Sunday 29 April 2018

Super Volcano

A few years ago I was sitting at a café in Sorrento overlooking the Gulf of Naples in Italy watching the sun set. As I watched the golden sky, my eyes drifted across the water to the city of Naples.

Towering over the city was one of our planet’s most impressive natural structures almost as if standing guard like a silent sentinel.


Vesuvius From The Air
Unfortunately Mount Vesuvius isn’t exactly a sentinel, more of a dormant threat. It’s easy to admire nature’s handiwork but when the people who live around the Gulf of Naples see the volcano, surely they must wonder whether the volcano will ultimately destroy them just as it did centuries ago in perhaps the most famous volcanic eruption man has ever witnessed.
On August 24th AD79, the area saw the power of the volcano when it erupted and hurled molten rock, ashes, stones and noxious volcanic ashes into the atmosphere, with the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum being totally destroyed by pyroclastic surges. 
I visited the remains of Pompeii and I can only imagine how terrifying this assault of nature was. You can still see the remains of bodies of people who  were killed in the disaster in positions that showed the agony the people must have suffered in their last moments.

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Mount Vesuvius is an impressive sight and you can only wonder what would happen if a similar eruption were to occur today. In fact, there have been eruptions in the 20th century, both causing significant damage and killing people.
What is even more frightening is that relatively speaking Mount Vesuvius is just a normal volcano. There is something on our planet that can wreak havoc on a global scale – a super volcano.
Super volcanoes are huge and while they erupt far less frequently than their smaller brothers, when they do erupt, chaos ensues. Typically super volcanoes only erupt every few hundred thousand years.
Thank goodness for that.
However, we are actually overdue such an eruption. And that is very bad news.
How does a super volcano compare to a normal volcano, I hear you cry?
In general, a normal volcano hurls about a cubic kilometre of matter. A super volcano erupts over anything from one thousand times that amount to five thousand times that amount (and I think that experts are only guessing because we haven’t experienced such an event as human beings).
How many of these enormous monsters are out there, I hear you scream?
I did some research and discovered that there are twelve of them!
One of the most famous ones you might have heard of is the Yellowstone caldera in the United States. Here are some facts about it.
The Yellowstone caldera measures 35 by 45 miles.
It last erupted 630,000 years ago and experts say that we shouldn’t get another for at least 30,000 years. Let’s hope not.
The Yellowstone park contains 60% of the world’s geysers.
There are 1000 to 2000 earthquakes per year in and around Yellowstone.
So what would happen if a super volcano were to erupt? Taking Yellowstone as an example, an eruption would be a complete and utter disaster that would cause some serious damage, although scientists are convinced that such an event wouldn’t necessarily lead to life on Earth being wiped out. It is thought that the last eruption led directly to the Ice Age.
Here’s what would happen.
Anybody in the vicinity would be killed. 
Any surrounding cities would be destroyed. 
The resulting ash cloud would be huge and falling ash would choke people in a huge radius when it fell back to Earth. In the case of Yellowstone, all the US states surrounding Wyoming would be devastated.
The ash cloud would cause global temperatures to fall by at least 20 degrees, with the long term effect of slowly killing vegetation and plant life, something we as humans need for our own food and the food of the animals we breed to nourish us, leading to widespread famine on a global scale.

The good news is that scientists are constantly monitoring volcanic activity throughout the world, so the eruption of a super volcano would not come as a massive surprise. The question is, even if scientists were to predict that a super volcano would erupt in a year, what on Earth could we do about it? 
The short answer is nothing, but world governments might be able to take steps to mitigate the effects on humanity, though to me personally, I’m not altogether sure how we would prepare. 
Let’s just hope that we’re not around when it eventually happens – and believe me it will.

Monday 16 April 2018

Getting Warmer ...

We live in an amazing period in human history, a time when huge leaps in technology and science have provided the human race with advances that could not even be imagined several hundred years ago. That’s if you don’t count reality TV of course!

We are able to drive around in vehicles that make our individual countries much smaller places. The world too is getting smaller as we fly from country to country, in achievable time frames. If I want to travel to America I can board an aircraft at Manchester airport in the morning and land in New York eight hours later and have dinner in a fancy restaurant in Manhatten with time to add some graffiti to Trump Tower should I feel the need to do so (and I do, dear reader, I really do).

I can even get to the other side of the world in a day or so to give me an opportunity to discuss ball tampering with Aussies and get some tips.

For people who don’t like travelling, communication with the rest of the world technology comes to their aid too. My eldest son has just come back from Sydney, Australia and I managed to exchange several messages with him via an application on my smartphone in real time almost instantaneously, offering translation services like use of the word “dunney” and the phrase “fair dinkum”. He has posted photographs to make me jealous and I can express my envy in seconds.

This very post will cast out into cyberspace and can be read instantly by anyone in the world with access to a computer, tablet, smartphone and a strange masochistic streak.

As a race we are so proud of our achievements but sadly there is a cost – and we need to do something about it.

Technology is driven by electricity and in order to generate the copious amounts we demand and require we need to burn fossil fuels, as we do if we want to travel a small distance in our cars or fly to any destination in the world.

Sadly, burning fossil fuels generates carbon dioxide, or CO2, and the consequences of this are affecting the planet we call home. Carbon dioxide and other pollutants collect in the atmosphere and are basically turning Earth into a giant greenhouse. Sunlight and solar radiation should reflect off the surface of the planet and escape into space but, just like a greenhouse, these gases absorb  the sunlight and radiation and trap the heat, thus making our planet warmer.

If you have ever been in a greenhouse on a sunny day you will know exactly what I mean.

In theory we could achieve balance with plants because they absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. Sadly, we are significantly reducing the number of plants in the world through farming and deforestation, in some cases burning them, which in turn generates even more carbon dioxide.

It is a battle that the earth is losing.

Global warming sceptics, amongst them President Donald Trump, dismiss the idea of climate change due to human intervention as a myth. However, there are mountains of proof out there.

For example, all but one of the 16 hottest years in recorded history have occurred since the year 2000.

Think about that for a second.

Given the demand for electricity, travel and fossil fuels generally is it any surprise, especially since the human population of the world is also increasing rapidly – currently a staggering 7.6 billion people?

So what are the effects of global warming? And could it cause the end of the world?

We will face several challenges. If we carry on down the road we have embarked upon.

The level of the seas will rise, leading to coastal flooding which will include some major cities around the world. We may even lose the ice at the North Pole during summer months in a hundred years or two.

The weather will also be adversely affected with more extremes, stronger and more powerful hurricanes, severe snowstorms and flooding, something which will potentially lead to plagues and disease (a bad thing for a hypochondriac like me).

Paradoxically, other places will suffer droughts leading to famine and starvation.

The oceanic ecosystem will suffer too. As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide, its pH will drop making it more acidic and harmful to marine life.

For those who doubt that global warming is an actual thing (I’m talking specifically to people like Donald Trump), here are some other proven and alarming facts.

As of 2017, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at their highest for 650,000 years.

The average global temperature is up by almost one degree Centigrade since 1880.

Arctic summer sea ice has declined by 13% per decade since the 1980s.

The global sea level has risen 7 inches in the past century.

What can we do about it?

We can stop listening to the Oompah Loompah in the White House for a start.

Sadly, you and I, dear reader can only contribute in a tiny way by reducing our carbon footprints and, perhaps using our own footprints to get to our destinations instead of jumping into our cars. As a race we need a technology leap that sadly isn’t being achieved as fast as we actually need it.

Even with countries aiming to reduce their emissions with targets, the global temperature will still rise – only more slowly.

Our fate is in our own hands. At the moment we are turning our planet into a toilet in a greenhouse.

I have hope though. I think the world is slowly becoming aware of the problem – too slowly if you ask me – but then again people like Donald Trump won’t be in power for too much longer to bleat about global warming being a myth.

Mind you, he’s so orange that perhaps he think it’s his own natural skin colour.

We could all end up looking like him.

The future of mankind?
And that should give us all the kick up the arse we need.

Monday 2 April 2018


My name is Dave and I am a hypochondriac.

For that reason, and that reason alone, the end of the world scenario that terrifies me most is the threat that we as a race could all be wiped out by a supervirus.

Imagine, if you will, a TV news announcement that describes a potential nasty bug that is spreading from person to person in numerous countries with no hope of recovery. From that point on, I would be totally and utterly convinced that the virus was in my system even if it hadn’t reached the shores of the United Kingdom yet.

In the past, I have been slightly perturbed when newscasters have mentioned benign bugs that are nasty but not lethal, even when they are confined to the deepest parts of Africa, say.

A few years ago there had been an outbreak of the deadly respiratory disease called Sars and it had surfaced in Hong Kong. Thankfully, the authorities had it under control eventually and it was then that my project manager asked me to go on a business trip to the city.  I read that the authorities at the airport were screening people as they came and left using thermal cameras in an attempt to detect elevated temperatures in travellers. I wrestled with my inner hypochondriac who told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to catch the disease even though it was under control. Normally I would have been over the moon to visit my favourite city outside the United Kingdom – but not this time.

Deep down I knew that I would be safe but that didn’t stop the hypochondriac inside whispering to me constantly through the flight: “You will catch Sars – that’s if you don’t have it already.”

The temperature in Hong Kong in the summer is quite a lot higher than the UK and you feel it the moment that you leave the aircraft. Such was my paranoia that I thought the thermal cameras would identify an elevated temperature in me as I walked towards immigration.

Of course, I was being utterly stupid and I passed through without a problem. My trip lasted three weeks, during which time I became an expert in the symptoms of Sars. Every time I felt slightly below par I was convinced that I had succumbed to the disease – even a few weeks after my return to Manchester.

I know that I am an idiot for allowing myself to accede to such moronic paranoia but I can’t help it. I wish I could.

Thus, if I were to ever catch a news report telling me that a deadly disease was spreading across the world, wiping out everybody who came into contact with it, I would probably worry myself to death months before the infection claimed me.

I would be an expert and would probably use all of my money to travel to the remotest part of the world, avoiding all contact with civilisation on my way, so that I could sit there in splendid isolation away from any human beings who might pass on the deadly virus to me.

That’s how irrational my inner hypochondriac is.

The perfectionist in me wanted to do some research into the possibility of humanity being wiped out by such a virus so I have had to silence the hypochondriac.

And thank goodness for that because I have discovered that it is highly unlikely that a pandemic could cause the extinction of the human race. Over the centuries, there have been several nasty little blighters that have tried their level best to take us all out – things like The Black Death, Ebola, various flavours of flu, Sars and HIV.

The good news is that there are steps in place to contain such outbreaks and the organisations and institutions that are responsible for this are damned good at what they do.

Yet, as I watch programs like “The Walking Dead” where a virus has wiped out all but the hardiest of humanity and turned them into flesh eating Zombies, I can’t help but think that maybe such a thing could happen. In fact, in the show, every human being actually has the disease anyway so that when you eventually die, you come back to life as a cannibalistic corpse whose sole  raison d'ĂȘtre is to munch on the living.

How nice is that?

My deepest fear is that there is a malignant virus living dormant in every human being ust waiting to be activated and murder us in the most horrible way possible. If I shove this thought aside for a moment (very difficult now it is in my head) the truth is that humanity would find a way were such a supervirus to suddenly appear – even if it were man made. Some form of humanity would survive and find a way perhaps living in a remote part of the world, like the top of a mountain range, the deepest part of the Australian Outback or an African desert. It wouldn’t be pleasant but we might survive.

And if you do live in such an inhospitable yet safe part of the world, get ready to meet me. I’ll be there the moment the first cases of the outbreak are reported.