Volcanoes May Be Deadly, But They’re Good for the Planet

The eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii has left thousands of people homeless. At the same time in Guatemala, the eruption of Volcan de Fuego has not only destroyed property but killed at least 60 people.

While the impacts of erupting volcanoes can be devastating, there are upsides to these disasters. “Over geologic time, volcanic eruptions and related processes have directly and indirectly benefited mankind,” notes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The following are some of those benefits.

Atmospheric Cooling

One of the immediate, although relatively short-term, benefits of a volcano eruption is the cooling of the atmosphere.

“The sulfur gas combines with water in the atmosphere, creating microscopic droplets that can stay in the atmosphere for years,” Dr. Tracy Gregg, associate geology professor at the University at Buffalo, told AccuWeather. Those droplets cool the lowest level of the atmosphere, which is where we live.

The 1991 eruption of Pinatubo in the Philippines and the 1982 eruption of El Chichon in Mexico resulted in a temperature drop of over half a degree Celsius (about 33 degrees Fahrenheit). “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when we’re talking about anthropogenic global climate change, volcanoes have actually helped to keep the world about two to three degrees cooler than it otherwise may be,” Gregg said.

More Fertile Soil

The soil around volcanoes is the most fertile on Earth, thanks to important minerals provided by volcanic ash. The finer the ash, the more quickly it can blend with soil to help crops grow.

The fertile soil also provides an excellent environment for the creation of new habitats for animals and insects.

Renewable Geothermal Energy

The heat trapped in the Earth’s surface beneath a volcano can generate geothermal energy, a renewable resource. Fresh magma discovered in a dormant volcano in Iceland nine years ago led to the creation of the world’s first magma-enhanced geothermal energy system.

The Reykjanes Power Station pours water through fissures in the molten rock, which produces steam that’s able to generate energy by turning turbines. This process generates enough megawatts to power tens of thousands of homes.

It “could soon be ground zero for a geothermal energy revolution that could change the way countries and economies around the world view and utilize their geothermal resources,” CNBC reported in 2015.

Water production

Volcanoes have produced the water we currently have on Earth — over the course of 4.5 billion years, that is. The water comes out of steam, explained Dr. Janine Krippner, a Concord University volcanologist. “Over time, it’s just built up the water that we have on this planet,” she told AccuWeather. “Water can actually come out of magma itself, as well.”

Building materials

After magma cools, it becomes black rocks that can be used to create roads and buildings. Pumice, a light-colored rock made of roughly textured volcanic glass, is used to make cinder blocks and cement, as well as commonly-used items like soaps and abrasive cleaners.

New land creation

The flowing lava from volcanoes creates new land masses. Usually this process takes thousands of years, but on Hawaii’s Big Island, Kilauea has already created 250 acres of new land in the ocean. In fact, all the land in the Hawaiian islands was created long, long ago by underwater volcanoes.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

97 comments

Danuta W
Danuta W2 months ago

Thanks for the article.

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Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons2 months ago

Pele, Pele, Pele rising, Ah Pele!

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Sophie L
Past Member 2 months ago

Thank you

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Marija M
Marija M2 months ago

Interesting, tks.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 months ago

There is no importance if volcanoes benefit mankind, the only important thing is they benefit the other planetary life and biosphere. Mankind is an overpopulated.alien, planet destroying disease. Maybe you mean volcanoes will satiate the short term greed of the human infestation before that infestation destroys everything. Better that volcanoes get rid of mankind.

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Sue L
Sue L2 months ago

There are positives of volcanic eruptions. I just don't want to be nearby when they erupt!

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Henry M
Henry M3 months ago

Most things in nature have both pros and cons.

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JinnySITEISSUES L
JinnySITEISSUES L3 months ago

Mother Nature knows exactly what she is doing for the survival of this earth. Kudos to Mother Nature. Thanks for posting.

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Greta L
Greta L3 months ago

Good info. Thanks.

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Tara B
Tara B3 months ago

To say they're "good" for the planet seems like an understatement, since if the pressure weren't released through volcanoes it would build and build inside, until the earth exploded and became an asteroid belt instead of a planet at all.

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