Early in his presidency, former president Donald Trump was widely reported to have asked during a hurricane briefing why the military couldn’t drop a nuclear bomb into the eye of a storm, detonate it and weaken or eliminate the hurricane. While Mr. Trump later denied asking the question, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was concerned enough to post a page explaining why a nuclear bomb would not alter the storm but would release radioactive fallout that would spread quickly with the trade winds already moving the hurricane towards North and Central America. Proving that bad ideas don’t die … they just move to another country, a politician in Spain has proposed bombing a volcano to stop it from erupting. What could possibly go wrong … that hasn’t already been demonstrated with Mentos and Diet Coke?
“Isn’t there a plane that could fly and drop [a bomb]? It arrives, drops and boom. And it sends the lava in a different direction? Maybe it’s madness, but I get the impression from a technological point of view that it should be tried.”
The La Cumbre Vieja volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands has been erupting constantly since September 19, 2021, with no sign of letting up. Lava flows have destroyed buildings on the southwest part of La Palma, forcing at least 7,000 island residents to evacuate. At the same time, recent earthquakes – one a magnitude 5.0 – caused the partial collapse of the volcano’s cone and reconfigured the lava flows. Casimiro Curbelo, the president of the La Gomera Municipal Council (La Gomera is another Canary Island), wants to protect his constituents so he recently proposed taking a drastic measure — using military planes to bomb the volcano into submission.
Hasn’t the history of warfare shown this doesn’t work? Actually, the history of bombing volcanoes is a better gauge.
“Hours after bombs were dropped by U.S. Army Air Corps airplanes, Jaggar declared the bombing a success on a radio broadcast. “Our purpose was not to stop the lava flow, but to start it all over again at the source so that it will take a new course,” he said. The bombs were successfully dropped (“direct hits on all targets”), but Jaggar waited to see any effects on the lava flow.”
On December 27, 1935, Thomas A. Jaggar, Director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, ordered bombs dropped on the lava flows of the Humu‘ula volcano flow to redirect them away from the nearby city of Hilo. Jaggar thought the bombs slowed the flow and helped stop it in 1936, but a study in the 1970s concluded it was already dying out and the bombs had no effect.
In 1983, an erupting Mouth Etna in Sicily was threatening a nearby village so engineers placed around 900 pounds (408 kilograms) of explosives, enclosed in water-cooled pipes, next to the flow. The explosion successfully redirected the lava flow to an artificial trench, but it also split another part of the lava stream which had to be redirected manually. While touted as a success, the Mount Etna explosion still caused other problems and was not a true bomb dropping.
Will Casimiro Curbelo get his wish to have the La Cumbre Vieja volcano bombed into submission? Live Science reports that Spain’s military has not responded to Curbelo’s suggestion, and neither has Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. The eruption hasn’t caused any deaths and most of the population lives away from the volcano’s active west side. In other words, it hasn’t affected tourism or cost those in charge any money … yet.
Let’s hope cooler heads prevail and cut the fuse on this bomb of a scheme to stop an active volcano.