The world is now very familiar with volcanic eruptions. These incredible events are what formed the topography of much of the world today. While they are often the basis for some incredible science fiction movies, reality can be stranger than fiction. One thing that no science fiction movie has ever shown is the incredible volcanic freeze that can take place when a volcano erupts. Read closely, Ridley Scott.
Volcanos are an incredible part of our world. While to some of us they are only seen on TV, to others they are part of life. In Auckland, New Zealand the city sits atop 53 volcanoes. While these volcanoes have not erupted for some time the volcanic field they are on is still young and active. Meaning that we could see a volcanic eruption in Auckland at some point in our lifetime, a city that is home to 1.5 million people.
While that may sound like a lot, Indonesia has it beat. Indonesia is estimated to have the most volcanoes of any country in the world with the most recent records indicating at least 141 volcanoes. 76 of these volcanoes have erupted 1,171 times and are a constant concern for the people who reside there.
In 2018, the Anak Krakatoa volcano erupted. It was such a massive eruption that it resulted in a tsunami that killed more than 400 people along the coastline of two popular islands. The volcano wreaked havoc for many days after. As the magma that erupted from the volcano came in contact with the water from the ocean it caused a gigantic cloud to manifest. The cloud was full of ash and steam and was estimated to be around 17km high.
When researchers studied the massive cloud they were surprised to find ice. As the large amounts of water were being thrust into the high altitudes of the atmosphere they were in contact with incredibly cold temperatures. The temperatures were close to -80 degrees Celsius and turned the water to ice. The strange conditions caused a storm to occur. Researchers estimated that the volcanic storm resulted in over 70 flashes of lightning every minute!
This incredible phenomenon caused 10 million tons of ice to form. Even John Cusack would struggle to outrun that. Scientists explained that the unique circumstances of water vapor being driven into the air by the volcanic eruption caused an icy cloud to form. This created atmospheric instability that led to the incredibly high number of lightning strikes. The storm lasted about one week and in that time it was estimated that there were 100,000 lightning strikes in the area.
While this will likely serve as inspiration for Michael Bay’s next film, it could also help in the field of aviation. The evidence found shows how dangerous it is to come in contact with the volcanic clouds after an eruption. While it may have appeared obvious that they should be avoided many would have thought they just contained standard vapor and cloud particles. This research shows that the clouds from a volcanic eruption are incredible beasts that should be avoided for long periods of time.
The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 3,000. Something tells me that if you live near a volcano those odds are much higher. The incredible tragedy that took place in December 2018 marks as a warning for all future eruptions that may take place. While Ridley Scott may not be aware of the research, it has been shared with leading aviation researchers to ensure that the learnings are included in all future pilot training.