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Supervolcano!!: Big Trouble in Little Aotearoa

Uppdaterat: 4 nov. 2022

Aotearoa! Also more commonly known as New Zealand, this geographically isolated country has everything from fjord and mountaintop glaciers to rainforests and majestic desert dunes. It also lacks snakes, crocs, spiders, overwhelming heat, Aussies, and all other of its neighbor Australia's infamous dangers. I thought that this paradise was essentially a safer Australia before I first came here. That idea was challenged however when I hiked up one of the country's volcanoes and learned a concerning fact. Aotearoa's largest lake is the caldera of an active supervolcano.

Lake Taupo, Aotearoa's largest lake and the caldera of Taupo Volcano. Source: EoS

Volcanos are pretty cool, and Aotearoa's 24 volcanoes will undoubtedly pique the interest of any volcano enthusiast. The fact that none of them have flowing lava is perhaps a bit disappointing, but that is made up by the fact that the real-life version of Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings is located here. If there's one thing that is cooler than that though, it must be the supervolcano Taupo Volcano in the middle of the northern island. But what makes it a "super" volcano instead of a regular one? At first glance, the naming seems a bit too on the nose for what could just be described as a really big volcano. The designation isn't based on size though.

A supervolcano is a volcano that has had an eruption with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 8, which is the highest recorded value on the index. In tangible terms, it means that the volcano's eruption has emitted 1000 km³ of water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and hydrogen halides. Such eruptions are cataclysmic events that alter landscapes, divert rivers, and cause global decreases in temperate that lead to volcanic winters. The magma released eventually causes the volcano's area to collapse, forming a caldera. These are often misnamed craters, but they are closer to sinkholes since they are caused by a collapse rather than an explosion or impact. In the case of Taupo, its caldera became filled with water resulting in the volcano being under the lake rather than having the classic cone-shaped mountain form as most volcanos.

The location used for filming Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings, Mount Ngāuruhoe. Source: UIG via Getty Images/Andia

The Oruanui eruption at Taupo Volcano around 26 500 years ago was the last supervolcano eruption to occur in the world. It may seem like an eternity ago and as such, cause the inevitable concern about when the next outbreak will occur. Was the movie 2012 just a decade off with its prediction?

While we have gotten good at detecting volcanic activity, it is nearly impossible to predict when the next supervolcano eruption will occur. Estimates based on historical eruptions all indicate that no supervolcano will erupt anytime soon. Still, volcanos follow the same principles as stocks which is that past performance does not guarantee future results. Volcanoes change their activity erratically and do not follow any long-term patterns. We would likely not find out if an eruption occurred until it was too late.

Rangitoto volcano. Recommend the hike if visiting Auckland. Source: Teara

Luckily, there's no reason to be a Debby downer. Cataclysmic eruptions are incredibly rare, and this topic shouldn't really be viewed as anything more than an interesting topic for a youtube video. Taupo Volcano is right now about as harmless as Kiwis, both the bird and the people. My bad though if I've jinxed it.

Lastly, I recommend watching the linked video below illustrating Taupo Volcanoes' last eruption. It illustrates just how big the eruption and ensuing emissions were.


Articles about supervolcanoes that may interest you and largely influenced this article:

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