Open Access Research

A statistical analysis of the global historical volcanic fatalities record

Melanie Rose Auker1*, Robert Stephen John Sparks1, Lee Siebert2, Helen Sian Crosweller1 and John Ewert3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, BS8 1RJ, Bristol, UK

2 Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution (Ret.), Washington, DC, USA

3 USGS, Cascades Volcano Observatory, Vancouver, WA, USA

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Journal of Applied Volcanology 2013, 2:2  doi:10.1186/2191-5040-2-2

Published: 14 February 2013

Abstract

A new database of volcanic fatalities is presented and analysed, covering the period 1600 to 2010 AD. Data are from four sources: the Smithsonian Institution, Witham (2005), CRED EM-DAT and Munich RE. The data were combined and formatted, with a weighted average fatality figure used where more than one source reports an event; the former two databases were weighted twice as strongly as the latter two. More fatal incidents are contained within our database than similar previous works; approximately 46% of the fatal incidents are listed in only one of the four sources, and fewer than 10% are in all four. 278,880 fatalities are recorded in the database, resultant from 533 fatal incidents. The fatality count is dominated by a handful of disasters, though the majority of fatal incidents have caused fewer than ten fatalities. Number and empirical probability of fatalities are broadly correlated with VEI, but are more strongly influenced by population density around volcanoes and the occurrence and extent of lahars (mudflows) and pyroclastic density currents, which have caused 50% of fatalities. Indonesia, the Philippines, and the West Indies dominate the spatial distribution of fatalities, and there is some negative correlation between regional development and number of fatalities. With the largest disasters removed, over 90% of fatalities occurred between 5 km and 30 km from volcanoes, though the most devastating eruptions impacted far beyond these distances. A new measure, the Volcano Fatality Index, is defined to explore temporal changes in societal vulnerability to volcanic hazards. The measure incorporates population growth and recording improvements with the fatality data, and shows prima facie evidence that vulnerability to volcanic hazards has fallen during the last two centuries. Results and interpretations are limited in scope by the underlying fatalities data, which are affected by under-recording, uncertainty, and bias. Attempts have been made to estimate the extent of these issues, and to remove their effects where possible.

The data analysed here are provided as supplementary material. An updated version of the Smithsonian fatality database fully integrated with this database will be publicly available in the near future and subsequently incorporate new data.

Keywords:
Volcanoes; Fatalities; Population; Volcano Fatality Index