Books : reviews

Clive Oppenheimer.
Eruptions that Shook the World.
CUP. 2011

In April 2010 Eyjafjallajökull volcano on Iceland belched out an ash cloud that shut down much of Europe’s airspace for nearly a week. Although only a relatively small eruption, this precipitated the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War and it is estimated to have cost the airline industry worldwide over two billion US dollars.

But what does it take for a volcanic eruption to really shake the world? Did volcanic eruptions extinguish the dinosaurs? Did they help humans to evolve and conquer the world, only to decimate their populations with a super-eruption 73,000 years ago? Did they contribute to the ebb and flow of ancient empires, the French Revolution and the rise of fascism in Europe in the nineteenth century? These are some of the claims made for volcanic cataclysm.

In this book, volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer explores rich geological, historical, archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records (such as ice cores and tree rings) to tell the stories behind some of the greatest volcanic events of the past quarter of a billion years. He shows how a forensic approach to volcanology reveals the richness and complexity behind cause and effect, and argues that important lessons for future catastrophe risk management can be drawn from understanding events that took place even at the dawn of human origins.