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A massive volcano that scientists can't find (bbc.com)
113 points by dimitrov on July 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

> they estimated that Kuwae’s eruption had released vast quantities of magma, enough to fill the Empire State Building 37 million times over

This is a unit of journalistic measurement I have never come across before.

Apparently the volume of the ESB is about 1e6 m³. So that's about 37e12 m³ of magma. But yeah, using a weird unit of measurement no one even knows and using 37 million as a factor pretty much guarantees that no one can relate this to anything.

> using a weird unit of measurement no one even knows and using 37 million as a factor pretty much guarantees that no one can relate this to anything

Manhattan has a land area of 59.1 square kilometers [1]. 37e12 m³ of magma would fill the land area of Manhattan to over 600 kilometers, i.e. well past the boundary of space.

Alternatively, it would fill California's 424,000 thousand square kilometers to 100 meters, or about halfway to the top of the Transamerica Pyramid [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transamerica_Pyramid

> Alternatively, it would fill California's 424,000 thousand square kilometers to 100 meters

That sounds like a hell of a lot more than 37 million times the volume of the Empire State Building.

The Empire State buildings base is almost 2 acres x 443.2 m tall and a square km is 247 acres. 2 * 443m * 37 million / 424 million (424,000 thousand) / 247 ~= 0.3m so covered to the depth of 1 foot. Which seems more reasonable.

ED: Ahh, they had wrong area for California. It's 424,000 square kilometers not "424,000 thousand square kilometers"

That 424million should be 424,000, so we are back at 300m deep. Except the ESB doesn't fill anywhere near all of the (2 acres x 443m) cuboid, so 100m is closer.

Yea, I was thinking they where off by 1000 somewhere. Checking https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California gives (423,970 km2).

And yea, 1/3 of the volume is a better approximation but the numbers where so far off that seemed less useful.

Is this really correct? You'd think with modern imaging it would be fairly easy to spot a 100m high magma formation the size of california. How does magma even flow with such volume, it sounds like it would create an island that everyone would know the name of.

In an explosive eruption, the magma doesn't just flow downhill and solidify in place like it does in Hawaii. It gets blown to smithereens by expanding gases and the resulting fine particles are scattered all over the world. All that's left is a hole in the ground, which will be quickly filled in if it's below sea level.

Enough to completely fill the Grand Canyon(4.17T m³[1])almost 9 times over.

[1] https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/management/statistics.htm

I think you (or the journalist) are off by a few zeros. According to wikipedia it's 32-39km^3 and I think km^3 = 1e9m^3

I agree, I thought the Olympic swimming pool was the only unit of measure for journalism.

In the UK, they used to use the volume of Wembley Stadium (a well-known sports ground), but then it was demolished and rebuilt.

so if you're reading an old article using Wembley Stadiums as the unit of measurement you should have some sort of B.D (Before Demolishment) and A.R (After Rebuild) dating scheme to keep it straight.

I hear they had to do it because it was way "too decimal" as a unit which was unacceptable :).

So New Wembley units vs Old Wimbleys?

the question now is: How many Olympic swimming pools fit into the Empire State Building?

But seriously, I am OK using this kind of unit to illustrate that something is really big but at a minimum they should also add some real units.

The real problem is that 37 million is too big a number. Saying something would fill 10 or even 100 Empire State Buildings is relatable. Once you say 37 million ESBs or 10 billion swimming pools, you might as well say it's 10 quadrillion coffee cups full.

I prefer the examples higher up the thread of filling the Grand Canyon 9 times or submerging all of California to a depth of 100m.

How about writing 1000 cubic kilometer and then adding that this is the equivalent of 10 times the Grand canyon? I just would like to see real units. I also don't know how long a football field is.

I don't understand this metric thing. If we're going to go imperial, I need cubic yards.

Everybody knows that the empire state building is a unit of measure for length!

Imagine observing these events and trying to explain them with rudimentary scientific understanding. At the time, the best explanations for volcanoes involved wind causing friction in narrow canyons or subterranean rivers of fire, but nobody really knew. One can appreciate mythology more in this light, given the titanic scale of volcanic eruptions and an entire species agape in wonder.

Cool stuff. Really drives home that we are guests of this planet.

The study of the evolution of understanding of geology itself, particularly from the late 18th century, when things started hotting up, is pretty interesting.

A lot of initial observations and attempts to reconcile those with the biblical record, but that didn't add up. Lyell establishing gradualism. Lord Kelvin noting that thermodynamic cooling only allowed for about 30 million years of Earth history (pretty clearly not consistent with the structural geological record). Rutherford, Soddy, and Hardy establishing radioactivity and radiodating. Plate tectonics being proposed (initially as "continental drift"), rejected as patently absurd, and adopted some 50 years later as the fundamental organising principle of geology.

Added gloss from discoveries such as the Chixulub impactor, etc.

Subterranean rivers of fire is pretty close to how we understand them today.

River of fire comes out of the ground. Hmm. Where did it come from?

There must be a real hellhole down there...

The concept of Hell, being inferred from volcanic eruptions, is not terribly unscientific.

Plate tectonics?

Mighty interesting, sure. Still, I can't stand these awe-driven narratives. The formula is getting old and in the jumping from one wow to the next a lot of the real questions and facts are left half-explained. And as somebody already pointed out, the units... football fields, Hiroshima bombs and the area of California... they should standardize those already, right? Journalists could use abbreviations and the rest of us would get to write unit converters when learning a new programming language.

Well, you know the trouble with standards...


Right. I could probably rewrite it in about five sentences, plus footnotes ;)

Exactly! When future historians read back at writing from our time period - if it is still around - then how do you think they'll characterize it?

ha! Good question, I guess they'll say its magical realism with strong late-cuneiform influences, judging from what little is left from the devastating eruption from a vulcano no one ever found.

They should just write "really big".

They say it could have been caused by an asteroid, but don't explain why this theory is seemingly discarded.

Edit: 2min of googling and I find a not very well know 20km impact crater dated at exactly the right time (mid 15th century): https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahuika_crater

You'll notice that Wikipedia includes it in: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unconfirmed_impact_c...

it's existence/size/effects is controversial to say the least, TV shows about it show up on the History channel along with all the ancient aliens crap

I doubt that impacts would inject as much sulfate as was observed in the ice cores.

Spoilers: The volcano is unlikely to still be massive. Probably a good sized crater or two though.

(Ice core evidence shows a pair of eruptions around the 1460s, likely the cause of major famines across the planet in following years. The locations of the eruptions are still unknown, though.)

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