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'60 Minutes' shocking report on the world’s volcanoes

On last night’s episode of the CBS staple, "60 Minutes," Scott Pelley reported that there are 1,500 active volcanoes on earth, but their spotlight was on three.

Relic from destruction of Pompeii
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

As he stated in the introduction to this segment; if viewers believe they are living in an unstable world, this will give you more cause for concern. Only one percent of the earth is solid rock. Most of the other ninety-nine percent is an oozing mass churning beneath our feet like road tar at temperatures between 2,000 and 10,000 degrees. With the earth’s crust only twenty miles thick, and when it cracks; one of the greatest forces in nature erupts.

The three volcanoes were; one that caused the most-recent mass destruction, another is the biggest threat to a major city, and the third is in the United States and could wreak havoc all around the world.

The first, the disruptive volcano has a name that is as hard and long as the trouble it caused; Eyjafjallajökull, is Icelandic for island mountain glacier. When it blew in 2010, "60 Minutes" traveled to Iceland and filmed the eruption of billowing clouds of lava rising to the sky. They were the first to reach the summit after the eruption. The expedition was a dangerous one, with cracks in the glacier that could swallow the entire group whole. When vehicles were no longer safe to travel, Scott and a volcanologist ventured on foot. As they reached the summit, they could look down into the mouth of the fiery volcano as tons of ash and rocks the size of cars rose above the clouds. As the volcanic ash rose a few hundred feet per second, this cataclysmic occurrence was only rated a four out of a scale of eight. The gigantic explosions were caused by gas bubbles that come to the surface resulting in sonic booms. This is all caused by cracks in the tectonic plates under the earth; that shatter like a mirror. Obstructing their view was steam that was caused by the 2,000 degree lava hitting the ice. As the ancient glacier melted in a flash flood, it carved canyons into the mountain. The thermal shock covered farms with a thick black ash that feels like sand. In Iceland, volunteers from the cities helped farmers dig out. The ash billowed up 33,000 feet and drifted 1,000 miles over Europe, making Eyjafjallajökull the most disruptive eruption in years. One hundred thousand flights were canceled and ten million people were stranded for a week.

The last eruption that compared to this devastation occurred in Indonesia in 1815. This eruption sent out so much sulphur that it caused global cooling and produced a year without summer in New England in 1816. It caused great migrations from Europe and caused extreme destruction worldwide.

The expert stated that the one volcano on earth that is most dangerous to people was Vesuvius in Italy, due to the massive population on and surrounding it. As Scott flew over the volcano with another volcanologist, who explained that if similar to the last eruption in 1631; it could wipe out at least 600,000 people. He then went on to say if it is like the one that occurred 2,000 years ago destroying Pompeii, it could be up to 3.5 million people.

Pompeii, on August 24 of 79 A.D., was preserved in over ten feet of ash, the history, people and architecture were frozen in time. Even the people who were frozen in timeless agony continue to be on display as a warning of what could happen again. It is said that the mountain rumbled for days before depositing a lasting memento of destruction. This occurrence changed the temperature of the region to about 900 degrees and left the area uninhabitable for 300 years.

It Italy, volcanologists are monitoring Vesuvius with modern equipment, but face the fact that they may have to one day, sound the alarm to evacuate. The last eruption was in 1944, although some subsequent false alarms caused by landslides in the crater have given a cause for concern.

The third volcano and where the Icelandic volcano was a four on a scale of eight, this could be the highest on the scale and could change life on earth; is in Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone Caldera, known as a supervolcano, has not erupted for 400,000 years. It is being closely monitored, but the likelihood is always there. It could cause devastation to aviation, agriculture and communications and can change the course of history. Two hundred million people worldwide live in striking distance of volcanoes and although warning of impending eruptions is monitored, there is just no way to tell when the next eruption will occur and how soon it will happen after the warning bell is rung.

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