Europe's super volcano shows signs of life (Updated)

There is a sleeping super volcano in Europe, and it isn't in Italy (a country famous for its eruptions). This giant is located under the Laacher See, a caldera lake in Germany, and it is showing signs of life. Should it erupt, it could spew billions of tons of magma as far as 620 square miles. Update inside.

Editor's Note: As pointed out in the comments below, Laacher See's volcano is probably not the threat it's perceived to be. Erik Klemetti called the news spread by the Daily Mail "fearmongering" and went on to debunk it in his Wired article here. It's definitely worth a read. Our original article follows, but it's best read with Klemetti's clarifications in mind.

The Laacher See volcano is thought to erupt every 12,000 years or so, and it last went off 12,900 years ago. It's been giving scientists subtle hints: some seismic tremors recorded in the region in February, and the somewhat disturbing release of carbon dioxide bubbles into the lake. This bubbling is referred to as "de-gassing," which comes from the magma chamber.

What could happen if the sleeping giant decides to blow? The Lacher See volcano is believed to be the size of the Philippines' Mt. Pinatubo that erupted in 1991 and was the biggest eruption of the 20th century.

Mt. Pinatubo ejected 10 billion tons of magma, 20 billion tons of sulphur dioxide and nearly four cubic miles of ash, and caused a 0.5 Celsius drop in global temperatures. So remember that Icelandic quake that disrupted travel for a few weeks? You can forget that. Think bigger.

Scientists say the last time the Lacher See erupted, it covered 620 square miles of land with ash and rocks and the remnants can be found all around Europe today. At the very least with a new eruption there would be mass destruction and an ash cloud that could cause short term global cooling.

So what should Europe do to prepare? Scientists are taking a wait and see attitude as they closely monitor the signs of life under the lake. With today's technology hopefully there would be ample warning before a catastrophic eruption to avoid widespread loss of life.

It may be helpful, however, to review the do's and don'ts learned when Pompeii erupted to make sure there are viable escape plans. Here's hoping today's technology gives us an advantage!

The Daily Mail, via Gizmodo

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