For someone who has a fascination for the natural environment, the past twelve months have been a smorgasbord of opportunities to engage it.
Weather events like heat domes, atmospheric rivers, massive snowstorms, cyclone bombs, even wildfires–you name it . . . they grab my attention—demand it.
But, what attracts me most is landscape formation. In my university days I studied geomorphology, the study of the formation and shaping of the landscape. I was incredibly impressed with the power of water, both in rivers and along shorelines, of volcanos, of tectonic plate movements, of glaciers, of wind, and of the freeze-thaw cycle, to mold the landscape.
I can’t wait to observe how the course of the Coldwater River may have been changed or the landslides altered the slopes of the terrain when I travel the Coquihalla later this week.
So, in my travels I’ve always gravitated more towards exploring unique landscapes than engaging in cultural or culinary tours, or settling into tourist hotspots, instead, visiting such places as Sossusvlei, Salar de Uyuni, Mt Everest and the Grand Canyon. And, of course, I’ve never met a waterfall I didn’t like.
So, you will not be surprised, then, when I suggest that last weekend’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption in Tongo grabbed my attention. It was not only the photos of the event that were so stunning, but also its magnitude: an estimated equivalent of 5 – 6 million tons of TNT, a sonic boom that circled the world twice, ash that reached over 30 km into the atmosphere, and tsunamis that went, well, everywhere. All from an event that lasted only about an hour (stats from National Geographic).
How could a volcano 9200 km away command a Tsunami warning on the west coast of Vancouver Island? Yet, it’s speculated, a water main break in Uclulet was the result of that eruption.
How could the tsunami caused by that eruption kill two people in Peru, 10,600 km distant? How could there be tsunami waves in the Caribbean, with no continuous ocean between them? Did they travel through the Panama Canal? Around the tip of South America?
Luckily, National Greographic dropped an article into my Inbox a few days after the event.
“Everything so far about this eruption is off-the-scale weird,” writes the correspondent, quoting Janine Krippner, a volcanologist with Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program.
The main cause of the “weirdness,” it seems, is that the volcano is mostly underwater; previously, only the tip breached the surface. (Now the tip has receded back below it).
There was surprisingly little ash released in this explosion, yet, its energy was felt much quicker, much more distant, and much stronger at distance, than one would expect. Normally, tsunami waves are largest near the source and gradually decrease with distance; these didn’t. Normally, it takes a long time for tsunami waves to cross 10,000 km of ocean; these were very fast.
It’s speculated that, because the volcano erupted almost exactly at the water’s surface, there was a combination of shockwaves travelling both through the air and through the water that reinforced each other, to provide the dramatic effect. That’s what they speculate also happened in the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, one of the most powerful and deadly recorded in human history.
There are, apparently, many underwater volcanic eruptions happening all the time. But, deep in the ocean, they have little to no effect on the terrestrial landscape. Those on land can be more easily monitored, with attendant warnings given. The mysteries are just starting to be unravelled, though, for those at or near the surface.
What struck me, yet again, was the reminder of the power of nature, and our feeble attempts to control it, or even to monitor it.
But, I am also reminded of how small our planet really is, of how connected we are, both as people to each other, as people to landscape, and now again, as landscape to landscape.
Air travel first taught us that. Then the global economy taught us that. Then the internet taught us that. The degradation of our environment has taught us that. The coronavirus certainly taught us that. And the international supply-chain disruption to our economy certainly reinforced it.
Now a volcano is teaching us that.
Everything is connected.
At least, that’s how I see it . . .