Volcanoes fascinate but spread fear and terror at the same time. They can devastate whole regions during a very short timeframe, but also provide the basis for new life. The lava emerging from a volcanic eruption gives rise to islands and creates mineral-rich soils where plants grow well. Thanks to these fertile soils, roughly half a billion people worldwide live in close proximity to active volcanoes. Many of them are well aware of the danger – but they take this risk in exchange for abundant crops and warm thermal water. Especially on Iceland and in Japan, bathing in hot springs is very popular. But not only the physical well-being benefits from the hot water, it is also being used for energy production.
Not every volcanic eruption poses a threat to human lives. Volcanic eruptions with red-hot lava are rarely life threatening, even if a stream of lava flows towards inhabited villages. On the contrary, the so-called “gray volcanism” is a lot more dangerous. This expression stands for explosive eruptions that go along with big amounts of volcanic ashes. These can rise up to the atmosphere and pose a hazard to air traffic. Large amounts of volcanic ashes and gases affect the global climate. Particularly dangerous are pyroclastic flows: fast glowing clouds of hot gases, volcanic ashes and lava rocks. Pyroclastic flows are unstoppable, as they hurtle down the volcano slope like a hovercraft on a gas cushion with a heat of up to 800 degrees. Only a few people ever managed to escape.
In historical times, the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum vanished in these glowing clouds – probably 10,000 people lost their lives. The sinking of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa demanded 36,000 lives. The volcanic eruption sent pyroclastic flows more than 50 km across the sea and burnt numerous people on Sumatra. The tsunamis resulting from the disruption of the island’s volcano claimed even more victims.
In recent years, several hundred people were killed in the eruptions of Mount Merapi on the Indonesian island of Java. In Sumatra 14 people died during the eruption of Sinabung. Another 50 alleged victims are still being missed.
Being a cameraman who films volcanic eruptions, these human tragedies affect me deeply. Nevertheless, the fascination for the volcano remains. I am a witness to the ongoing creation story of our planet, trying to capture the beauty of its natural forces in pictures. It is my concern to open the viewers’ eyes for the geological processes of our planet, and I am particularly pleased about the interest of so many young people. Only those who know as many facets of our planet as possible, will be able to understand it, to love it and to preserve the beauty of nature.