Is it safe to tour an active volcano?

Is it safe to tour an active volcano?
Is it safe to tour an active volcano?

The White Island disaster in New Zealand raises questions about the admission of visitors near the eruption hotspots.

After the volcano erupted on Monday and its ash covered the White Island in New Zealand, killing everything on the surface, many wondered how safe such excursions are?

At that time, a tiny patch of land in northeastern New Zealand was full of tourists, curious about the active volcano. The eruption is known to have killed at least 9 people - the number could rise to 14, according to authorities.

After the disaster, rescuers and visitors raised questions about why people were allowed so close to the active volcano. New Zealand authorities even launched a police investigation into why someone was there.

This is a good question. Three weeks before the eruption, seismologists raised the volcano's alert levels to "moderate" or increased volcanic excitement.

And last week GeoNet, the Geological Hazard Monitoring Group, said White Island may be entering a period when eruptive activity is more likely than usual.

However, GeoNet was told at the time that "the current level of activity does not pose a direct danger to visitors."

Volcanoes are known for their unpredictability and despite these predictions, it was impossible to accurately predict when the White Island eruption will occur, experts now say, but people have already died. The death of 9 people was officially confirmed, and more than 30 received terrible burns …


"You can never be completely safe next to an active volcano," said geologist Alan Clowe. "We follow the directions of local guides and authorities."

But White Island Volcano isn't the only place tourists can get to - close to active volcanoes. And this is not the first time these meetings have been fatal.

In July 2019, a tourist died after a series of extremely active volcanoes erupted near the small Italian island of Stromboli.

Active volcanoes are popular tourist destinations - you may have even been to one of them. The United States' favorite National Park, Yellowstone, sits right on top of an active volcano. That is why the park is famous for its geysers and hot springs. Yellowstone last erupted 640,000 years ago.

Sakurajima in Japan, by contrast, erupts hundreds of times a year - although most eruptions only affect the top of the volcano. In some of the larger explosions, people living nearby have to deal with ash that rains down and covers the surrounding area. Its last major eruption occurred in 1914 - then 58 people died.

Scientists predict Sakurajima will produce another major eruption in the next 30 years, according to a 2016 volcanologist report. To prepare, the nearby city of Kagoshima has an evacuation plan ready for action should the worst happen.

But the question of whether it is safe to visit an active volcano may not depend on whether it is likely to erupt.

In addition to the likelihood of a volcanic eruption, these geologic features can pose other risks to people wishing to visit it.

One of the risks is associated with the consequences of a volcanic eruption. Ashes and rocks that cover the outer parts of volcanoes can cause deadly landslides, according to the US Geological Survey.

Basically, landslides are large masses of moving soil and soil, wet or dry. They usually start when something triggers an avalanche or a rock fall. Earthquakes, heavy rainfall or volcanic activity can trigger them.

These tumble stones break as they move. The resulting fragments can range from pebbles to boulders hundreds of meters wide. As gravity takes over their motion, waves of stones and soil fall and slide.

"Landslides are common in volcanic cones because they are high, steep and weakened by the rise and eruption of molten rock," says USGS.

As the magma from the eruptions releases volcanic gases, they dissolve in the groundwater, altering minerals and weakening the volcanic cone. In addition, thousands of layers of lava and rock fragments can cause more frequent displacement of fault zones.

The chain of events can also lead to tragedy - as it did during the deadliest volcanic landslide in history. In 1792, sliding debris from Mount Mayuyama near the Unzen volcano in Japan collapsed into the Ariaka Sea. This force caused a tsunami that reached the opposite shore and killed nearly 15,000 people.