General Question

Ajoiner's avatar

Which global locations suffer the most or worst natural hazards?

Asked by Ajoiner (161 points ) January 22nd, 2012

Where are some of the most extreme examples?

Or what locations have great potential dangers?
Like Lake Kivu near the Congo that holds trillions of cubic feet of methane gas that could erupt and kill 2 million people.

I know pretty much every region has a risk of natural hazards, but what are some interesting places with many risks (risk to humans, the environment or anything)?

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11 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The U.S. seems to have the most variety- hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, mudslides, avalanches. Fortunately, they’re spread out.

Indonesia and the Philippines seem to lose the most lives year after year, but mostly from hurricanes, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

jaytkay's avatar

In North America, I think of Florida and Gulf Coast hurricanes, the Mount St. Helens volcano, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

Our greatest potential disaster is the Yellowstone supervolcano.

jerv's avatar

@zenvelo I’m not so sure. While NH rarely suffered earthquakes, and often only around 2.x on the Richter scale, and there are no active volcanoes there, we got the rest of it, so it may not be as spread out as you’d think. Ask the people of Alstead, NH about floods ;)
But for variety, I would have to say the Northeastern US scores pretty high, especially when you add in the fun of a good Nor’easter or the sort of ice storm that knocked out power to almost half a million people across the region (pretty nasty when you consider how sparsely populated the area (with the exception of Boston) is). Add in the hazards of other regions and the US overall is pretty dangerous.

However, we also can deal with things better than poorer places can. For instance, we build our buildings tougher than a shanty-town shack to handle quakes, and often build them out of less flammable materials than dry scrap wood, and then add sprinkler systems to keep things under control until the Fire Department can get there.

wundayatta's avatar

It really depends on where people are concentrated. Some of the most extreme weather occurs at the poles or at the top of mountains, but not a lot of people live there, so no one much notices.

I think that people who live in low lying areas that are frequent targets for hurricanes or typhoons are pretty much asking for trouble.

DaphneT's avatar

I’ve always thought the deadliest places were on the Pacific Rim, the Ring of Fire earthquakes. Hurricanes and Tornadoes are terrible, but there are usually warnings and a person can take shelter. Earthquakes though, how do you shelter from the opening abyss?

CWOTUS's avatar

The question is unfortunately too vaguely worded to be properly answered.

Did you mean “disasters that cause the most loss of life”? Because that might be the Bay of Bengal on a near annual basis. Because of its geography and the huge number of desperately poor people who live around its shore, on land that is barely over sea level, the annual – and expected – storms that run up the bay and bring heavy rains and storm surge with them, it’s not at all uncommon for tens of thousands of people to be killed there from year to year.

The lake you mentioned in your question has a huge potential for loss of human life – which hasn’t happened yet in recorded history – and some other African lakes have outgassed carbon dioxide in quantities that have killed thousands, but that’s a rare event, and frankly it’s rather minor on the scale of global events.

Earthquakes have always killed in the tens of thousands in areas that have not been properly prepared for them. (Last year’s earthquake and resulting tsunami off the coast of Japan killed thousands even in a place that is normally well prepared, but at least it wasn’t tens of thousands.) Earthquakes in rural areas of China, Iran, Turkey and of course, Haiti, have been extremely deadly and probably will be for centuries to come.

As others have mentioned, the USA experiences nearly all of the known “natural hazards”, from earthquakes, floods, mudslides, landslides and wildfires, to hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and droughts (minus the carbon dioxide and methane-filled lakes), but aside from notable disasters like Katrina, the loss of life is generally low, and the problems are more of convenience and cost to recover than they are about widespread loss of life.

And all of this, of course, is answered in human terms. To answer this question in terms of “other species” or “the environment” (minus humans), we would arrive at dramatically different answers.

rooeytoo's avatar

NZ is called the Shaky Isles because of the earthquakes. Here is a list of the last 30 they have had from Jan 17 to Jan 23, 2012. All around Christ Church. Here is a interesing link. I feel sorry for the people there, it must be terrifying, just waiting for the next big one. New Zealanders are moving to Australia at a great rate. I wouldn’t want to live there! In the top end of Australia, we do have to worry about cyclones too.

Mukiwa's avatar

The questioner has it, Lake Kivu. I have been watching this lake for about ten years and spent months on it and near it. It’s deceptively calm much of the time. In its depths it harbours not only 60 cubic km of methane but 300 cu. km of carbon dioxide, and that’s the real killer. Gas has been accumulating since the lake last erupted about 900 years ago, wiping out whatever life existed in the valley of the lake. But death would have continued down to lake Tanganyika below through a combination of gas cloud and tsunami flooding through the Ruzizi gorge. Today, gas is building at 0.5% a year, with near certainty that it will be saturated and critically unstable within 100 years. Kivu is a layered lake with density layers that trap the normal escape of gases through circulation. It’s because it’s equatorial, has no big rivers coming in and therefore no coriolis force to mix it up. In about 100 years the lake will one day spontaneously burst open, erupting as a surge of bubbles that would leap out of the surface and drag fresh volumes of water up from below to discharge its load of gas. Each cubic metre of water releases nearly a cubic metre of gas at surface. This surge of bubbling water would roar out of the lake surface at speed, like a bubbling fountain like an exploding soda, releasing a cloud of dense gas and vapour, an instant fog that will build to hundreds of metres deep and spread right across the lake and valley. Underneath this cloud, largely invisible, this surging fountain would twist and surge in different directions as it grows larger.This watery volcano would expand, up to kilometres across, sending huge fast-moving waves to all corners of the lake. The lake level itself would rise, flooding the lake shores but especially in the south. The surge would cause a massive flood into the Ruzizi gorge as it did hundreds of years before, and before that. A wall of water would slam rapidly into Lake Tanganyika, taking much of the city of Bujumbura with it and its 300 000 people. Bukavu, Cyangugu, Goma and may other towns would be flooded and engulfed in the asphyxiating dense fog. Few people would emerge alive, and very few animals. This scenario could happen any day now, prematurely triggered by a major volcanic intrusion. Many have happened in the past in this hot-spot on the tectonic landscape. Two giant live volcanoes, six other dormant volcanoes and hundreds of lesser craters dot the landscape and the under-water map. This valley is one of the most dangerous places on earth: if the warring factions in the DRC don’t get you then the lake just might. It’s a matter of time.

CWOTUS's avatar

@Mukiwa welcome to Fluther. That is without a doubt the single best “first response” I’ve seen here. Even getting away from that, it’s in the top ten of all answers.

Awesome answer.

zenvelo's avatar

self edited, just realized this is General not Social, answer off topic.

Mukiwa's avatar

@CWOTUS Nice affirmation!

Unlike so many pending and possible natural disasters, we feel that we can do something about this one. Ten years spent was not in contemplation of how awful the fate of these people, but how to prevent it. Understand too, that in addition to the humanitarian and living species disaster (what equivalent to we apply to humanitarian?), the environment receives a one-off jolt of 3 billion tons of carbon equvalent. That’s how much this lake has absorbed, but stands to lose in one horrendous belch.

My efforts and a handful of others have been dedicated for years to find commercially viable, yet environmentally sound solutions to stripping out the methane to power up the Great lakes region of Central Africa. We compete. But people are the priority, and done right they can be made progressively safer by reducing the risk of and potential impact of any lake eruption. If methane is recovered cheaply and efficiently, and this is now known to be possible, the whole region can be supplied with natural gas fuel and electric power.

The key responsibility is to ensure that the solution is as safe and as clean as possible. The collateral impact would be the displacement of diesel-fired power and wood/charcoal-fuelled home cooking. By supplying this energy from the lake cheaper than wood and charcoal, the threat of charcoal burners and woodcutters in the Virunga Mountain Parks can be almost eliminated. I’ve visited the gorillas up there and they are precious in their own environment beyond compare. They remain under threat from loss of habitat, but paradoxically not at all from the lake exploding. That would eliminate their greatest threat, man.

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