According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide, with about 500 of them having erupted in historical time. In short, Earth is chock full of volcanoes, and when they go "boom" there isn't usually much joy in mudville -- or, in this case, lavaville. The risk for large-scale loss of life is high -- lives, livelihoods and landscapes are ruined.
And yet large numbers of people live their whole lives -- by choice or lack of it -- in the shadow of volcanoes that, in theory, could go at any time (or, conversely, NOT go for hundreds or thousands of years). What's it like to live next to a volcano? Is there any upside?
It turns out there are some surprising rewards to weigh against the risks of living near a volcano.
First, there's the soil. Sometimes dirt is more than just dirt. Volcanic soil can be a source of agricultural bounty. It's one of the reasons people risk living near volcanoes: Food can be grown there. Mount Vesuvius eruptions in Italy, tens of thousands of years ago, laid the groundwork for the rich soil that has been tilled in the region ever since.
Next, there's power. It's pretty clear we needs lots of electricity to run a modern world, and rivers running off volcanoes can provide a good source of hydroelectric power. Volcanoes also hold an innately rich potential source of geothermal energy to be tapped.
Meanwhile, there's the "wow" factor. If you put your town next to a volcano, another likely benefit you'll end up with is a stream of tourists and other adventurer types such as hikers and skiers, who will need food and lodging, and who might even like to buy the occasional souvenir to commemorate their experience. And speaking of souvenirs -- do you like shiny things? Volcanic land can be rich in metals and precious gems -- gold, silver -- even diamonds.
But as they say, all that glitters isn't gold. Even with all these surprising upsides, there's still the terrible downside -- the ever-present danger of living next to something so volatile. The very thing supplying the soil, power, materials and tourism could lay waste to it all in the relative blink of an eye.
Would you take the risk and live near a volcano? Share your comments below!