Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

I’m sorry but – this will happen

Just over seven months ago, I posted an item about the near-term probability of a catastrophic eruption of the Katla volcano on Iceland. Today, sadly, I think I have discovered that this might not be the worst natural disaster in human history (not to have happened yet).

Scientists believe that, when it happens, the Katla eruption could ultimately be responsible for the deaths of millions of people.  However, there are many uncertainties; and a great deal of scope for deaths to be prevented.  The same cannot be said for a mega tsunami originating in the Canary Islands.

La Palma is one of a group of Spanish volcanic islands off the coast of North Africa.  The volcano of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma erupted in 1949 and 1971.   It is not like most other volcanoes; it is more like the Laki fissure on Iceland.  Previous eruptions have been associated with earth movements; and it is now estimated that another eruption could send a large part of La Palma sliding into the North Atlantic ocean.  In fact, it is estimated that another eruption could cause a landslide containing 500 cubic kilometres to slide into the ocean.

Contrary to popular myth, scientists are not prone to being alarmists.  However, a wide variety of scientists are actively studying and modelling the consequences of another eruption of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma.

At the end of this post you will find the YouTube video of the BBC/Discovery Channel production “Could We Survive a Mega Tsunami?”  Similar to fears over an approaching ecological catastrophe arising from human activity, this fear over a catastrophe emerging from the Canaries is founded on science: It is not just the idle speculation of a bunch of doomsayers.  There is evidence of previous tsunamis in the Canaries caused by previous landslides on the islands.  What marks the landslide on La Palma (that has not happened yet) is the size of the area that could be affected (and the volume of material that could be mobilised).

The programme (video below) uses Hollywood style CGI, dramatic reconstruction and footage of previous tsunamis to great effect to tell the story of what is guaranteed to happen if the landslide occurs.  This has been established using a combination of physical and computer modelling (you need to watch the video to appreciate the reality of all this).

Within 10 minutes, the mega tsunami – travelling at the speed of sound – would hit Gran Canaria, within 60 minutes Morocco, within 90 minutes Portugal, within 3 hours England; within 6 hours the Caribbean.  Most devastating of all, however, by virtue of the geography, within 7 hours the entire length of the Eastern seaboard of the USA would be hit almost simultaneously.

Within minutes, social media would alert the World to the disaster but, it is thought, the USA would not take notice until its network of buoys in the North Atlantic indicated a tsunami was on its way.   Worse still, psychologists reckon that even after being warned, 50% of urban Americans would ignore the danger (i.e. optimism bias and denial strike again).

In the city of New York, the authorities have already spent 10 years analysing the consequences of a mega tsunami from the Canaries, which will reach several kilometres inland, and have determined that the death toll will be significant.  Along the eastern seaboard of the USA, 40 million people live within 40 km of the current seashore and 30 million of those people live within 10 metres of current sea level.  By the time the tsunami makes landfall, it is likely to be at least 25 metres high.  However, the main problem is that there will not be one wave, there could be as many as 10 waves; and each one has a very long wavelength – measured in hundreds of metres – so it will be like a river of water flowing inland.  And what goes in must come out again; and when the water flows back out to sea again it is loaded with debris… Then you have the interruption to basic services, the breakdown of law and order; and the spread of disease…  This will make what happened to Japan very modest by comparison.

One member of the US authorities estimates that there could be over 4 million casualties (I am not sure what he means by this).  It seems clear, then, that this tsunami would make the death toll of the Indonesian tsunami (250 thousand) seem modest by comparison.   Authorities in New York City reckon they could not cope with more than 600 thousand displaced people.

The collateral damage will also be extensive.  The tsunami would knock out every single east coast port, which will trigger food shortages everywhere east of the Mississippi…

But enough from me. Watch the video. It will blow your mind…

Written by Martin Lack

20 April 2013 at 00:02

63 Responses

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  1. Downloading the film (via as we ‘speak’, for later viewing. Thanks, Martin; it’s useful to know another way in which we might come a cropper, it kind of puts things into perspective:) Seriously, though, it never ceases to amaze me how we all continue to behave as though car crashes, terrible illnesses, financial woes (when we’re flush) — not to mention death itself — are things that only ever happen to other people, never to us.


    20 April 2013 at 11:09

    • Exponential growth and resource depletion, it seems, only ever happen to other people too! Julian Simon was not a technological optimist – he was a technological fantacist. Thanks again for the link to the Bartlett videos. It is very fortuitous given what I was – and am – working on publishing next week…

      Martin Lack

      20 April 2013 at 12:20

    • Speaking about perspective – I don’t think this would be a global civilisation killer (large areas of the planet would be unaffected, at least by direct effects), but even if it was – at least the generally habitable environment that nurtured civilisation for thousands of years would be unchanged by it. Mega-tsunami, supervolcanoes, nuclear war – all make for apocalyptic scenarios that people gravitate to on account of their dramatic nature. However all are limited duration crisis that do not fundamentally erode the basis for our longer term existence (and most have happened before!). It ought to be also be noted that people would appear to respond far better to an immediate and obvious crisis than a slow and creeping (from human perspective) one (where most people may not even appreciate the real nature of the problem).

      Accordingly my perspective argues that abrupt climate change is a threat at least a couple of orders of magnitude more serious to our species than any of these. I’m virtually certain once the lights go out for the last time upon modern civilisation that it will be tens to hundreds of generations before they start to come back – if EVER.

      And that is the challenge for me – to attempt to improve the chances, metaphorically at least, that the lights come on again for someone in the future. I won’t live to see it, nor would any children or grand-children I might have – but someone sometime might. If our species cannot learn to value itself or it’s future, it will lose both.


      20 April 2013 at 15:23

      • I basically agree with ccgwebmaster, except that my challenge is to cope with the global warming problem. One way to view it is that mankind is in a pass-fail examination now. If we pass the examination, then humanity moves on to the next level of development (and presumably another testing in the future). If we fail the examination, then humanity will be “washed out” of the program. In that case, I sincerely hope that sufficient remnants of humanity would continue to exist in enough locations with sufficient resources to begin the development process again. If you understand what I am saying and want to consider cooperating in the effort to “pass the exam,” then maybe you should contact me personally, and we can exchange ideas.

        Basically, I think we need to see a good start within two years and very noticeable global progress by the end of the decade. If that happens, then there is a very high probability that things will be better and constantly improving in 2050. I do not expect to be here in 2050. I might be gone by 2020, gawd nose. But while I’m here and physically and mentally able, I will be doing what I can to understand the exam problem and contribute to solving it.

        Bill Everett

        21 April 2013 at 00:07

        • I actually don’t expect global civilisation to make it to the end of the decade* (but I do note that the human species is much more resilient than its civilisations). In fact, I’ll be mildly surprised if we even keep running close to the end of the decade. Accordingly my challenge is actually also a way of “coping with the global warming problem”.

          It would seem to me that we failed the examination. We don’t need to wait for the results to know this. We know we flunked all the easy questions building up to the end of the paper, and the end of the session is just about here – while we stare blankly at the last and hardest question. We can drop out entirely – or work towards an ultimate resit.

          *Supporting arguments:


          21 April 2013 at 05:09

        • CCG – You seem to be citing much the same argument as Guy McPherson, who fully expects large parts of the contiguous 48 states to be uninhabitable within 5 years.

          Martin Lack

          21 April 2013 at 11:24

        • Hmm, well, I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to say large parts of the US would be uninhabitable in that timeframe – losing the basis for operating civilisation may greatly reduce the carrying capacity, but it’s not quite the same thing as leaving the area totally non viable. I differentiate between civilisation and species. Arguably I do lean nearer to Guy McPherson than the nice linear long term IPCC stuff though.

          With respect to Neven’s site, I forgot the SSL cert is mismatched. I have no problem with that in this case (but I can well understand people who aren’t familiar with the technology might be wary). So apologies on that score.


          22 April 2013 at 03:14

        • McPherson argues that it won’t take much more of a temperature increase to push hot dry parts of the USA over the 50 Celsius mark (as indeed parts of Australia were last year)… And pretty soon after that proteins in plants begin to breakdown – making outdoor life impossible. Of course, people will just turn up the A/C – and will only revert to living in caves when they can no longer find an electrician to repair the broken equipment…

          Martin Lack

          22 April 2013 at 10:23

        • I don’t necessarily disagree with the first part – that a mild boost in temperatures will be profoundly damaging to a significant area (but not the majority by any means) of the USA, but it’s a big place and has a wide range of climate overall.

          Furthermore a temperature of over 50C is not automatically total devastation – consider this:

          Difficult – yes. Lethal to the young and old and weaker – yes. Empirically lethal? No. I would also like to note that it’s actually quite hard to reach ever higher wet bulb temperatures as higher temperature or humidity both decrease the density of the air and it tends to rise. That effect really helps us a lot.

          I assess the main immediate vulnerability of America to be dependence upon the rest of the world (including some rather vulnerable regions) for massive amounts of resources and manufacturing services. While America does stand to take serious agricultural damage, it is currently a major net food exporter (and affluent) and many other countries starve first. Start to cut off other regions from the global economy however – and America loses a significant amount of the resources it requires to operate. It also does not appear to possess a cultural profile well equipped to handle regression, raising the probability of general conflict.

          I actually think conflict and violence as we scrabble for resources (at both the national and individual levels) will do more to destroy modern civilisation than the direct impacts of climate change. The human world also contains potential positive feedbacks that can accelerate collapse – we stand at the dawn of a world littered with multiple unhelpful non linearities – not one in our favour.


          22 April 2013 at 19:42

        • Thanks for that response, CCG. Your expertise is very much appreciated by this ex-hydrogeologist.

          Martin Lack

          23 April 2013 at 09:59

        • I ought to add a caveat that I have nothing officially identifiable as expertise in any area.:)


          24 April 2013 at 03:44

        • How about, “evidently greater level of knowledge”…?

          Martin Lack

          24 April 2013 at 09:19

        • Still very generous – can’t claim to have spent more than approximately 5 years dabbling in the subject matter – and that on a limited basis (it doesn’t pay the bills, after all).

          Only this morning someone prompted me to substantially re-evaluate the long term ocean acidification threat (might do a blog article on it) – unfortunately moving what I took to be an “extreme worst case outlier” to “probable outcome”.

          That is why I particularly appreciate it when I find places where informed debate happens and one can bounce opinions and information around to accelerate the process of enlightenment and refine one’s world view. Hence, my interest in your blog! (even if the ocean acidification came from elsewhere)


          24 April 2013 at 21:37

        • You are far too kind. As for… “it doesn’t pay the bills, after all” …I know how you feel.

          Martin Lack

          25 April 2013 at 08:46

        • ccgwebmaster: Your links give me:
          This site attempts to identify itself with invalid information.

          Wrong Site

          Certificate belongs to a different site, which could indicate an identity theft.

          I am somewhat familiar with the arctic ice situation, also the situation with northern latitude land methane releases, the C-isotope ratio analysis of such releases in Alaska indicating a deep source of a significant proportion of the surface-released methane, releases of methane from benthic clathrate stores, etc. I have few illusions about the gravity of the situation. As I sometimes say, “I weren’t born yesterday. Been round the block a time or two since Monday.” Consider and my comment 26 there. If you can’t get past the paywall to the Byalko paper mentioned there, contact me by email, and I will send you a pdf of it. I do not intend to “go gentle into that good night.” Resignation is not my style. I continue as in my beginnings to be an arrogant, conceited, stubbornly independent a**hole. I would like you to “join the choir.”

          Bill Everett

          21 April 2013 at 07:00

        • For what it’s worth, Bill, I agree with your synopsis. I am also hopeful that the increasingly obvious accelerating change will soon prompt our governments to stop lying to themselves (and us).

          Martin Lack

          21 April 2013 at 10:56

  2. Watched the programme/video last night. Both Jean and I mused that such a catastrophe would seem like Planet Earth deciding that our species was overdue for some natural culling.

    ‘Interesting’ time to be alive.

    Paul Handover

    20 April 2013 at 15:10

    • Thing is, this sort of culling – as with war, pandemic, etc – only causes a temporary effect on population and consumption levels. It is the oncoming permanent reduction in carrying capacity (additional to our temporary overshoot and direct erosion thereof) that will do the real – and long term – killing.


      20 April 2013 at 15:29

    • Thanks Paul. If I try really hard to be optimistic, I must admit that it must be permissible to challenge the inevitability of the 500 cubic kilometre block sliding into the ocean on one occasion (or in one series of events). However, my personal tendency to be pessimistic immediately counters this be asserting that the experts must have considered this and – as I said – it is not normal for scientists to be alarmists.

      Martin Lack

      20 April 2013 at 16:02

      • Given that we can apparently cut off the tops of mountains to get at coal, and reclaim land or build airports (, I strongly suspect we could (if our species operated on rational principles at the overall level) largely neutralise these mega-tsunami threats (at least the ones predicated on collapses occurring above the water, submarine landslips are a little more challenging). One wouldn’t need to move the whole mass of material – just transport enough of the highest potential energy stuff to a lower level to provide a shallower slope and some land for the rest to collapse onto?

        Maybe we’d rather just concentrate on digging up gigatonnes of coal so we can give ourselves much larger problems to solve instead, eh?


        21 April 2013 at 05:01

  3. This is so well known, that a watch system is in place. The funny trench like fault at the top, in a forest, can be visited. I have been there, long ago.

    The worst danger, of course, is Hawai’i. Differently from Las Palmas, the entire south side of the Big Island started to slip, a few years back. Then it stopped.

    Should it resume, and accelerate its progression, the waves would be locally 600 meters high, and around the Pacific, 50 meters. This has happened before. But, if you want real disasters, go to my site! There you will find out why Osborne cried…

    Patrice Ayme

    20 April 2013 at 21:09

    • A watch system is only of any use if people will take note of it. Furthermore, the USA authorities will, apparently, ignore such things as Facebook and Twitter and wait several hours for their network of buoys to tell them the tsunami is coming. Finally, even when they tell people to evacuate many will not do so. Cognitive dissonance and optimism bias seem set to make fools of humanity…

      Thanks for the link to the post on your blog (not). I will try and find it soon. However, I suspect Osborne cried for the same reason I do so at funerals – even when I do not know the person well – because it reminds me of the death of someone who was close to me and/or of my own mortality. Apart from that, St Paul’s is a very beautiful building and, for many, listening to organ music and choirs singing can be an emotional experience even when they are just practicing.

      Martin Lack

      21 April 2013 at 10:49

      • Hmmm. Miami is a Cuban city. Methinks too that, if Las Palmas fell in the sea, one would know about it, worldwide, within an hour.

        Osborne’s policy leads the UK into a deeper depression than the one of the 1930s, and it’s no doubt sad to see all the erroneous theory being buried at last.

        Patrice Ayme

        21 April 2013 at 15:14

      • Interesting to worry so much about poor Americans drowning, when they will get plenty of warning. Much less so in Europe and Africa. But true the pain of an American is ten times more worthy, at least.

        Patrice Ayme

        21 April 2013 at 15:22

  4. The collapse of the volcano and threat has been known for years- is there any reason you highlight it now? In your opinion, as a geologist are you saying the threat has increased or least imminent?


    21 April 2013 at 13:51

    • Yes, Jules. I have known about La Cumbre Vieja for some years myself. Professor Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) featured it in his programme about Tsunamis a few years ago. However, even that programme is completely surpassed by this one, because it presents the results of physical and computer modelling that provide much more certainty about what will happen if 500 cubic kilometres of material slide into the sea. Unlike the eruption of the super volcano under Yellowstone (which may not happen for 100,000 years), La Cumbre Vieja is known to erupt regularly and is considered likely suffer a catastrophic failure when it next does so. Having said all that, however, I think Katla (on Iceland) seems more likely to erupt first.

      Martin Lack

      21 April 2013 at 14:51

      • what are we talking here-1 to 250 years or 1 to 50 years? 1 to 10?
        Istanbul is expected to get hit soon in geological terms so I’m giving it a miss but can I go surfing in the Canaries with out much fear this year?


        21 April 2013 at 19:24

        • I think you are possibly over-reacting on both fronts, although you are right about Istanbul (where there will be no warning). As you appear to be aware, Istanbul is almost guaranteed to be hit next because each time an earthquake has occurred on the fault line that parallels the south shore of the Black Sea its epicentre has been west of that which preceded it. However, if you worry about everything, you will never do anything; or go anywhere.

          With regard to La Cumbre Vieja, there will be a few days notice but there is no guarantee that it will suffer a catastrophic failure the next time it erupts, which it does every 30 to 60 years. Reference #7 on the volcano’s Wikipedia page looks to be worth reading.

          Martin Lack

          21 April 2013 at 19:59

        • phew! that’s ok then.

          because of the amount of it- history can be seen to be both kind and unexpected but it seems bad times are made worse by those ‘black swans’. If post peak/AGW world wasn’t a big enough headache then the economic collapse is making a bad thing worse- so a few random natural [non climate] disasters should be chucked into the mix, with maybe plague and my favourite: the rise of the neo fascists.

          So if you think things are bad imagine it under the governance of Ukip.

          as you rightly say risk needs to be assessed as does worry/concern/planning. Surf here I come.[ don’t worry I promise to pay back the co2 in more tree growing less shopping.


          21 April 2013 at 21:28

        • I am not impressed by the cost of our membership of what is beginning to look like the United States of Europe. Therefore, I think I would be tempted to vote for UKIP were it not for the fact that they appear to be a bunch of opportunist, populist, ex-BNP-closet-racist, climate change deniers.

          Martin Lack

          22 April 2013 at 10:16

        • Hi Jules. As a postscript to this. I must admit I am sceptical about the volume of “500 cubic kilometres” (i.e. 500 billion cubic metres). I think I must have misquoted this (or someone else has)… The volume of a truncated cone (like La Palma) is approximately = (r2.H) – (r2.[H-h]). Therefore, if r = 10km, H = 3km, and h = 2.3km, this gives a total volume for La Palma (above sea level) of (300 – 70) = 230 cubic kilometres. It would seem that a failure of La Cumbre Vieja could not mobilise more than a fifth of this, and may be as little as 5 cubic kilometres (i.e. 5 billion cubic metres). However, as I said, I am sure this is no more than a typo by someone.

          Martin Lack

          22 April 2013 at 17:51

        • I do think you are extraordinary reasonable person- it is a compliment and there is no hidden meaning, and proven by your above reply. Reason comes first for you- you have no problem back tracking and correcting as you learn more. Of course you would not survive 5 minutes in politics which is a shame.


          22 April 2013 at 18:07

        • Thanks Jules. I think we are back to that quote from Orlando Battista – “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” However, unless all the modelling is based on a fundamental mistake (difficult to imagine), the consequences for the East coast of the USA remain unchanged.

          Martin Lack

          22 April 2013 at 18:19

        • Can I add my penny’s worth of opinion, advice and knowledge. Before I do I happen to be a volcanologist and I lived for many years in the Canary Islands, helping to monitor the volcanoes which are with one exception all believed to be dormant. El Hierro became active in 2011, and is now in a state of dormancy, The one exception is La Gomera which is believed to be extinct. Within recorded history eruptive activity has occurred on Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma and El Hierro, whilst Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria have not experienced eruptive activity in the last approximately 10000 years.

          La Palma saw eruptive activity in 1949 and again in 1971 – prior activity occurred in 1470, 1585, 1646, 1677 and 1712.

          The 1949 eruption has given rise to much speculation and this in turn has caused people to become worried. It has also spawned what in my and many other geologist’s opinion is a massive con trick. The reason is that an insurance company financed research, and were told what they wanted to hear – that the 1949 eruption had created the circumstances that would lead to the collapse of the western flank leading to the generation of a so called mega-tsunami which would inundate much of the eastern USA. It was even helped when one geologist exaggerated the size of the feature that is claimed will fail and raised by the same scientist stating that collapse was imminent.

          So what is the truth. In all honestly we do not know what happened before or during the 1949 eruption in respect of the generation of a potential failure. However these are the facts: In 1936 an earthquake was felt on the southern rim of the Caldera de Taburiente, In the years that followed sporadic earthquakes were felt, but no seismic monitoring equipment was installed and no scientific seismic records exist. Then on the 24 June 1949 the Duraznero vent became active with subterranean noises, rocks were expelled along with “fumes” giving a strong smell of sulfur, startling a goatherd tending his flock. He fled the scene and sought a place of safety. At no time did any lava erupt from the Duraznero vent, then on 1st and 2 July two earthquakes occurred which were perceived to be more powerful than the others, these caused severe damage to buildings in the vicinity of Jedey and it was calculated that they had an intensity of VIII on the Modified Mercalli scale. The hypo centre or focus was later calculated to be located at about 1550 metres below ground level – about 900 metres below sea level. On the 6 July activity at the Duraznero vent ceased emitting rocks, and only fumes continued to be expelled. Then on 8 July a vent opened at the Llano del Banco, about 3 kilometres north-west of the Duraznero and lava flowed down the barranco – ravine, This entered the Atlantic Ocean on 10th July, near Puerto (Port) Naos. On 12 July the Hoyo Negro – Black Hole, vent became active and tephra was erupted. The eruption was mildly explosive or phreatomagmatic, indicating that the magma had encountered ground water. The Hoyo Negro eruptive phase ceased on 22 July and only degassing occurred thereafter. Eruptive activity continued at the Llano del Banco until the 26 July and only degassing continued. At this stage all three vents were emitting fumes. Then on 30 July the Duraznero vent became active along with the Duraznero fissure which lies immediately north of the vent. Lava was erupted from the Duraznero vent and and vents within the Duraznero fissure, this flowed into an adjacent crater – El Fraile and filled the crater. It then overflowed and the lava flowed down the barranco on the eastern flank towards the Atlantic Ocean. The flow stopped about 500 metres from the coast because the supply of lava stopped. Thereafter degassing occurred until 4 August and only residual thermal emissions occur at the present time.

          Following the earthquakes of 1 and 2 July a local geologist – Juan Rubio-Bonelli, noted a series of fissures running north-west from the Hoyo Negro, which had apparently caused the western flank to move with a vertical displacement of between 0 and 4 metres on an inclined plain dipping about 60 degrees to the west. It is this series of fissure that has given rise to claims that the western flank is unstable.

          A survey reported on in 1999 indicated that the flank is stable, a more recent survey also confirms that there is no motion of the flank – any motion is due solely to the whole island and by inference archipelago moving west as part of the motion of the African plate. We were informed by a person that “My GPS indicates that the flank has moved 4 m since last week!” They were puzzled when we asked about the earthquake that should have occurred, and confused when we asked then to show us where the motion had occurred. Let me state now there is categorically no indication that the flank has moved since the events of 1949, crucially apart from infilling due to erosion the fissures have the same dimensions recorded by Bonelli-Rubio in 1949.

          Therefore the conclusion is that the flank is stable and likely to remain so for a very long time. It has been suggested that it would take at least another 10000 years before the flank could become unstable and fail. That means that there is no-one alive today who will witness the failure – if it does occur. In fact it means that at least another 400 generations will have been born. Hence the insurance con trick! The scientists involved in making the claim of failure made a Faustian pact with an insurance company – “I’ll give you a scare story if you give me the money to finance my “research” which will prove what you want it to prove.” A case of leading the science not being lead by the science.

          So whilst no guarantees are offered it appears to many geologists that the claim has been over-hyped and caused a lot of confusion in the minds of the non-scientist, assisted the pseudo-scientists who will tell you that “They don’t know what they are talking about,” “They wouldn’t tell you if it was about to erupt” – the conspiracy theory bred by those who have never take their scientific education beyond a basic understanding. Incidentally there is a long list of scientist who disagree with claim of failure but less than 6 who insist they are right. The consensus is against the doom-sayers! So my advice is to go and sleep tight, have your nightmares about something else – paying the bills next pay-day might be a good one!!!

          The Geologist

          7 February 2016 at 16:57

        • Wow. Thanks for taking the time to compile this comment. I readily admit I have neither the expertise nor the energy to attempt a substantive response. I really wish I had never posted this blog and, therefore, will now prevent further comment on it.

          Martin Lack

          2 March 2016 at 12:11

  5. Fascism is all for home cooked apple pie and motherhood- which I don’t have a problem with either. Likewise I’m agnostic about the EU- it could be a force for good, and it can waste money. Being sceptical of the EU is one thing but Ukip represent the rise of neo-fascism- and I’m serious.

    The national socialists attracted less than 3% of the vote prior to the Great Depression, it leapt to 37%. desperate people will buy into any salvation no matter how raving it may appear to us. Left and right need to start to be honest with themselves and the nation otherwise I can see the neo-fascist Ukip in power in 2020.

    Ukip are remarkably close to Nazis politics complete with – rewriting science – naming treaties as being unfair to the nation- wishing to double the military and police- scapegoating evil bankers and immigrants for all our ills. If you read Delingbot posts they even have their own ‘protocols’ as proof of the evil eco plans for world domination in Agenda 21.

    they may appear to be a bunch of twats who are mostly harmless but I suggest that reading up on 20th century history may demonstrate we should not ignore them. Volcanoes are things we can pull together on and sort out a crisis, our own stupid human stupidity will be as bigger danger as the cause of their existence.


    22 April 2013 at 17:37

    • Christopher Monckton (Third Viscount of Bonkerley) goes on about Agenda 21 as well. It would be interesting to know which one of them was the first to buy into the NWO conspiracy theory from which such a fear originates.

      Martin Lack

      22 April 2013 at 18:13

  6. Additional to my note above about it not being so easy to exceed critical web bulb temperatures – I’d like to cite this (at least the abstract, until or unless I read the actual paper):
    While it is a real (and major!) ultimate concern, they certainly appear to think it takes quite a lot of warming to get to that point. Even though most models are arguably hopelessly wrong in understanding the earth system – it is impossible to avoid the basic fact that it takes time for heat to accumulate in the system (even if one throws the budget further out of balance). I suspect you’ll find the most rapid changes in temperature tend to occur in polar and adjacent regions (in relation to changes in atmospheric/thermohaline circulation or ice albedo) rather than places that are already hot.

    I argue that our agriculture is far more fragile than we are and that it also puts in perspective any concerns people have about sea level rise over the next century and beyond!


    24 April 2013 at 07:02

    • Found it:
      To be fair, they do seem to be taking quite an optimistic (although not unjustifiable) upper limit for survivability.


      24 April 2013 at 07:15

      • Thank you for all your comments and links.

        Martin Lack

        24 April 2013 at 09:25

      • I hope you have seen (or will read) the response from Guy McPherson, below.

        Martin Lack

        24 April 2013 at 15:43

    • So much to learn and yet so little time! Is it too simplistic to conclude that, as the Poles warm faster than the rest of the planet, the reduction in overall latitudinal temperature gradient makes our weather less predictable…?

      Martin Lack

      24 April 2013 at 09:24

      • The only honest answer would be – I don’t know.

        However my impression of the Francis and Vavrus paper on arctic amplification as a driver of mid latitude extreme weather:
        Is such that I think you’ve just summarised the main thrust of the paper (and I think the premise of the paper seems very sound, as far as I follow it) in a nice simple concise sentence (though it isn’t necessarily the only driver of less predictable weather).

        If I was going to indulge in personal speculation, I think the least predictability in weather would occur during the abrupt climate transitions (and to some extent in the build up to and settling down from). While the long term equilibrium that the earth settles into after however many decades or centuries (with perhaps several abrupt shocks along the way – the Arctic albedo flip apparently being the first) may well exhibit a lot more extreme weather (by the standards of the Holocene), I’m assuming once equilibrium is reached things will at least become more predictable again? (long after my lifetime though)

        I’m still trying to work out what the earth looks like longer term. Ice free in the Arctic summer, definitely. Much bigger deserts seems likely (this is a negative feedback!). Dead oceans is looking depressingly likely. Possibly ice free in the Arctic in the winter – and in the Antarctic (taking a long view). Land lifeforms possibly limited to “disaster taxa” (may include humans – or else our most likely prospect is to be constrained to ecological niches).

        I’m not sure what happens if you take the jet stream changes to the logical conclusion? Perhaps much more intense and prolonged episodes of weather that don’t move so much? I suspect once the albedo is gone and heat really starts to build up – it might be relevant to note that Arctic regions receive more daily insolation for part of the summer (due to the 24 hour sunlight) than equatorial regions…

        A lot of idle speculation above – I’m entirely open to opinions/information anyone can add to enlighten it…


        24 April 2013 at 21:56

        • I am afraid that I simply cannot justify spending large amounts of time reading academic papers. This is because I have an urgent need to end my unemployment (and a very unreasonable ex-wife who thinks I am “not seriously looking for work”…). However, thanks for summarising your response to the paper.

          Martin Lack

          25 April 2013 at 08:50

  7. Wet-bulb temperatures at or above 35 C are lethal for humans, as pointed out in the PNAS paper. Large-bodied mammals simply cannot thermoregulate at these temperatures, and they already occur in some areas throughout the globe. They’ll become far more prevalent with relatively minor increases in global-average temperatures.

    Less well-known and more important are effects on ecosystems associated with increases in global-average temperature. I provide a recently updated overview here:

    Guy McPherson

    24 April 2013 at 15:35

    • Thanks for those comments Guy. Although I had already linked to it, thank you for reinforcing the relevance of the recently-updated post on your blog.

      Martin Lack

      24 April 2013 at 15:46

    • Thanks – I revisited the link and read it a bit more closely, and except for a couple little quibbles (one of which put me off reading it so closely initially) I don’t find much to disagree with. I do dispute the automatic assumption on human extinction by 4C, especially in a near future context (while acknowledging I do think we run a real risk of near extinction longer term).

      I’m not sure I see increasing wet bulb temperatures as a shorter term threat – additionally to previous comments – I think agriculture will collapse to a catastrophic extent long before people generally die in large numbers directly from heat stress. Our crops (and to some extent livestock) are typically much less tolerant of extreme conditions than we are, making starvation and conflict the major near future threats facing the majority of people. In my view increasing wet bulb temperatures are likely to ultimately push us to near extinction over a longer timescale.

      Please forgive my skepticism with respect to some of the details mentioned – for example it would take a bit more evidence for me to regard substantially diminished oxygen levels as a probable outcome – as is, one would need to detail the addition of very substantial additional amounts of carbon into the atmosphere (lots of uncertainty in the natural feedbacks I appreciate). Some of the other sources (Paul Beckwith for instance) I treat with a certain amount of caution (last year he argued a massive uptick in large storms would destroy all the Arctic sea ice in the last month of melt season).

      With respect to rates and severity of warming, I think one can’t avoid that it takes time for the earth system to heat up. That isn’t quite the same thing as dramatic regional changes due to alterations in thermohaline and atmospheric circulation however – citing for example the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling, now thought to have plunged a significant chunk of the northern hemisphere into glaciation in potentially only months (albeit triggered by an abrupt event – the release of water from Lake Agassiz on the breaking of a glacial dam disrupting thermohaline circulation).

      It’s also important to note a lot of the projections are based predominantly on human emissions, and I think mostly natural feedbacks are poorly considered. The former is likely to be eliminated by the removal of modern civilisation – the latter may well compensate and more. I argue it isn’t therefore automatically valid however to simply add the natural feedbacks on top of additional human emissions as it embodies a potentially flawed assumption.

      If the main thrust of your argument is that a majority of the human population can be expected to perish in the relatively near future, I’m not arguing that (and what is the difference at a personal level between that and extinction if one dies oneself?).

      Last year I constructed a “probable worst case scenario” at
      The “Douglas Spence” one, though I’d like to backpedal a touch on the nuclear war and Holomodor experience and clarify that I perceive them more as outlier events rather than the mainstream norm. My worldview also presumes upon a lot of thinking that isn’t really related to climate science but is nonetheless part of the overall puzzle of how the world (and our civilisation) work.

      Maybe my timescale is a little pessimistic – lack of knowledge forced me to make some significant assumptions upon some quite large unknowns, plus, well, it’s only a personal viewpoint at the end of the day – nothing authoritative. Precautionary principle and all…


      24 April 2013 at 21:28

      • Humans cannot survive at wet-bulb temperatures of 35 C or higher. And, as pointed out by many sources, a global-average temperature increase of 4 C essentially kills the oceans (and much life on land). Humans will not adapt to a dead planet.

        Guy McPherson

        26 April 2013 at 17:01

        • Thanks for the reply. I honestly I agree absolutely with the substantial majority of the things you have said that I’ve read to date. I feel that the small areas of disagreement may still be rather important – but rather than try to engage in ad hoc disorganised debate here – I’ll collect my thoughts together into a more coherent argument in a blog article. If you had the time and inclination to glance at my arguments (or even scientifically rebut them) I’d consider it an honour. If not, I understand entirely.


          26 April 2013 at 18:01

        • If you include in your post a link to a the climate change article (rather than the home page) of Nature Bats Last, I would be surprised if Guy did not comment.

          Martin Lack

          27 April 2013 at 10:23

  8. Having now watched the documentary — thanks again — it occurs to me that a disaster of this sort might be just the kind of thing that could save us all from ourselves, by slamming the brakes on to the madness of business as usual and (hopefully) causing us to re-evaluate what’s important to us.

    I was particularly interested to note that it’s estimated that fully half of the people would be in denial even as the tsunami rushed toward the shore. Kind of makes a nonsense of the idea of a democracy being able to make sensible decisions.

    Cue vitriolic flak from those unable to distinguish between psychopathic misanthropy and thought experiments.


    25 April 2013 at 12:20

    • If you have read all the other intervening comments, you will know that there is some doubt about the 500 cubic kilometres (or did I just mis-hear it myself) and no certainty that La Cumbre Vieja will collapse when it next erupts (which may not happen for another 20 years anyway).

      Martin Lack

      25 April 2013 at 15:08

      • Yes, I did read all the intervening comments, and tried to find a slot for my own tuppence. Nowhere made any sense, so I opted for the latecomer-to-the-party option😉

        There is no certainty. But it occurs to me that in the nonsense that is ‘nuclear deterrent’ Kim Jong-un is missing a trick: a threat to drop a bomb of a certain well-calculated size on La Cumbre Vieja would not be one that could be taken lightly.


        25 April 2013 at 15:20

        • If your comment disappears, I think it will not be me that deletes it, it will be the CIA.

          Martin Lack

          25 April 2013 at 15:51

        • I’ll get me tin hat …


          25 April 2013 at 16:37

        • I’ve idly wondered similar things about a nuclear bomb placed somewhere strategically in Yellowstone…


          26 April 2013 at 17:46

        • We’d better watch out; we’ll get labeled ‘terrists’…


          27 April 2013 at 07:56

  9. Very strange and very very alarmist. Bill McGuire is desperate for research funding for his pet project – alarming everyone who is not a geologist. In 1949 there was an eruption on the Cumbre Vieja in June and July. During that eruption several earthquakes occurred which are interpreted as being due to magma rising under the volcano. Three vents opened – Duraznero, Hoyo Negro, and San Juan – which issued lava. There was also two more powerful earthquakes with epicentres near Jedey, which had an intensity of about VIII+ on the Mercalli Scale.

    The day after the earthquakes Juan Bonelli Rubio visited the summit area and noted a fissure had opened. According to his field notes, it had the following dimensions: about 1 km long; was about 1 metre wide; and had a MAXIMUM vertical offset of 4 metres. In his notes – I have a copy – he indicated the latitude and longitude of the vents and the ends of the fracture. Since 1995, I have been monitoring the fissure and I can assure you and everyone else that the fracture is of the same dimensions that Bonelli Rubio measured. Any difference in latitude and longitude are due solely to the anti-clockwise rotation of the African tectonic plate. The measurements have been carried out at various times using Dual Frequency Differential GPS not the usual hand held that many who visit the summit use. One person with a handheld GPS claimed that the flank had moved 4 metres westward in a week! She took a lot of convincing that there would have been noticeable seismic activity and that the DGPS readings were contradicting hers!

    The western flank is apparently locked: the section that fractured is now believed to have a surface fissure of about 2500 metres in length – compared to the length of the whole of the Cumbre Vieja (25 kilometres) – it is apparent that only about 10% of the ridge is in an apparent state of failure. Therefore there will need to be a lot of volcanic activity involved before the flank does fail. When it does fail will it be the whole flank and thereby probably generate a mega-tsunami as McGuire claims, or will it fail in bits and pieces potentially generating local tsunamis? Even Stephen Day, in his 1999 paper, considers the latter more likely. What Ward and Day presented in 2001 was grabbed by the media and pseudo scientists presented as fact and many people wonder.

    The worst case scenario is that the whole of the Cumbre Vieja from its junction with the Cumbre Nueva to Punta de Fuencaliente undergoes a series of almost continuous eruptions which destabilise the flank and an earthquake accelerates the flank to the point of failure. That is the very worst case scenario; and it is not going to happen for many years. I doubt if the great-great-great grandchildren of anyone who is alive now will witness it. I am a geologist, and work as a volcanologist, living on the island; and am frankly fed up with the way the media present the problem.

    The Geologist

    15 November 2013 at 13:20

    • Many thanks for taking the time to submit this comment. I appreciate that the title of my post could be interpreted as alarmist. All I meant to imply is that this super Tsunami would appear to be inevitable (even though a very distant prospect). Given that you are a geologist and live on the island, your evidence and opinion to the contrary is very much welcome. I also note your sense of frustration at media distortion of the subject; and I hope you will accept that I did not mean to add to it.

      On the contrary, I have tried to use the issue of volcanoes to highlight the stupidity of denying the reality of our environmental problems. Therefore, can we agree that, unlike Cumbre Vieja, the volcanoes on Iceland are a real and present danger; and that one or more of them is very likely to erupt within then next few decades?

      For the avoidance of any doubt, I would wish to say that the real point of this post (subliminal or otherwise) was to make the point that, unlike volcanoes, climate change is something we definitely can do something about (and that people should therefore stop denying it is happening and start trying to stop it).

      Martin Lack

      15 November 2013 at 16:48

  10. Thank you for replying and not telling me I don’t know what I am talking about – as many try to do. I have even been asked “At what time and date will this volcano next erupt?” My crystal ball is broken, the others in my possession are unfortunately not made of crystal! I wish people would accept that science is a means to examine processes – cause and effect. A computer model is precisely that – a model which subject to the information given will produce a result. After all I can write here that 1 + 2 = 4 and claim that my answer is correct and that which says it should equal 3 is wrong! Remember GIGO – Garbage In Garbage Out. I am glad that you use the term “Climate Change,” and not the mis-used “Global Warming” Every where on Earth is habitable because of Global Warming – which occurred about 12000 years ago when the Great Ice Age ended. Yes natural phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions are totally outwith our control, the amount of pollution we as a species pump out is totally within our control. I walk unless I positively have to use a machine – automobile, bus, train or plane. Icelandic volcanoes present a different hazard to that of the Cumbre Vieja yet Iceland is also most definitely splitting apart because of 1. It is located across the Mid Atlantic Ridge and 2. The volcanic action causes the island as a whole to become top heavy and so it also moves apart under that influence.

    The Geologist

    8 January 2014 at 15:46

  11. misiamercer

    21 October 2014 at 22:32

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