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In December, an asteroid the size of the Eiffel Tower will approach Earth. Should you be concerned?

What is the probability of a Super volcanic eruption, an Asteroid Impact and a Nuclear War?

The number of deaths caused by natural disasters can vary greatly from year to year; some years have very few deaths before a huge disaster event takes many lives.

Natural disasters killed around 60,000 people worldwide per year on average over the last decade. This accounts for 0.1 per cent of all deaths worldwide.


The visualisations given here depict the annual variations in the number and share of deaths caused by natural catastrophes during the last few decades.



In many years, the number of deaths is very low — often less than 10,000, accounting for as little as 0.01 per cent of overall deaths. But we also see the devastation caused by shock occurrences, such as the 1983-85 Ethiopian famine and drought, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in 2008, and the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake in Haiti. All of these occurrences increased global catastrophe deaths to over 200,000, accounting for more than 0.4 per cent of all deaths in these years.


Low-frequency, high-impact disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis are unavoidable, but such high human casualties are. We know from historical statistics that earlier prediction, more robust infrastructure, emergency planning, and response systems have resulted in a considerable reduction in catastrophe deaths worldwide.


Low-income people are often the most vulnerable to disaster events; strengthening living conditions, infrastructure, and response systems in these areas will be critical to minimising natural disaster deaths in the future decades.


What are the chances of another catastrophic Yellowstone volcanic eruption?


Over the last 25 years, the science of forecasting volcanic eruptions has evolved dramatically. Most scientists believe that the buildup leading up to a catastrophic eruption would be noticeable for weeks, if not months or years. Strong earthquake swarms and rapid ground deformation are typical precursors of volcanic eruptions that occur days to weeks before the actual eruption. Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) scientists closely watch the Yellowstone region for such precursors. They anticipate that the buildup to greater eruptions will entail severe precursory activity (much above background levels) at several locations throughout the Yellowstone volcano. 


There is little evidence that a catastrophic Yellowstone eruption is near, and such events are unlikely to occur over the next several millennia. Scientists have also detected no evidence of a smaller lava outburst on the horizon.


A massive eruption of this magnitude would have regional repercussions such as falling ash and short-term (years to decades) changes in global climate. The bordering states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming and other parts of the United States and the world would be affected. Calderas are large volcanic depressions formed when the earth surface collapses due to the withdrawal of partially molten rock (magma) below. Fortunately, the likelihood of such an eruption at Yellowstone in the next several thousands of years is quite low.


Although it is possible, scientists are sceptical that Yellowstone will ever experience another catastrophic eruption. Given Yellowstone's history, the yearly probability of another caldera-forming eruption is 1 in 730,000 or 0.00014 per cent.


However, this figure is based solely on averaging the two intervals between Yellowstone's three major past eruptions — hardly enough to make a critical judgement. This probability is comparable to that of a large (1 kilometre) asteroid colliding with the Earth. Furthermore, catastrophic geologic events are neither predictable nor regular.


What is the Likelihood of a Massive Asteroid Impact Ending Civilizations?


The fear of massive asteroid impacts is similar to the fear of flying. Though the likelihood of anything occurring is extremely low, the vivid thought of such a catastrophic event can cause people to magnify the possibility in their minds, resulting in irrational fear.


Fortunately, current calculations show that the likelihood of a civilization-ending asteroid impact, such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, is very low within our lifetimes.


Every day, space debris burns in our atmosphere. Thermal explosions will annihilate any space rock with a diameter of roughly 10 metres (33 feet) in the Earth's atmosphere.


What about the major ones? Some experts believe we are overdue for an asteroid collision of the size that wiped out the dinosaurs, as these occur every 50 to 60 million years.


According to NASA, the likelihood of an asteroid capable of destroying a city colliding with Earth is 0.1 per cent each year. If one of them hits Earth, there is a 70% probability it will land in the ocean and a 25% chance it would land over a relatively unpopulated area. This is what happened in Russia a little over a century ago with the Tunguska impact.


The chances of a 5-10 kilometre diameter asteroid, the size of which wiped out the dinosaurs, impacting Earth are almost negligible, at 0.000001 per cent.


What is the likelihood of a nuclear war?


We are currently engaged in a worldwide nuclear arms competition. Each of the nine nuclear-armed countries is developing new weapons. Some are replacing weapons that have reached the end of their useful life. Others are beefing up their arsenals. However, each of these new weapons represents a step forward in these countries' capabilities. As a result, you're witnessing an unrestrained qualitative and quantitative arms race.


Looking at data collected by the Federation of American Scientists, for example, you can see that we have reduced worldwide nuclear arsenals since the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War. We went from a world with about 70,000 nuclear weapons in 1986 to a one with just approximately 13,500 nuclear weapons today. Fantastic progress. The stockpile has been reduced by 85 per cent.

However, it has levelled out. There haven't been any big reductions in years. The most recent successful arms control agreement was the New START treaty signed in 2010. That was eleven years ago. Since then, no reduction deal has been reached. There have been no discussions about new reducing agreements. Now, I believe that the future of arms control is gloomy. It's gloomy. And I don't think either the US or Russia is interested in a fresh round of arms control. As a result, I'm pessimistic about our prospects.


According to a 2014 study published in the journal Earth's Future, it would only take the detonation of 100 nuclear bombs to send 5 teragrams of black soot into the earth's stratosphere for decades, shutting out the light and rendering plant photosynthesis impossible. This may simply starve to death every terrestrial thing that did not die as a result of radiation or climate upheaval beforehand. China possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons, whereas Russia and the United States possess thousands.


Nuclear modernization efforts in the United States and Russia have accelerated, while North Korea, China, India, and Pakistan have pursued "better" and larger nuclear forces. Some of these upgrade programmes are beginning to field weapons with dangerous improvements, such as Russia's nuclear-tipped Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles, which are being fitted atop new SS-29 (Sarmat) missiles designed to replace 1980s-era intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Russia continues to field battalions of intermediate-range, ground-launched, nuclear-armed missiles—missiles originally prohibited under the now-defunct Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the US withdrew in 2019.


The probability of a nuclear war is unknown and hard to calculate, however, high tension has meant the global threats has dramatically affected the doomsday clock pushing the big hand very close towards 12.



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