March 30, 2018


April 26, 2010


Begin Excerpt from the UK Guardian via World News

Iceland volcano: why we were lucky we weren’t wiped out

by Simon Winchester

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The map is almost uncannily similar to today’s: a spray of black dots showing the recorded sightings of a foul grey haze spreading across Europe, from Helsinki to Naples, from Heligoland to Mallorca, and reaching eventually to Aleppo and Damascus – and all of it caused by clouds of ash from an immense volcano erupting far across the sea in Iceland.

But this was a map made from data collected in 1783. The volcano was called Laki, it erupted for eight dismal months without cease, ruined crops, lowered temperatures and drastically altered the weather. It killed 9,000 people, drenched the European forests in acid rain, caused skin lesions in children and the deaths of millions of cattle. And, by one account, it was a contributing factor (because of the hunger-inducing famines) to the outbreak six years later of the French revolution.

Great volcanoes have a habit of prompting profound changes to the world – very much greater in extent than the most savage of earthquakes and tsunamis, even though the immediate lethality of the latter is invariably much more cruel. Though ground-shaking events are generally fairly local in extent, their potential for killing can be terrific: 250,000 died after the Tangshan earthquake in China in 1975; and a similar number died in the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004. Volcanoes seem by contrast relatively benign: the accumulated total number of deaths in all of the great volcanoes of the last 300 years has probably not exceeded a quarter of a million: the total number of casualties from a hundred of the biggest recent eruptions has been no more than those from a single giant earthquake.

But there is a signal difference. Earthquakes and their aftershocks, once done, are done. Volcanoes, however, often trigger long-term and long-distance ill-effects, which history indicates generally far outweigh their immediate rain of death and destruction. Emanations of particles from the tiniest pinprick in the earth’s crust, once lifted high into the skies by an explosive eruption, can wind themselves sinuously and menacingly around the entire planet, and leave all kinds of devastation in their train. They can disrupt and pollute and poison; they can darken skies and cause devastating changes in the weather; they can and do bring about the abrupt end to the existence of entire populations of animals and people.

Earthquakes and tsunamis have never been known to cause extinctions; but volcanoes and asteroid collisions have done so repeatedly – and since the earth is today still peppered with scores of thousands of volcanoes ever yearning to erupt, they and the dramatic long-term effects of their eruptions are in fact far more frequent, far more decisive, and far greater than those that are triggered by any other natural phenomenon on the planet.

It is worth remembering that ours is a world essentially made from and by volcanoes. They are creatures that will continue to do their business over the aeons, quite careless of the fate of the myriad varieties of life that teems beneath them and on their flanks. Including, of course, ours.

There is perhaps no better recent example of the havoc that a big eruption can cause than that which followed the explosive destruction of Mt Toba, in northern Sumatra, some 72,000 years ago (which, in geological time, is very recent indeed). The relics of this mountain today are no more than a very large and beautiful lake, 60 miles long and half a mile deep – the caldera that was left behind by what is by most reckonings the largest volcanic explosion known to have occurred on the planet in the last 25 million years.

On the widely used volcanic explosivity index (VEI), Toba is thought to have been an eight – meaning that in the unusually flamboyant official language of vulcanology it was a super-plinian type eruption with mega-colossal characteristics (Eyjafjallajökull is by contrast listed as a strombolian type, with its characteristic regarded as merely gentle, and having a probable VEI rating of just two).

About 680 cubic miles of rock were instantly vaporized by the super-eruptive blast of Toba, all of which was hurled scores of thousands of feet into the air. This this is what did the lasting damage, just as Iceland’s high-altitude rock-dust is doing today. But while we today are merely suffering a large number of inconvenienced people and a weakening of the balance sheets of some airlines, the effect on the post-Toban world was catastrophic: as a result of the thick ash clouds the world’s ambient temperature plummeted, perhaps by as much as 5C – and the cooling and the howling wave of deforestation and deaths of billions of animals and plants caused a sudden culling of the human population of the time, reducing it to maybe as few as 5,000 people, perhaps 1,000 breeding pairs. Many anthropologists believe that the event caused a sudden evolutionary bottleneck, with genetic implications that linger to this day. Put more crudely, humanity was nearly wiped out by Toba, and only by the merest hair’s-breadth did our ancestors of 72,000 years ago manage to cling on and bequeath to us our current existence.

Mercifully, from humanity’s point of view, there have been very few Tobas known in planetary history. They are probably so large that they reach the upper limit of the kind of eruptions that can physically occur on earth – one VEI-8 event occurs only every 100,000 years or so. Yet of those known to have occurred, two have taken place in Britain (mainly because Britain has such a vast variety of geology, with almost every age of rock known in the world found somewhere between Cape Wrath and the Port of Dover). They are comfortingly ancient: both – the volcano that created Scafell in the Lake District, and the other that gave us Glen Coe in the Western Highlands – took place more than 400 million years ago.

But others of the 47 known VEI-8 volcanoes are more alarmingly recent. Taupo in New Zealand erupted with mega-colossal force some 22,500 years ago. The newer of the great eruptions that helped form the mountains of today’s Yellowstone national park in Wyoming took place just 640,000 years ago, and all the current signs – from such phenomena as the rhythmic slow rising and falling of the bed of the Yellowstone river, as if some giant creature is breathing far below – suggest another eruption is coming soon. When it does, it will be an American Armageddon: all of the north and west of the continent, from Vancouver to Oklahoma City, will be rendered uninhabitable, buried under scores of feet of ash. (I mentioned this once in a talk to a group of lunching ladies in Kansas City, soothing their apparent disquiet by adding that by “soon” I was speaking in geologic time, and that meant about 250,000 years, by which time all humankind would be extinct. A woman in the front row exploded with a choleric and incredulous rage: “What?” she said. “Even Americans will be extinct?”)

Ratcheting down the scale a couple of notches, to the only slightly less gigantic eruptions that are classified as VEI-7 and VEI-6, and a host of more familiar eruptions come into view. These include Santorini, the Aegean volcano whose destruction around 4,000 years ago may have triggered the collapse of the Minoan civilisation; Laki, the 1783 Icelandic volcano mentioned above, and which most obviously parallels today’s events at Eyjafjallajökull; the Javan volcano of Krakatoa, which erupted so infamously in August 1883; and the rather more profoundly world-affecting eruption of 1815, also in the Dutch East Indies, of the huge stratovolcano on Sumbawa Island, known as Tambora. Each of these had massive after-effects, and all of the effects were global in their extent.

Tambora is the most notorious, not least because it was so immense: almost 40 cubic miles of pulverised Sumbawan rock were hurled into the sky, which darkened, cooled and polluted a world that, unlike in Toba’s day, was already well populated and widely civilised. The consequences ranged from the dire – a lowering of temperature that caused frosts in Italy in June and snows in Virginia in July, and the failure of crops in immense swathes across Europe and the Americas – to the frankly ludicrous – Irish migrants, promised better weather in New England, found it on landing to be every bit as grim as the Connemara and Cork they had left, and so either went home, or pressed on in hope to California.

And Tambora’s eruption had its effects on art also: a gloomy Byron wrote the gloomiest of poems, Darkness (“Morn came and went, and came, and brought no day/ And men forgot their passions in the dread/ Of this their desolation . . .”); Mary Shelley, it is said, became so fed up with the rain while visiting Byron in Geneva that she followed suit and wrote her exceptionally gloomy novel Frankenstein. Only JMW Turner rose more cheerfully to the occasion: the lurid colours of many of his paintings, it is said, owe much to the flaming Tambora sunsets that had half the world astonished, and Turner evidently inspired.

Krakatoa’s immediate aftermath was dominated initially by dramatic physical effects – a series of tsunamis that were measured as far away as Portland Bill and Biarritz, a bang of detonation that was clearly heard (like naval gunfire, said the local police officer) 3,000 miles away on Rodriguez Island, and a year’s worth of awe-inspiring evening beauty – astonishing sunsets of purple and passion fruit and salmon that had artists all around the world trying desperately to capture what they managed to see in the fleeting moments before dark. A Londoner named William Ascroft left behind almost 500 watercolours that he painted, one every 10 minutes like a human film camera, from his Thames-side flat in Chelsea; Frederic Church, of America’s so-called Hudson River School, captured the crepuscular skies over Lake Ontario in their full post-Krakatoan glory; and many now agree that Edvard Munch had the purple and orange skies over Oslo in mind when 10 years afterwards he painted, most hauntingly, The Scream.

Yet there was an important legacy to Krakatoa’s eruption that was not shared by the other giant volcanoes of the time. Close mapping of the spread of the 1883 sunsets showed them girdling the earth in a curious set of spirals, the stratospheric aerosols evidently being borne around the world on high-altitude winds that no one at the time knew even existed. An atmospheric scientist in Hawaii mapped them and decided to call the air current the equatorial smoke stream; it later became, more elegantly and economically, the jet stream. There has to be some irony that the jet stream that drives today’s Icelandic dust so dangerously over Britain and mainland Europe is a phenomenon that was first discovered as a direct consequence of the study of Krakatoa.

And yet, of all the consequences of the truly great volcanoes of the past, the phenomenon of mass extinctions of life must surely be the most profound and world-changing of all. Between two and five major extinction events occur in the world every million years or so. We humans have not thus far been privileged to observe one of them – hardly surprisingly, since they would probably occur so slowly as to be barely noticeable. However, with painstaking care, palaeontological evidence is currently being amassed to link sudden and catastrophic changes in world climate, changes that promote such extinction crises, with the known major eruptions of the past, and with what are known as flood basalt events (such as those that have been triggered specifically in the past by eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and her neighbouring volcano in Iceland, Katla, which is herself currently well overdue for an eruption). It is a study that opens up a fascinating speculative possibility.

For what if the kind of event that we have seen this month, and which caused us all in Europe such commercial inconvenience, is in fact not just a minor volcanic hiccup, but the beginning of an event that causes in time a mass extinction of some form of earthbound life? And further, since we know from the history books that the massive eruption of Santorini once had the power to destroy one proud part of human society, what if the extinction we might be beginning to see turns out to be what will one day surely occur, and that is the extinction of us?

Simon Winchester is a journalist and author; one of his books is Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded.


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Revelation 6:14
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

In Birth Pang Number 4 we went into specific detail as to the meaning of “and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” I am convinced this Scripture, along with “and every island fled away, and the mountains were not found,” means that the tectonic plates, shown in figure 3, will shift sufficiently to change the latitudinal and longitudinal mini-second coordinates of every island and mountain on the face of the earth. This will produce wave after wave of unbelievable earthquake activity rippling through the horizontal and vertical structure of the earth. At the same time this fantastic earthquake scenario is occurring, the heaven will depart “as a scroll when it is rolled together.” The shifting of the plates produces both phenomena: earthquakes by an unlocking of pent-up pressures along plate boundaries, and a departure of the heavenly view by smoke from volcanic eruptions along the same moving boundaries.

I am convinced that the shifting of the plates will generate the formation of chains of volcanic eruptions, pictured in figure 10, along all the boundaries shown in figure 3. God, who made everything I have described to the point, has also created, around the entire earth, a great temperature inversion shroud in the lower section of the stratosphere, just above the tropopause. Any time there is a moderate to severe vertical volcanic eruption, smoke is forcefully injected through the tropopause, and then trapped beneath the temperature inversion of the stratosphere. There is virtually no moisture above the tropopause and, since the smoke particles cannot be made heavy enough to fall earthward by condensation of water vapor on them, the smoke remains suspended in the lower section of the stratosphere for five to fifteen years. The winds in the lower section of the stratosphere spread the volcanic smoke around the entire envelope of atmosphere that surrounds the earth over a two to four year period. Figure 11 portrays the great temperature inversion that exists through the stratosphere around the entire earth. As the smoke attempts to rise through this inversion it soon reaches a temperature near its own, and then begins to flatten out into a great shield of smoke, a shield that is then carried by upper level winds to produce an earth encompassing cloud throughout the lower stratosphere.

Have you ever really looked at all the Old and New Testament prophecies that describe the appearance of the heavenly bodies during the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation Period? Let us now consider just a few of them, to see if we can correlate them with the increasing severity from start to finish.

Revelation 8:12
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.

Joel 2:30,31
And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. [31] The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.

Revelation 6:12
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

Joel 2:10
The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining:

Matthew 24:29
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

How can this be? One prophet says you will not be able to see the sun, moon, and stars about one-third of the time, but another says you won’t be able to see them at all. These prophecies are fulfilled gradually over the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation Period, and the prophets have been given visions of the effects on the view of the heavenly bodies from the earth, at different times, during this period. Let us assume that the last three and on-half years of the Tribulation Period have begun, and a person is standing at point “X” on figure 12. This person could look up and see the sun, moon, or stars from this vantage point on the earth’s surface without obstruction. Now, let’s allow figure 12 to become alive, with the winds of the stratosphere moving the volcanic smoke clouds around the earth in patches. Within a few hours after you had made your unobstructed observation of the sun, moon, or stars, the thin leading edge of the volcanic cloud would begin to move between you and the heavenly bodies. If it were night, the moon would turn blood red. If it were day, the sun would be darkened. Within an hour or so the thicker part of the volcanic smoke shield would move over you, and the sun, moon, or stars would completely disappear from view. After a few more hours the back side of the cloud would move past, and you would once again be enjoying a clear space between volcanic cloud patches, such that the sun, moon, or stars would again be visible. This scenario would be repeated over and over again during the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation Period, but on a gradually worsening trend. You would not be able to see the sun, moon, or stars about one-third of the time – at times the moon would be blood red and the sun black as sackcloth of hair – and sometimes you could not see any of the heavenly bodies. All of this is exactly what the Old and New Testament prophets observed in their visions. These are a part of the “signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars” prophesied by Luke.

Luke 21:25,26
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; [26] Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

At this point it may seem I have been sidetracked from explaining “and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together,” but everything up to this point has been for that very purpose. In Revelation 6:14, the word used for heaven is “ouranos,” and there are three of them: (1) The heaven where God dwells, (2) The heaven that makes up our atmosphere, and (3) The heaven were the sun, moon, stars, and other heavenly bodies dwell, that is, the universe. It is the latter to which John refers. The word used for departed is “apechoristhe,” which, in this case, simply means “was removed from view.” John is saying he saw what the Hebrews considered heaven (sun, moon, and stars) removed from his view. When something or someone departs, or is removed, it is no longer visible to the one from which it departed. John says that the heaven disappeared from his view, and then tells us the manner in which it disappeared: “as a scroll when it is rolled together.”

In figure 13 you can see the likeness of a Hebrew scroll. If while you were reading the scroll it was slowly rolled together, then it could be truly stated that the writing departed from your view, “as a scroll when it is rolled together.” In his vision John looked up into what the Hebrews considered one of the heavens and, as he watched, the heavenly bodies slowly disappeared over a period of time. This is exactly what will occur during the period of time we identify as the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation Period. It will occur like the slow rolling together of a scroll, such that by the end of the Tribulation Period a continuous cloud band of smoke will completely engulf the earth in the lower section of the stratosphere. No one will be able to see the sun, moon, or stars through the thick shroud at the Battle of Armageddon. It is through the great stratospheric cloud shown in figure 14 that the author believes the Lord shall return at the end of the Tribulation Period.

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