Volcanoes, and the unexpected benefits of their eruptions....

By Jamie Lutton.

On May 18, 1980, I was was living in top floor of a tall apartment unit in student housing on the Western Washington campus.  I heard a sound that was like dynamite going off in a movie, precisely, the same kind of contained explosive deep roar. I peered out the window, then rushed out into the hallway, along with others, in a frantic state. I  then called the campus operator, who had heard other reports, who thought it was some explosion on campus, but she did not know where. We had no answer given us, were quite puzzled till much later in the day, when we heard that St. Helen's had blown, and we put two and two together.

If I close my eyes, I can still hear the explosion. That volcano was over 150 miles south of us, and the concussion and sound passed over the hills, so that we, at the top of this apartment, heard the explosion, while people on the ground, frequently did not. That was the day that I became interested in volcanoes.

I have probably read ten or twenty books about them, including specialty books about the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest.  The best book I have read yet I just discovered a few months ago.  It is Volcanoes by Robert Decker and Barbara Decker, the 1999 third edition. This is a very cheap online, say $5 to $8 dollars,. if you get the third edition, and not the fourth. The fourth is over $50 on line, but can't have any particular virtues that the $5 edition does not have for the casual reader. The science of volcanoes cannot have advanced so much as to justify the extra expense.

These two writers are passionate about volcanoes, and both teach and entertain in this volume. If you have even an inkling of knowledge of geology,  this book can be tackled without much prior knowledge. They are the Steven Jay Gould's of volcano writing.  I read this book cover to cover twice; could not put it down.  I can say that this book, and no other, should be read for a deep understanding of world volcanoes, and the present state of knowledge about them, and their various types around the world. The difference in price mainly reflects the economics of the textbook business.

One little fact that  I  picked up from Volcanoes was that we have not had any super volcano eruptions in the last 50 years; and that this was one reason why the world temperature had climbed a few degrees. This book was published well before the real scare over global warming had started.


I ended up reading Volcanoes just before I read Superfreakeconomics, by Levitt and Dubner, a much more popular and flip (though good)  piece of casual science and economic writing.

There was an article where the authors report that some scientists and tinkerers locally here in the Bellevue area are trying to develop a method to slow global warming. The scientists were trying to imitate what large volcano eruptions do to the Earth's atmosphere.

They suggest that a small amount of sulfur dioxide should be put in the upper atmosphere to bring the temperature of the Earth down, and thus slow down global warming.. The method  to get the gas into the upper atmosphere seemed cheap, safe. And it would be  easier to accomplish politically than any other suggestion out there that I have heard of yet, to tackle global warming that world governments would agree to, now.

And completely 'natural' to Earth's ecosystem.

The premise seems outrageous; unless you had read the Volcanoes book, and had a reasonable understanding of what  big volcanoes really do to the world atmosphere when they erupt .

I tried to get a few people to read the study in Superfreakeconomics, to see what they thought of it, but the very idea of imitating a volcano was too much for people. No one would read the article.

But I 'got it', because I read the other book.  The author also covered a study where the same scientists had come up with a way to prevent hurricanes from forming in the open sea.    Both ideas seemed workable and practical to me, with as much knowledge of science as I have.  I invite anyone who reads this blog to pick up Superfreakeconomics, and check it out.

The methods these scientists came up with to solve both problems are so outrageous, yet simple and reasonable, that I would butcher them here by trying to explain them myself (and possibly go on far too long).  I will be coy here, and insist you read the book yourself.   

The world has an emergency as far as global warming goes; all solutions that are cheap, easy and politically neutral should be considered, right now.

As the yuppies used to say, think outside of the box.