30
Jun
09

Volcanic Eruption During the Pleistocene

Untapped power, deadly and beautiful

Untapped power, deadly and beautiful

If you read my last post, you experienced the power of volcanoes. Because Lyta and her kin had no understanding of these geologic forces during the Plio-Pleistocene, how long they would last, how they as primates could survive their daunting power, they might well have considered eruptions as the end of their world.

If they understood life and death…

If they had a concept of  ‘me’ (studies are varied on this concept).

Think about this:

Volcanic activity dominated Pliocene Africa. Earliest man, until Thinking Man arrived, had no written or oral history, and retained no concept of the impact these tectonic forces played in their lives. But the rocks and the soil remembered and wrote the history into the land itself. It described the absolute dominance of Nature over all creatures, and man’s steps to mitigate this control.

Although frequent volcanic eruptions shook this unique African triple junction rift, one particular flare-up (the one Otto showed me which tore Lyta from her child and lover) ranked as the most violent in hundreds of thousands of years. Gelatinous rock found in the mantle was heated to temperatures in excess of 1600 degrees Fahrenheit and rushed up the volcano’s pipe at the speed of a freight train. It broke through Earth’s crust (a weak layer of sand and crushed rock and feldspar about five miles thick) and exploded with the force of ten thousand atomic bombs, blowing the top off the mountain and leaving behind the largest caldera in the world atop the tallest volcano of the Pliocene. The smoke, ash, and tephra shot forty miles through the troposphere, surpassing the level of the clouds. volcanoxsec

The volcanic debris migrated on the high-speed stratospheric winds around the world three times. It passed over the ancient North American landscape, crossed the sunken land bridge to Asia, and moved on to what would be called Europe, greeted only by confused mammals. It returned to the African continent where the earliest of the genus Homo pondered the disappearance of Sun, and Cousin Chimp wondered why evening came so early.

And it started its circumnavigation again. A residual band of volcanic particles encircled Earth for months afterward and lowered the mean temperature one degree Centigrade. The sun reappeared to a fiery red sunset complemented by an unusual blue moon, an atmospheric reaction to the abnormal amount of sulfuric particles suspended in the troposphere. It would be several years before Earth’s substratosphere recovered.

The sound emitted from the explosion ranked as the greatest ever picked up by a hominid ear. So loud, it caused Boah (an Australopithecine) to cover his ears with his furred hands, and forced the sabertooth cat to fling his head side to side as he tried to rid itself of the abysmal din. The resultant tsunamis rose as high as today’s tallest skyscrapers and sped along at a speed in excess of the fastest cheetah. They crashed into the East African coastline, as well as the beaches of what would be India.

Two million years ago, one of the modern world’s greatest rifts could be characterized as a common geologic gorge, without the breadth and depth for which it is now famous. It responded to the constant destructive pressure of buried hotspots, fed by the frequent volcanic eruptions and bigger-than-life earthquakes, until it became hundreds of feet wide and high by Lyta’s time. What would become known as the Great Rift Valley changed from a simple fracture in the landscape to a geographic formation that transformed the adaptive radiation of man.

Such was Nature’s strangle-hold on life during these times.

Thanks to Otto, I’m able to share with you how Lyta’s life changed due to Nature’s dominance.

These are things I think about. Am I boring? I’m a single mom, thirty something, and I obsess over volcanoes. Thank God for dogs…

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