Gamblers Take Odds on the Next Violent Volcanic Eruption

Seismologists and geologists would love to know which volcano is going to erupt next. Now, so do bookies, odds-fixers and those with a taste for games of chance. Paddy Power, Ireland’s largest bookmaker, is taking bets on which volcano around the world will next blow its top to the tune of a VEI-3 eruption. Following the recent eruption of Philippine’s Mount Mayon, apparently Paddy Power was flooded with requests by — and we’re quoting here — “punters around the globe” who wished to wager on nature’s next super-destructive geo-seismic event. Apologies up front to Japan; it seems the odds are stacked against you.

A VEI-3 eruption (that’s Volcanic Explosivity Index, something like a Richter Scale for volcanic activity, but with better adjectives) is considered “severe” but not uncommon, the kind of event that shook Italy’s Mount Etna in 2002-2003 (by comparison, Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption was a level 5, or “paroxysmal” according to the scale). Descriptors on the VEI scale run the gamut from VEI-0 “non-explosive” and VEI-1 “gentle”, to the VEI-4 “cataclysmic” variety and on up to the strongest VEI-8 “mega-colossal” eruptions (naturally preceded by level 7 “super-colossal” and level 6, which is merely “colossal”).

That is to say a little rumbling from Italy’s Mount Etna may not indicate that you should bet the farm on its 28-to-1 odds, but if you notice Mauna Loa starting to belch cinder, perhaps it’s time to move on that better 9-to-1 book before the line changes. Japan’s Mount Unzen is deemed most likely to blow — between ’91 and ’94 it generated more than 10,000 pyroclastic flows, good for odds-making but bad for the 2,000 families that lost their homes.

Odds are longest on Guatemala’s Santa Maria and America’s Yellowstone at 33/1 each, which might be the way to go if you’re into high stakes; Yellowstone is unlikely to lose its cool anytime soon, but when it finally does you can bet the fireworks are going to far surpass VEI-3. The real question is, do you really want to bet on the next place a natural disaster might level a city, displace thousands of subsistence workers or tear a hole in a pristine national forest?

The complete odds are below, for those of you who think you can outfox mother nature. We’ve got the inside nod on Mexico’s “Popo,” but naturally we can’t tell you where we got the tip.

3:1 Mt Unzen (Japan)
9:1 Mauna Loa (USA)
10:1 Ulawun (Papua New Guinea)
10:1 Merapi (Indonesia)
10:1 Santorini (Greece)
11:1 Colima (Mexico)
11:1 Rainier (USA)
11:1 Taal (Philippines)
11:1 Teide (Spain, Canary Islands)
12:1 Mt Nyiragongo (DR Congo)
12:1 Popocatepetl (Mexico)
14:1 Sakurajima (Japan)
16:1 Stromboli (Italy)
22:1 Avachinsky (Russia)
22:1 Galeras (Colombia)
28:1 Mt Vesuvius (Italy)
28:1 Chaiten (Chile)
28:1 Etna (Italy)
33:1 Santa Maria/Santiaguito (Guatemala)
33:1 Yellowstone (USA)

[Paddy Power via Science Blogs]