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Benefits of Volcanos

This article first appeared in the 9/13/19 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Benefits of Volcanos

Pahoehoe lava entering the Pacific at The Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanos National Park. April 2005. Photo by Brocken Inaglory.

Benefits of Volcanoes


By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise



When people think about volcanoes, they usually think about the large, explosive eruptions.  These can be and are devastating to those in close proximity, with toxic plumes, evacuations, and homes being destroyed, among other dangers, sometimes with little notice.  Despite these dangers, volcanic eruptions and volcanism do have many benefits.


One of the most noticeable benefits of volcanic eruptions is land formation.  There are dozens of locations around the globe that would not exist, if not for volcanoes.  Places like the Hawaiian Island Chain were formed by volcanoes undergoing constant eruptions over thousands of years and continuing today.  What started as an underwater vent has now become a mountain towering over the ocean, just by the constant layering and layering of erupted lava from a volcano.


Volcanic soil is also some of the most fertile and nutrient rich in the world.  The ash produced from volcanic eruptions contain minerals composed of iron, magnesium, potassium, carbon, and more.  Over time, these minerals are eroded and dissolved, and them reabsorbed into the soil.  The chemicals in the soil then help to feed plants and crops, giving them nutrients that help make them stronger and increase production.  There are some places in the Mediterranean that are only able to grow crops because of nutrient rich volcanic soil, otherwise the soil is poor growing quality.


Some recent volcanism could also be helping to combat some environmental issues.  We have started to harness geothermal energy form active volcanic areas to produce power.  By placing pipes in the ground in thermal areas, we are able to channel steam towards turbines to generate electricity with reduced pollutants.  During the summer of 2018, the Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea spewed lava into the Pacific Ocean for about two months.  Within a few days of the lava entering the water, a satellite image showed a large algae bloom in the ocean vicinity.  Water samples showed that the lava was adding nutrients to the ocean floor sediment, as well as churning it up.  The added nutrients coupled with the soil microbes being disturbed caused the algae bloom.  The algae will them perform photosynthesis at the ocean surface, which would help draw more carbon dioxide out the air, and then adding oxygen back. Another underwater volcano in the Pacific produced a large pumice float, heading towards the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia.  Scientist hope it collides with the reef, because it will them provide nutrients for the reef, and create more habitat space for the animals already there.


Stop by Explorit Science Center’s Public Hours to see a variety of volcanic rocks, as well as rocks and sand from locations all over the globe.  The last time to see our current exhibit of “Earth Explorations: The Forces that Shape our Earth” will be Wednesday, September 18 from 1-5pm. Explorit will be closing our event spaces from September 19-28 for our exhibit redesign.  Join us for our Grand Opening of “Light & Sound: Making Waves” on Sunday, September 29!  Members and Donors will have an exclusive viewing from 12-1pm, with the all welcome from 1-5pm.  Sponsorship opportunities available at  Visit www.explorit.orgor call (530) 756-0191 for more information.


Thank you to everyone who came and supported Explorit’s successful “Rummage Sale for Science” on Saturday, September 7th. Your purchases will contribute to our upcoming Light & Sound exhibit, as well as science education in our communities.


Explorit's coming events:


  •  Explorit’s Nature Bowl team is now enrolling for the school year. This is an afterschool science team for students grades 3-6  Call (530) 756-0191 to register.  The $25 fee covers weekly meetings and a t-shirt. 



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