Sure, volcanoes are one of the most destructive natural disasters, killing thousands every year. But there are a few good things as well, let’s take a look at the benefits of volcanoes.
The slopes of volcanoes and the surrounding regions are covered with rich, volcanic soil. For example, most of Italy has poor soils with bare limestone rock. But the regions around Naples, the site of Mount Vesuvius, are covered in very rich soil that was deposited in two huge eruptions 35,000 and 12,000 years ago. This area is planted with grape vines, vegetables and flowers that grow very well. The soil is rich because the volcanic tephra released in eruptions is easily weathered by rain. This process breaks down nutrients in the ash and rock delivering it slowly to the plants.
Volcanoes also create brand new islands. For example, the entire Hawaiian chain of islands was created by the constant eruptions of a single volcanic hot spot. Over hundreds of thousands of years, these volcanoes breached the surface of the ocean becoming habitable islands, and rest stops during long sea journeys. Unique species of plants and animals evolved into new forms on these islands, creating balanced ecosystems.
Another volcano benefit are the many precious gems and building materials that can only come from volcanoes. Opals and obsidian are produced in volcanoes. Volcanic eruptions produce pumice stones, which people have used to remove excess skin. Hardened volcanic ash, called tuff makes a strong, lightweight building material. The ancient Romans used tuff to make a strong, lightweight concrete for walls, and buildings. The roof of the Pantheon in Rome is made of pumice concrete because it’s so lightweight.
Regions of volcanic activity are enormous sources of geothermal energy. One of the most volcanically active regions in the world is Iceland, and they generate a sizable portion of their energy from geothermal energy.
So volcanoes do really provide us with many benefits.
We have also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast about Earth, as part of our tour through the Solar System – Episode 51: Earth.