Volcanoes. We hear about them on the news, where they are described as dramatic and tragic events. But does the media give volcanoes a bad name? volcanoes can have positive effects as well as negative.
Volcanoes erupt a large amount of ash which although appears harmful at first sight, it can have the benefit on local agriculture of creating more fertile soils. This is because ash is a natural fertilizer which contains minerals that are beneficial to helping crops to grow. Therefore lots of the economy in surrounding areas of a volcano is based on agriculture, as the volcanic ash makes it very profitable. This could also help us answer the question of why people live near volcanoes. Areas surrounding volcanoes like Mt. Vesuvius in Italy, are key areas of food production in their country. the fertile land also means that the country doesn’t have to spend so much money on importing food to feed their population, which benefits the overall economy of that country, all because of those ‘nasty’ volcanoes.
Volcanoes are also an important tourist attraction and can attract millions of tourists to an area each year. This can increase after an eruption as people here about these events on the news and will want to see them for themselves. tourism benefits the local and national economy of a country. Iceland attracts millions of tourists due to its volcanic landscape and 5% of its economy is generated by tourism alone. Tourism benefits the local economy by creating direct jobs such as jobs in accommodation, transport, sight-seeing and retail. Indirect jobs are also generated by supplying the indirect jobs such as local farmers who sell produce to local hotels or restaurants.
Volcanoes and plate boundaries generate a lot of heat and this can create the production of geothermal energy. this is a renewable source of energy and so is better for the environment and can reduce the amount of non renewable energy a country has to use. 90% of Iceland’s homes are powered by electricity that is generated from geothermal energy. This can improve a countries ‘energy security’ as the country will be less dependant on energy imports from other countries and more able to support its own energy needs.
Short term effects
Risk of death and destruction
Volcanic eruptions are none the less, hazardous events. they pose a serious risk to people’s lives when they erupt. People can die due to the direct threat of lava but more so due to poisonous gases that are released by the volcano, ash and a fast flow of superheated ash and gases called a pyroclastic flow. the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980 killed 61 people. these can also damage people’s property and livelihoods. 7000 salmon were killed in the 1980 eruption, the pyroclastic flow destroyed 360km2 of forest and many lakes and rivers were clogged up with ash. this led to problems with farming and forestry industries.
problems with access
volcanic eruptions often lead to vital roads and other access routes being blocked, cutting areas off. when Mt. St. Helens erupted the vast amounts of ash that were produced by the volcano blocked main roads and access routes to towns and settlements for weeks on end. the layer of ash was 15cm thick in places. this stopped emergency responses from reaching people and made recovering from this volcanic disaster even harder.
damage on the tourist industry
Although volcanic eruptions have been shown to increase levels of tourism, they can decrease the levels of tourism too. For example, a landscape can be so badly damaged that tourists will be put off from visiting, or tourists can be put off by the fear of another eruption occurring. Volcanic ash can scar natural landscapes. Areas of natural beauty around the base of Mt. St. Helens were badly damaged and tourist numbers dropped dramatically due to this drop in tourism can make it even harder for people to recover from this event, as many people living near volcanoes rely on tourism for their income, and with this being severely reduced, their income would severely decrease.
damage to other industries
Agriculture can be damaged by volcanic eruptions as well as benefitting from them. The ash that covers the ground can harden making that land no longer suitable for agriculture of any kind. Furthermore, any existing crops that were on that land would be buried and useless, loosing farmers valuable crops and income.
Other industries can suffer too, after the Mt. St. Helens eruption, forestry industries were damaged due to pyroclastic flow destroying 360km2 of forest. The salmon industry also generated a lot of income for the local economy, however this was damaged when rivers and lakes were clogged and polluted by the ash from the volcano, and 7000 salmon were killed by the ash. When disasters like this happen, this damage to industry takes a long time to recover fully from.
So to the original question. are volcanoes positive or negative natural events? well I think they have to be both. Volcanoes can benefit an area through generating an income, whether that be by tourism or agriculture, and can also provide cheap energy for the surrounding population. so they aren’t all bad. however, I can’t ignore the fact that which ever way I look at it, volcanoes cause damage both to people’s lives and property in the short-term and in the future too by damaging industries and reducing the economic benefits of living near a volcano and being at risk of a volcanic eruption.
- information on the positive and negative effects of volcanic eruptions was sourced from: bantry geography from: http://bantrygeography.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/positiveandnegativeeffectsofvolcanoes.pdf