5.1 Consequences for the environment

Volcanic eruptions can have strong negative effects for the environment. They can produce large destruction of the environment as lava flows and pyroclastic materials cover large portions of natural environments, destroying them for decades.

Furthermore, toxic gases emitted during strong activity can have an additional impact and in particular carbon dioxide emitted from volcanoes can have a significant impact on increasing greenhouse effect.

Emitted gases consist mainly of water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other gases typically found in volcanic ashes are hydrogen sulphide (H2S), hydrogen chloride (HCl, which becomes hydrochloric acid in contact with humidity), hydrogen fluoride (HF) and carbon monoxide (CO).

In particular, sulphur dioxide is converted in the stratosphere into sulphuric aerosols which reflect solar radiation absorbing heat but also take part in chemical reactions generating ozone destructive material, globally affecting the climate, and producing acid rains.

A typical example of a volcanic eruption that caused substantial environmental damage is the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption (90kms northwest of Manila in the Philippines), the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century.