The Earth is typically this busy.
A seeming barrage of volcanoes have erupted across the world this past week. Scenes hitting the news of a volcano in Mexico billowing smoke and ash, another in Italy spewing lava, an undersea volcano dredging up a whole new island in Japan, and a town in Iceland dramatically evacuated as steam hisses through cracks opened in the Earth, warning of an imminent eruption.
Taken together, it may seem rather apocalyptic, and some have speculated on social media that the volcanic activity is unusually high, as if hinting at some sort of geological conspiracy. But according to experts, there's nothing to be alarmed about; these levels of volcanism are pretty much par for the course.
"This is totally normal," said Janine Krippner, a physical volcanologist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, on X-formerly-Twitter.
There are 46 volcanoes in "continuing eruption" as of 11 October 2023, according to the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program, which means they are intermittently erupting at least every three months (and some, like the volcano in Mexico, have been erupting since 2005). The typical amount is between 40-50, with about 20 erupting on any given day.
Christopher Kilburn, a professor of volcanology and geophysical hazards at University College London, agrees it's not at all unusual for a dozen volcanoes to be erupting simultaneously.
"However, there may be an unusual increase in the number of reports that circulate in the media, especially if a volcano is near a populated area or when dramatic video is available showing an eruption in progress," Kilburn told Newsweek.
Jenni Barclay of the University of East Anglia was a little more blunt. "This is very much an instance of people noticing volcanoes erupting more than usual," she told the magazine.
To that end, the evacuation of the small Icelandic town Grandavik this week has provided plenty of spectacle. Footage shared in the news and online show the town's roads cleaved asunder from volcanic activity, and footage of its 3,500 or so residents hurriedly retrieving their belongings from their homes. Authorities fear a high likelihood of an eruption, though exactly when is unclear.
It's unsettling, to be sure, but Iceland — and Grandavik's region in particular — is a hotbed of volcanic activity, so this is hardly unprecedented for the Nordic nation.
Edward Llewellin, a volcanologist at Durham University in England, told Newsweek that Iceland's headline-making eruptions in the recent past, such as when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull blew its top in 2010 and significantly disrupted air travel, has led to "elevated interest" in the nation's volcanism, which is why the current activity near Grandavik "is making the news even though there is no eruption, yet."
In sum, it's good that more people are warming up to volcanism — but let's not blow anything out of proportion.
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