Every year, our planet is subjected to earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural catastrophes such as tsunamis. These naturally occurring phenomenons impact our lives in more than one way since we have no way of stopping them. Even scarier is the fact that naturally occurring disasters such as wildfires caused by an increase in temperatures and more droughts worldwide, are destroying the health of our forests. But wildfires aren’t the only thing we need to worry about. More than 1,000 tornadoes are formed in the United States alone every year.
1. Indonesia’s forgotten super-volcano
The Indonesian island of Sumatra is currently home to the largest volcanic lake on Earth. When the volcano last erupted more than 25 million years ago, it wiped out almost everything. The Toba Catastrophe Theory suggests that the event likely wiped out most humans living at the time; causing a population bottleneck in East Africa. During its last eruption, scientists estimate that the volcano threw 671 cubic miles of volcanic ash and lava into the atmosphere.
As with any super-eruption, the vast quantities of ash and sulphur dioxide produced can have a devastating effect on the global climate. While the Yellowstone National Park is a similar threat, what makes the Toba super-eruption much more intimidating is its location. First of all, it’s located on the densely populated island of Sumatra, which is home to more than 50 million residents. Second of all, the Indian Ocean is only 24 miles away, which means that it could cause catastrophic tsunamis. (source)
2. Asteroid Impact
As technology is evolving, scientists are putting it to good use to learn and understand things beyond what we were able to see. A catastrophic asteroid impact that is capable of wiping out life on Earth is something that is largely possible. However, space agencies such as NASA are always scanning the sky for potential threats. Believe it or not, every day, Earth is bombarded with more than 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles. While most of them don’t even make it to the atmosphere, once a year, an automobile-sized asteroid hits Earth’s atmosphere, creates an impressive fireball, and burns up before reaching the surface.
The last asteroid to hit Earth was 66 million years ago; which was the reason for the extinction of dinosaurs. With all the technological advancements available today, scientists still cannot accurately predict when the next devastating asteroid impact will occur. Odds are that it could be decades or even centuries from now but we do know that an unknown space rock could come our way any day. (source)
3. Pacific northwest megathrust earthquake
Megathrust earthquakes are the most powerful earthquakes in the world, capable of producing powerful tsunamis. They occur where two plates converge, particularly in subduction zones, reveal several different tsunami-producing behaviors and can generate large tsunamis. The Cascadia subduction zone is located off the west coast of North America, from mid Vancouver Island to northern California. The two plates are continually moving towards one another, and once stuck, they would create immense pressure that would exceed the friction between the two plates and a huge megathrust earthquake will be formed.
Megathrust earthquakes are formed more often than we imagine. Within the past 6,000 years, 13 megathrust events have been identified; with an average of one every 500 to 600 years. The last one was more than 300 years ago. A megathrust earthquake in Chile in 1960 was magnitude 9.5, whereas one in Alaska in 1964 was magnitude 9.2. The last Cascadia earthquake is estimated at magnitude 9. Scientists are using laser technology to precisely measure the changing patterns and movements in order to predict the next occurrence, so the severity of the catastrophe could be reduced. (source)
4. An extra-terrestrial threat
One of the biggest threats we face is from our own star. A solar flare is a large explosion of magnetic energy in the Sun’s atmosphere. Although they cannot be observed with the naked eye, telescopes, space x-rays and thermal imaging equipment helps us to view them. According to NASA, the energy released during a flare is equivalent to ten million times greater than that released by a volcanic eruption.
The flares last for only a few minutes but they are powerful enough to produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. X-rays and UV radiation emitted by solar flares can cause long-lasting radiation storms in the Earth’s ionosphere, as well as create blackouts all around the globe. One of the largest known events was in 1921, which knocked out the US telegraph service. With most of the world relying in technology to survive, a solar flare could prove to be devastating since it can disable global communications, ground aircrafts, take down satellites, the internet and GPS. The intensity of solar flares varies on a roughly 11-year cycle and fortunately the cycle which took place in 2014 did not have much impact on Earth. (source)
5. Mt. Fuji eruption
Located on Honshu Island, Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). This volcanic mountain is actually three separate volcanoes, and is considered one of Japan’s 3 sacred mountains. Although it is one of the world’s most beautiful mountains, scientists have been concerned with the volcano and the consequences of it erupting. Japan is home to 110 active volcanoes and among those, 47 are closely monitored because they have erupted recently or shown worrying signs. Mt. Fuji is among the 47 and last erupted on December 16, 1707.
Scientists from France and Japan recently studied the volcano and discovered that it is most likely to erupt in the near future. This could be a growing concern since the volcano is only 62 miles away from Tokyo, which has a population of 9.273 million. Even if everyone were evacuated before the eruption, the city could still be covered by ash plume, which can take up to 3–4 years to fully dissipate. (source)
6. Largest tsunami ever
Dr. Simon Day of the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London, UK, believes that the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries archipelago, is unstable. Studies show that the left side of the volcano is extremely unstable and if a landslide is triggered, more than half a trillion tons of rock could plunge into the ocean. This could in fact create a wave 650 meters high (2,130 feet) that would spread out and travel across the Atlantic at a high rate of speed, engulfing everything in its path.
Dr. Day told BBC Science’s Horizon program, “This event would be so huge that it would affect not only the people on the island but people way over on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – people who’ve never heard of La Palma”. (source)
7. Heat waves
As our planet’s temperature keeps rising, some places are experiencing hotter summer months than ever before. Exposure to severe heat can cause heat exhaustion; which can include symptoms such as dizziness, headache and fainting. A 2018 report showed that in the U.S. alone, more people are becoming victims to heat wave than all other disasters combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat waves claim more lives than other naturally occurring disasters.
In 2018, a lot of countries experienced unusually hot summers, especially Australia which saw the third hottest year on record. According to the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement, the nation’s average temperature last year was 1.14 C above the average for 1961-1990, making 2018 slightly warmer than 2017. The Bureau of Meteorology also said that rainfall totals in Australia in 2018 were the lowest since 2005. (source)
8. Disease outbreak
Long-dormant bacteria and viruses that have been trapped inside ice and permafrost for centuries are now being unearthed. As Earth’s climate warms, it is melting permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years. As the soils melt, they are releasing ancient viruses and bacteria that, have been laying dormant, are springing back to life. While modern antibiotics and medicines can help our immune system fight off dangerous diseases that are known to mankind, there are hidden dangers within the permafrost. As the Earth’s climate warms, it is believed that we would become exposed to some of the most forgotten diseases.
In a 2005 study, NASA scientists successfully revived bacteria that had been encased in a frozen pond in Alaska for 32,000 years. In 2007, scientists managed to revive an 8-million-year-old bacterium that had been lying dormant in ice in Antarctica. While reviving these organisms might be a huge achievement in the field of science, they could also be dangerous if let loose. (source)
9. Cosmic event like a black hole or antimatter reaction
Black holes are actually supermassive holes at the center of our galaxy. If stars or gas get really close to a supermassive black hole, the intense gravity transforms them into hot plasma, which is then absorbed into the hole. According to NASA, they are really good at clearing everything around them. “A black hole destroying a star, an event astronomers call “stellar tidal disruption,” releases an enormous amount of energy, brightening the surroundings in an event called a flare. In recent years, a few dozen such flares have been discovered, but they are not well understood.”
The issue with black holes is that they are black and we can’t see them unless they are feeding upon a star or any other cosmic particle. According to scientific studies, there is more than one supermassive black hole in our Milky Way and there could be millions of stellar-sized black holes all around us. While black holes are definitely not chasing us, they are still a threat. If one gets too close to our planet, it could smush us into hot plasma and suck us in, and there’s nothing we can do about it. (source)
Lately, there has been a peek in wildfires across the US. A study conducted by scientists from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) found that by 2050, wildfire seasons in the US will be three weeks longer and will cause three times the damage and twice the smoke and damage in the West. According to the US Geological Survey and the Forest Service, since 1999, the number of wildfires across the US increased from 2.2 million to 6.4 million annually.
The reason for the rise in the number of wildfires is due to the rise in temperature, as well as drought. These conditions are perfect for winds to start a small fire in the dried up forests and spread at a fast pace. According to the National Geographic, on average, more than 100,000 wildfires, also called wildland fires or forest fires, clear 4 million to 5 million acres (1.6 million to 2 million hectares) of land in the U.S. every year. (source)