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Tongan volcano spectacular, but small fry all the same

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Shanta Barley | 11:26 UK time, Thursday, 19 March 2009

An undersea volcano spectacularly erupted earlier this week near the main Tongan island of Tongatapu, propelling steam, ash and other volcanic gunge a hundred metres into the air.

It may be common knowledge to geologists, but it never fails to surprise exactly how much CO2 is generated by volcanoes. Take Mount Etna. When active, this volcano belches up to 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, daily. You'd have to fly to Thailand and back every year for 33 years to emit anywhere near as much greenhouse gas as Etna can produce in just 24 hours.

But even volcanoes are small fry when it comes to emissions, according to the US Geological Survey: 'volcanoes ... release a total of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 annually. This seems like a huge amount of CO2, but ... while 200 million tonnes of CO2 is large, the global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes.' That's 134 times larger.


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