Washington, March 19 : A new study of two small-scale volcanoes in central Mexico and northern Arizona, has revealed that they have had opposite effects on the nearby communities and are providing insights into how humans respond to volcanic eruptions.
According to a report in Discovery News, geologist Michael Ort of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, US, conducted the study, along with his colleagues.
For the study, the researchers took into consideration two contrasting volcanic eruptions.
The first case that they studied was the eruption of Mexico's Paricutin volcano from 1943 to 1952, which disrupted agriculture and forced the abandonment of a large area.
About 1,000 years earlier, a similar eruption at Sunset Crater, Arizona, actually helped the soil, making less arable lands more fertile. People there prospered by farming the better ground, the researchers said.
The discovery not only highlights two very different volcanic effects, but also underscores some very different ways humans have responded - and could respond today - to natural disasters.
"We are inspired by the general dearth of studies of what people actually did in the past in response to volcanic eruptions like these," explained Ort.
Since it happened recently, the Paricutin case is unusually well documented.
It started with an eruption in a corn field that went on to overtake an entire town. Geologists and anthropologists got first-hand experience of the eruption and how the locals responded to it.
"At that time in Mexico, farmers weren't thinking in geological terms," said archeologist Payson Sheets of the University of Colorado. "They were thinking in terms of an angry god," he added.
The Sunset Crater case was different in that the eruption there left thinner layers of volcanic material in many places. Instead of smothering the land, it acted like mulch and helped some soils become more arable.
"In this way, the eruption was a boon to local people," explained Mark Elson, a coauthor on the paper and archeologist for Desert Archeology, Inc., in Tucson.
According to the researchers, both cases also offer lessons to modern people, particularly in terms of emergency response.
"What we find is that the lower the level of social complexity, the better the response," said Elson.