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The Daily Volcano Quote: fatalism and forecasting 17 March 2009

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Nothing captures the world’s attention like a natural disaster – particularly a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. A huge eruption is perceived as uniquely primordial and fatalistic, a response to the extraordinary power of volcanism but also to the powerlessness of man in controlling gigantic forces. Too often the perception carries a feeling that these forces have been unleashed with inadequate warning under nearly fortuitous spatial and temporal conditions.

Yet we in volcanology know this perception is largely untrue. Eruptions can be forecast, the legacy of Thomas Jagger in Hawaii and others. The dangers of living on volcanic edifices seem clear and obvious. Every volcano has an eruption history compatible with its tectonic setting, although the timing of eruptions within this history sometimes seems nearly fortuitous. The message of volcanologists is slowly modifying the relationship between civilizations and volcanoes; we hope it is not outpaced by the influence of increasing population and the space needed by that population.

Floyd W. McCoy & Grant Heiken, ‘Introduction’, in idem (eds.), Volcanic Hazards and Disasters in Human Antiquity (Boulder, CO: The Geological Society of America, 2000), p. v.

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