February 18, 2013 – The Volcanoes of New Zealand and The World: The Lake Taupo Volcano is situated on the North Island of New Zealand (see map). It has a surface area of 616 square kilometers (238 square miles), and is the largest lake in New Zealand and Oceania. However, beneath its pristine beauty lies a sleeping giant Super Volcano of unprecedented strength and power. Taupo last erupted 1,800 years ago and was the most violent eruption the world has known in the last 5,000 years.
The Volcanic Eruption Index (VEI) is used to measure how powerful volcanic explosions are. The scale goes from 0 to 8 and is logarithmic by a factor of ten. In other words, a VEI event from 6 to 7 is ten times stronger; while an event from 6 to 8 is 100 times stronger (10 X 10).
Currently, volcanologists have six volcanoes at the “8” level. Two of those are located in New Zealand (Taupo and Whakamaru) both on the North Island of the Country. The North Island is home to at least 11 major volcanoes. The City of Auckland sits on a volcanic field covering 360 square kilometers (225 square miles) and includes 49 separate volcanoes. The last eruption was Mount Rangitoto, about 600 years ago.
The six volcanoes rated 8 are Lake Taupo (New Zealand), Lake Toba (Indonesia), Whakamaru (New Zealand), Yellowstone Caldera (Wyoming, USA), island Park Caldera (Idaho, USA), and La Garita Caldera (Colorado, USA). A caldera is a large crater formed by a volcanic explosion or eruption.
Volcanic eruptions of VEI 4 are termed cataclysmic (Mount Pelee – 1906 and Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland – 2010), VEI 5 paroxysmal (Mount Vesuvius – 79A.D. and Mount St. Helens – 1980), VEI 6 colossal (Krakatoa – 1883 & Mount Pinatubo – 1991); VEI 7 super-colossal (Tambora – 1815) and VEI 8 mega-colossal (see the six listed above).
Mount St. Helens (VEI 5) and Eyjafjallajokull (VEI 4) caused wide-spread damage. The Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland event caused Europe billions of Euros and interrupted air traffic for three months.
Imagine what a Lake Taupo or other VEI 8 event would be like. It would 1,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens (10 X 10 X 10) and 10,000 times more powerful than Eyjafjallajokull (10 to the 4th power).
Recently, there have been ten earthquakes at Lake Taupo measuring from 2.4 magnitude to 5.0. We can only hope that Lake Taupo, and other VEI 8 volcanoes, remain silent for the foreseeable future. The consequences of a major eruption would send an ash plume 50 kilometers (30 miles or 160,000 feet) into the sky. The amount of material ejected would be one thousand times more than Mount St. Helens and would create a freezing earth for many years. With minimal sunlight, most life would die.
Let us hope, on this day after Thanksgiving, that a VEI 8 event does not occur in our lifetimes.
The Master of Disaster