Photo by: Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Why Do People Live Near Active Volcanoes?

By: Reuben Westmaas

Volcanoes have a lot to offer local residents.

August 01, 2019

In May 2018, the people living in the shadow of the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea made a hasty evacuation when it suddenly exploded. The thing is, it had already been erupting, albeit at a slower pace, since about 1983 — which raises a question. Why did all those people choose to live near a ticking time bomb? Well, as it turns out, volcanoes have a lot to offer local residents — as long as they're ready to beat it at a moment's notice.

Going With the Flow

It would probably be pretty difficult to convince someone from New York or Chicago to set up a homestead directly in the path of an active volcano. But the volcanoes, well, they make a compelling case. There are actually many agricultural, economic, and social reasons to live next to a volcano. It all starts with the soil.

If you remember your fifth-grade science class, the molten rock that pours forth during a volcanic eruption is known as magma when it's underground and lava once it reaches the surface. The thing about magma coming up from below ground is that it takes other things up with it — things like valuable minerals and nutrients that are then broken down to make the soil extra fertile. The result is that on volcanic soil, tomatoes grow plumper, beans grow greener, and flowers grow brighter and more plentifully.

There's also the cultural role that volcanoes play in so many civilizations. In Mexico, the active Popocatépetl and the inert Iztaccihuatl are at the center of a centuries-old legend, and the Aztecs certainly weren't going to abandon the place most closely associated with their cultural heroes. Meanwhile, in Iceland, the ruthlessness of the volcano Hekla became a point of pride. Some Christians on the island believed it was literally a gateway to Hell, while others told a tale of a wicked magician driven off by the volcano's lava bombs. Seems like a handy feature of a hometown.

Modern Magma Maniacs

That explains why people have been living near volcanoes since time immemorial. But as technology has advanced, the benefits of volcanoes have only increased. In Iceland and New Zealand, for example, geothermal energy plants have come to play an integral role in keeping the countries' lights on. That wouldn't be possible without the volcanoes that created the islands in the first place. Plus, the unmatched vistas created by volcanic networks aren't just pleasant to live near; they're also a major draw of tourist dollars. That kind of thing can't be ignored.

Whatever the draw, it's clear that volcanoes have a lot to offer the people who live in their shadows. Name an active volcano: Fuji, Vesuvius, Mt. St. Helens, or even Iceland's infamous Eyjafjallajökull — every single one of them has a decent-size population at the base, and a couple of them have full-blown megalopolises. Living near a volcano is a lot like gambling, but in this case, you're going to want to get out before things get too hot.

This article first appeared on Curiosity.com.

Next Up

Why the People of Myanmar are Fighting Conservation Groups

The project, called Ridge to Reef, has become a highly controversial initiative despite being led by the UN’s development program.

Are These Hills in India Magnetic, Supernatural, or Just an Illusion?

What’s the secret behind these magnetic hills? Are they really magnetic? Well, there are a few interesting theories. While most locals claim that these hills have a magnetic force that is strong enough to pull cars uphill, others are more skeptical.

Tanzania: Beyond the Wildlife

Most people know that Tanzania is home of the Serengeti and an amazing diversity of wildlife. The country is made up of 430 species of wildlife and 17 national parks. But did you know that it’s where 51 million people call home as well?

Climb England’s Stomach-Churning Iron Way

Adventure into Victorian England with rickety bridges and vertical climbs across a 19th-century mine.

Jacob's Well Is a Dangerous Natural Wonder

This natural spring has claimed the lives of many divers.

A Spot in Washington Is One of Only 12 Silent Places Left in the U.S.

The most endangered sound on Earth doesn't come from a near-extinct animal or an outmoded form of transportation — it's silence.

Holy Land, U.S.A is an Abandoned Christian Theme Park With A Dark Past

The theme park included a Garden of Eden, life-sized scenes from the Bible and statues of Jesus.

This Tanzanian Lake is a Vision in Red- And You Can Visit

This picturesque lake in northern Tanzania is harsh enough to burn anything that touches it. Unless, of course, you're one of the select few species adapted to thrive in it.