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Volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer yesterday warned there was a one-in-500 chance of the world being hit by a super- volcano this century.
The reader in vulcanology at Cambridge University told a Hay audience: “That might not sound like much, but it is a lot more likely than an asteroid impact.
“The events in Japan remind us that you can have a tsunami and earthquake and a nuclear plant there as well and you can have these chain reaction events that are actually quite calamitous and they are not unimaginable.”
Examining geological, historical and archeological records, the expert took the audience on a journey back to three volcanic eruptions that have shaken the world – the 1815 Tambora volcano in Indonesia that killed 100,000 people, the 1783 eruption of Kaki in Iceland and the massive Toba eruption in indonesia that pumped 3,000 cubic km of magma into the atmosphere around 75,000 years ago, leaving behind a lake-filled crater in North Sumatra 100km long and 30km wide.
If such an eruption was to happen tomorrow, he said, the world would be far more vulnerable.
He said: “The world population is bigger, for one thing, and many people are living in abject poverty who are already very vulnerable.
“The effects would be huge, both to people and to the technological world.”
He added that evidence shows category-eight earthquakes can trigger volcanoes 1000km away, and that this year’s devastating earthquake off the coast of Japan would be likely to trigger a volcano elsewhere in the country.
“They are linked,” he said.
“Statistically, we could say within the next six months there is likely to be an eruption in Japan because of the events this year.