It’s one of the latest examples of how anthropogenic activities – those caused by human action or inaction – are maintaining a cyclic pattern of environmental mayhem.
Tonga and Peru: volcano, tsunami, oil spill
Last month, a volcanic eruption in Tonga caused a destructive chain reaction that spanned several countries. The blast, which could be heard from Alaska, churned out a blanket of ash that covered the main Tongan island and contaminated the drinking water of tens of thousands of people.
NASA scientists said that the blast released astonishing amounts of mechanical energy – up to 1,200 times as many as the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in World War II.
Further, the eruption resulted in nearly 400,000 lightning events in the hours after the blast, and the shockwave circled the Earth for days.
Scientists are still working to understand exactly what prompted the volcanic eruption, with some researchers saying an earthquake or landslide set things in motion. A 2017 study published in Geology found that rising global temperatures could increase the likelihood of volcanoes erupting.
Similarly, the worsening climate crisis is thought to increase the likelihood of earthquakes and landslides.
The explosion in Tonga triggered a devastating tsunami that demolished homes, polluted water, and destroyed crops across surrounding islands. The damage affected more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population, according to the United Nations.
This subsequently caused towering waves which knocked over a tanker near the Perusian coast. On January 13, it was reported that the ship spilled 6,000 barrels of oil across Peru, two-thirds of which is covered by the Amazon rainforest – home to at least 427 mammal species.
Foreign ministry officials named it an “ecological disaster.” The leak spewed across more than 20 beaches, affecting roughly 7,000 square miles of protected wildlife zones. Countless seabirds and marine animals died as a result.
Two weeks later, on January 31, it was uncovered that actually, nearly 12,000 barrels were spilled – twice as many as originally reported.
Oil spill and landslide in Ecuador
Around the same time, the Amazon rainforest was also suffering in Ecuador, a neighboring country to Peru. At the end of January, Ecuador experienced 24 hours of heavy rain.
The downpour prompted a landslide in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. Three-meter-high waves of mud ripped through the city, and killed at least 24 people.
The landslide caused rocks to fall onto a crude oil pipeline, which then burst and induced a separate oil spill. The pipeline, owned by private firm OCP Ecuador, runs for 301 miles (485 kilometers) and can carry 450,000 barrels of oil a day.
OCP claimed the spill did not contaminate any water. But it was later discovered that oil had seeped into the Coca River, which provides 60,000 people with fresh water.
Further, two hectares (five acres) of protected national park were damaged. The reserve – the Cayambe Coca National Park – is home to 106 species of mammals, including cougars, 395 species of birds, 116 amphibians, and 70 reptiles.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg took to social media to slam Ecuador’s government for not doing enough to protect its citizens and native wildlife.
“In the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, for the second time in two years, the OCP pipeline has ruptured, spilling crude oil into the Coca and Napo rivers. For the 27,000 Indigenous Kichwa living downstream, this is a compounded nightmare.
“This spill could have been prevented, and this pipeline amidst the fragile Amazonian ecosystems should never have existed as we are well aware of the threats these pipelines make up,” Thunberg wrote to her 14.2 million Instagram followers.