Who's Up for Ash-Surfing? Amazing Volcano Vacations
The Sakurajima volcano in Japan is known to produce “dirty thunderstorms” and lightning bolts. (Photo: Soumei Baba/Flickr)
By Robin Esrock
Have you hugged a volcano lately? You should. Although we commonly perceive them as lava-spewing cones of doom, humans probably wouldn’t be here without them.
Roughly 2.5 billion years ago, underwater volcanoes breached the ocean’s surface and began emitting gases like steam, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen into the air: These became the building blocks of a life-supporting atmosphere. When all that carbon dioxide dissolved into the oceans, simple cyanobacteria — which possibly evolved thanks to underwater volcanoes called black smokers — gobbled it up and released an important by-product: oxygen. So, it seems humanity owes volcanoes a debt of gratitude.
And in a way, we’ve already thanked them. Ancient cultures turned these mountains into gods and goddesses, like Vulcan, Hephaestus, and Pele. We still worship them today, but mainly by vacationing in their shadows. About 1,500 potentially active volcanoes dot the globe, each one a unique source of wonder.
Ash billows daily from Japan’s Sakurajima, which is so active that authorities prohibit anyone from climbing it. Sakurajima’s activity often causes “dirty thunderstorms.” When the mountain throws a tantrum, lava and rock fragments spew into the air, colliding and creating electric charges. The result? Lightning bolts streaking over an erupting cone.
(Photo: Jaime Golombek/Flickr)
Ecuador’s second-highest peak hasn’t erupted for decades. That’s made Cotopaxi popular with a diverse set of adventurers, namely climbers, skiers, and … bird-watchers. That’s partially the fault of the Ecuadorian Hillstar, a rugged species of hummingbird, that likes hanging out there.
(Photo: Robin Esrock)