Our Very Own Volcano

05Feb10

February 03, 2010, Photo - European Press Agency

I don’t know about anyone else, but the news that Pakistanis might have their very own live volcano is very worrying to me.

It turns out that the people of Waam in Ziarat, an area that was badly hit by the Balochistan earthquake of 2008, noticed a huge quantity of dark black material at the mountain summit of Killi Waam after an explosion a couple of days ago. The mountain had developed cracks in the October 29 earthquake, and was spewing lava after explosions and thick smoke had enveloped the area. Tremors measuring up to 3.8 on the Richter scale were also recorded. Experts of the Geological Survey of Pakistan have said that these may be indications of volcanic activity in the region. Sardar Saeed Akhtar, a senior official of the GSP, told Dawn that ‘there was no precedent of any volcanic activity in the country.’

I’m not sure that’s entirely true given that there are records of serious volcanic activity in 1935 and 1945 as illustrated in a travel piece on the site, All Things Pakistan.

However, it made me wonder if we (and by that I mean humans on the macro and Pakistanis on the micro level) create our own destruction. The answer is a loud, resounding ‘yes’ of course. Now I’m no geologist, but can it be that in this instance we have manifested this by making a live volcano? From what I find through my readings, it is entirely possible, if not plausible.

Research on the link between earthquakes and volcanic eruptions has ‘existed’ since Charles Darwin began looking into it in 1835. Last year, a group of Oxford University scientists ‘uncovered new evidence showing that very large earthquakes can trigger an increase in activity at nearby volcanoes.’ As reported in a research news source, Science Daily,

previously, scientists had identified a few cases where volcanic eruptions follow very large earthquakes – but up until now it had been difficult to show statistically that such earthquakes may be the cause of an increase in eruptions, rather than the events just being a coincidence.”

Here’s my train of thought that I’m going to share with you: So it appears that earthquakes can cause volcanic eruptions. If they can do that, perhaps they can create volcanoes. Nuclear tests can cause earthquakes, which means nuclear tests can lead to volcanic eruptions. (Now that I’ve revealed my argument, may I ask this: can it be purely coincidental that the earthquake which caused the tsunami and volcanic eruption discussed in ‘All Things Pakistan’ occurred in November 1945, a few months after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of that year?)

A very simple explanation is in a paper called ‘Why do earthquakes happen?’ on a website for ‘budding seismologists.’ The concluding note states that ‘the largest underground explosions, from tests of nuclear warheads (bombs), can create seismic waves very much like large earthquakes.’ A more complex article is this University of Berkeley, California geology class paper that essentially says the same thing.

Gary T. Whiteford, Professor of Geography at the University of New Brunswick in Canada, is accredited with one of the most exhaustive studies of the correlations between nuclear testing and earthquakes. The paper is entitled Earthquakes and Nuclear Testing: Dangerous Patterns and Trends. In this paper of 1989, Whiteford argues that

in the fifty years before [nuclear] testing, large earthquakes of more than 5.8 occurred at an average rate of 68 per year. With the advent of testing the rate rose “suddenly and dramatically” to an average of 127 a year. The earthquake rate has almost doubled (my italics and bold font).”

Suffice it to say that it is possible for nuclear tests to cause earthquakes. These need not be immediate; they could occur after months or years.

Ziarat, Balochistan: AFP photo published in The Hindu on October 30, 2008

I thought it was ironic that the Americans and the French have conducted some of the most irresponsible nuclear tests, and it is their scientists who have been the most vocal in their concern for the effects of these tests. A report in the Times Higher Education of July 21, 1995 said:

A French vulcanologist has warned that more nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific could cause the collapse of a flank of the extinct underwater volcano, leading to a big release of radioactivity.

“Mururoa may be extinct, but the shock waves of a nuclear explosion create the conditions of an eruption, or worse. Recent study of oceanic volcanoes has shown they are constantly destabilised.”

More recently, Dr Marie Edmonds of the Department of Earth Sciences at Queens’ College, Cambridge University, was asked – Can underground nuclear bombs and explosions result in shockwaves that might trigger off a volcano?

Here’s her answer:

To my knowledge this has never been observed but in theory yes. Because certainly distant very large earthquakes can set off volcanic eruptions so presumably this is possible.”

With all this reading, I come back to my original thought, which is the question: Did we make a volcano in Balochistan or at the very least, awaken a sleeping one? It seems like we very well could have.

In ‘When Mountains Move – the story of Chagai’, Rai Mohammed Saleh Azam writes in great detail of Pakistan’s nuclear tests, and ends by saying:

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs would later describe it as “Pakistan’s finest hour”. Pakistan had become the world’s 7th nuclear power and the first nuclear weapons state in the Islamic World.

Two days later, Pakistan conducted its sixth nuclear test at Kharan, a flat desert valley 150 km to the south of the Ras Koh Hills. This was a miniaturized device giving a yield which was 60% of the first tests. A small hillock now rises in what used to be flat desert, marking the ground zero of the nuclear test there.”

Pakistan’s finest hour, indeed. Is it still that if it caused the Balochistan earthquake of October 2008, and would it still be that if creates a volcanic eruption?


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8 Responses to “Our Very Own Volcano”

  1. 1 Faraz Ahmed

    Interesting!

  2. 2 shobz

    if u mess with nature then nature has it’s own way of coming back at us. The more problems we create, the more chaotic things become. What we sow is what we shall reap.

  3. A very interesting but worrisome conclusion indeed.

    Hope your blog is read across the world and not only in Pakistan, as this might well be one unforeseen consequence of the menace called nuclear testing/bombs.

    Specific to Pakistan, I hope people do not brush this argument aside in the euphoria of being the first Islamic nuclear armed country!

  4. very interesting post… you talk of the physical own live volcano… in my opinion we are to worry about the “volcano” getting ready to erupt soon that may lead us to a total destruction in absence of true leadership…

    i see us in the “state of headless chickens” trying to perform independently instead teaming up… the only reason for that i feel is personal hidden agendas of gaining power and fame…

    i hope we all can join hands and become a Nation that the Quaid wanted us to be… with unity, faith and disciplin and inly way to achieve is work, work, and work hard…

    🙂

  5. 5 Lam

    Very interesting indeed.

  6. Don’t you think that you are stretching things a bit too far by attributing a volcanic eruption in S.Asia with overground nuclear explosions in the Far East! Considering that Japan sits at the confluence of four tectonic plates, an earthquake would have been far more likelier there then in far away Makran coast?

    As for the volcanoes mention in ‘All Things Pakistan’, they are mud volcanoes, that do not spew lava. I have visited the very place only recently, and there are no signs of lava flows there.

    Having said that, your basic premise that nuclear explosions could lead to earthquakes is something to think about. I remember that few months after the nuclear tests in Chaghi, there was a earthquake in Afghanistan, and some Indian scientists tried to link these two events. And let’s not forget that there was an earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat about an year or so after the Pokhran nuclear tests conducted by India.


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