Volcanic Traps: A Fiery Threat Underfoot


The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland is not a volcanic trap, but I’d like to introduce volcanic traps here. 

Volcanic traps are some of the most impressive and dangerous geological formations on Earth. These vast areas of solidified lava can stretch for hundreds of kilometers, spewing forth immense volumes of molten rock during their active phases. But even after they've gone quiet, volcanic traps can still pose a significant threat to unsuspecting inhabitants.

What are volcanic traps?

A volcanic trap is essentially a large igneous province formed by repeated fissure eruptions. Fissure eruptions occur when magma erupts not from a single vent but from a long crack in the Earth's crust. This allows for the release of truly staggering amounts of lava, flooding vast areas and creating thick layers of basalt rock.

The dangers of volcanic traps are manifold:

  • Direct lava flows: During eruptions, the sheer volume of lava pouring out of a trap can engulf and destroy everything in its path.
  • Flooding: Volcanic traps can disrupt drainage patterns, leading to widespread flooding and mudslides.
  • Earthquakes: The immense weight of a trap formation can put immense stress on the underlying rock, triggering earthquakes.
  • Toxic gases: Volcanic eruptions release a variety of harmful gases, including sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, which can pose a serious health risk to humans and animals.
  • Climate change: Large-scale volcanic activity can have a significant impact on global climate, potentially leading to periods of warming or cooling.

There are Volcanic Traps Around the World! 

  • Deccan Traps (India): The Deccan Traps are one of the largest volcanic traps on Earth, covering an area of over 500,000 square kilometers in western India. The eruptions that formed the Deccan Traps are believed to have contributed to the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
  • Siberian Traps (Russia): The Siberian Traps are another vast volcanic province, covering over 2 million square kilometers in Siberia. The eruptions that formed the Siberian Traps are believed to have triggered the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, the worst mass extinction in Earth's history.
  • Columbia River Plateau (United States): The Columbia River Plateau is a large volcanic province in the northwestern United States. The eruptions that formed the Columbia River Plateau are some of the largest and most voluminous in Earth's history.
  • Ethiopian Trap (Ethiopia): The Ethiopian Trap is a large volcanic province in Ethiopia. The eruptions that formed the Ethiopian Trap are responsible for much of the country's dramatic and varied. 

Despite the dangers they pose, volcanic traps can also offer benefits. The rich soils derived from volcanic rock can be highly fertile, supporting agriculture and plant growth. Additionally, volcanic traps can be important sources of geothermal energy.

Image sourced from Scientific American. 

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