Could a volcano near you be erupting soon?

05/09/2013 20:15

We're not trying to get all Doomsday on you, but when a volcano stirs, it's natural to get a little on edge.

Just ask the 25 million people that live at the base of Mexico's active "Popo" volcano, Popocatépetl, which has erupted within the last 24 hours.

Which lead us to the next natural question: what other disasters are slumbering beneath our feet?

More from GlobalPost: Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano has erupted

1. Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle volcano, Chile

Mexico is hardly the only country that has to deal with looming volcanic eruptions.

Chile is home to a massive volcano complex (AKA, what scientists call a group of volcanoes) made up of the Cordillera Nevada caldera, the Pliocene Mencheca volcano, Cordón Caulle fissure vents, and the Puyehue stratovolcano.

In June 2011, the Puyehue volcano spouted ash columns that reached about 12,000 feet, prompting the evacuation of 3,500 people from the surrounding area. 

As one of the most volcanic countries in the world, with more than 3,000 volcanoes and 80 active ones, the Chileans might almost be used to it by now.

...It also makes for some pretty epic photographs.

2. Motutapu Island earthquakes, Auckland

Aucklanders got a rude awakening last month when Motutapu Island was shaken up by not one, but two tremors — this, in a place that almost never gets earthquakes.

"To feel an earthquake in Auckland can, in fact, be a once in a lifetime thing," wrote Weather Watch of the March 17 quakes. 

The 3.9 and 3.7 quakes were next to the Rangitoto volcano, and witnesses reported smoke rising from the volcanic island, which has long been considered dormant — the last eruption was 600-some years ago.

Research by the University of Auckland has cast further doubt on the traditional scientific beliefs about volcanic activity: in light of Rangitoto's recent flare-up, they found that the volcano actually erupted "semi-continuously" from about 1,500 years to 500 years ago.

"The old paradigm was that these volcanoes erupt suddenly in a new location each time, and only live for months to a year or two," lead researcher Associate Professor Phil Shane told the New Zealand Herald. "This needs to be revisited in light of the new Rangitoto history of activity."


3. Sinkholes, Florida

Florida's sinkhole problem made global headlines in February when a sinkhole in Seffner, near Tampa, swallowed up part of a home and with it, Jeff Bush — the state's fourth sinkhole victim.

However, Florida's surface is riddled with the porous bedrock known as karst: it is home to about 70,000 possible sinkholes.

"About anywhere you live in Florida, there is potential for a sinkhole to occur," said state geologist John Arthur, an expert on sinkholes, told CBS News.

Oh, good.

Though the state knows where most of the sinkholes are located and has some strategies to mitigate the damage they cause, it's difficult to know which one will collapse next or how big they'll be.

"You might get an early warning," sinkhole expert Lewis Land told NPR. "You might see some, say, concentric fractures forming in the ground. But in some cases, it just happens without much warning at all. ...In some cases, you just don't know until it happens."

These geological abnormalities exist across the United States as well as in countries like China, Brazil and Guatemala, so ... that's not too comforting.

4. North Anatolian Fault, Turkey

Istanbul doesn't immediately spring to mind as a ring-of-fire-esque disaster hotspot, but it may very well be.

The city is close to the North Anatolian fault, a 600-kilometer earthquake zone that runs through Turkey from east to west. The intersection of Arabian and the Eurasian plates has caulsed some devastating quakes, most recently in October 2011 in Ercis, which killed more than 600 people.

One of the region's worst quakes of all time was a 7.6 magnitude tremor in August 1999 in Izmit — just 200 miles east of Istanbul — which left 17,000 people dead.

Worse still, scientists believe the seismic pressure has traveled west along the fault, putting Istanbul in prime location for a major earthquake.

5. Katla volcano, Iceland

Named after an evil troll, Katla volcano is one of Iceland's biggest, topping off at 4,961 feet. It's also a close neighbor of Eyjafjallajokull, that anoyingly complicated name that echoed around the world in 2010 after its spewing ash ground air travel to a halt in Europe for weeks.

Even worse, Katla is long overdue for an eruption, scientists say: the last major one was October 1918.

"The possibility that it may include a larger eruption cannot be excluded," Professor Pall Einarsson, a volcano expert at the Iceland University Institute of Earth Sciences, told BBC News. "Katla is a very active and versatile volcano. It has a long history of large eruptions, some of which have caused considerable damage."

European travelers, you may want to book your back-up train tickets now.  GlobalPost


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