how small and interrelated the world is. Saturday morning was one such moment when the Tsunami warning maps were posted and one-fourth of the planet turned up as a potential target for the ripple effect of Chile’s gigantic earthquake.

From Point 1 (Chile) to Point 2 (Japan) on the map above, is 10,000 miles. Granted, the waves were negligible and thank God for that, but I still find it amazing a seismic event that occurred in Latin America could impact Asia. It certainly did on May 22nd, 1960 when the largest earthquake measured in modern history, a 9.5 also centered in Chile, killed 140 people in Japan due to the tsunami that was generated then. Despite the vast distances, it really is a small world.

The last time I felt the closeness of distant places was October 29th, 1998 when STS-95 lifted off from Cape Canaveral with 77-year-old U.S. Senator and former astronaut, John Glenn aboard. It was my first and only in-person shuttle launch. What struck me then, besides the impact of the roar of the rocket that reverberated in my chest some three miles away from the launch pad, was how fast the shuttle was over Africa, just minutes after launch. Africa becomes one of the official emergency landing locations about 25 minutes into the mission after the craft can no longer make it back to Florida. I’d never put those two locations in my mind at once before- Florida and Africa.

The whole world experienced a small earth moment on Christmas Eve, 1968, when the crew of Apollo 8 broadcast the famous image of Earth Rise as the blue planet rose over the barren landscape of the moon.

Our concerns and our very existence seem parochial at times- so local and so small. To me, moments like global tsunami alerts, fast-flying space rockets and earth seen from the moon underscore not just the relative closeness of vast distances but also the temporary nature of humankind. On the cosmic scale, we just got here and won’t be here long. It’s rather humbling.