Vulnerability of Pastoral Farming Systems to Volcanic Ashfall Hazards (2009)
AuthorsWilson, Thomas McDonaldshow all
Volcanic eruptions are powerful, spectacular, uncontrollable geophysical events which require management to mitigate loss of life and property. An essential part of volcanic risk management is to quantify the vulnerability of exposed elements of society to volcanic hazard. Agriculture takes advantage of the fertile soils of volcanic regions, but is vulnerable to damage and disruption from volcanic hazards, in particular ashfall. This thesis investigates the vulnerability of pastoral agriculture to volcanic ashfall by examining impacts on the resource base of pastoral farming (water supply, pasture and soil, and livestock) and explores mitigation and recovery strategies for ashfall hazards at varying levels. It provides a quantitative understanding of pastoral farming vulnerability to ashfall hazards, as part of probabilistic risk assessment.
Surface farm water supplies are found to be more vulnerable to ashfall, through contamination and sedimentation, than groundwater supplies. After heavy ashfall, the physical impacts of ashfall overwhelm the more subtle chemical impacts on water supply systems, but even relatively thin ashfalls may cause potential toxic changes to water quality. Farm-scale assessment of water supplies was used to identify key areas of vulnerability to ash hazards. Modelling a large-scale evacuation of livestock following widespread, heavy ashfall found the logistical, time and cost requirements high and may make this action unrealistic. Perhaps most critically, it is doubtful that farms in surrounding regions have the capacity to accommodate the numbers of animals likely to be affected. Tunnel-house and field trials have shown pastures are relatively resilient to ashfalls of 10 mm, but this resilience rapidly reduces with increasing ashfall thickness and at .100 mm there is effectively no pasture recovery. Ashfall grain size, frequency, soluble salt volume, and different meteorological conditions also have a significant impact on pastures and soils. Pasture reestablishment will benefit from tillage of ash covered soils to mix ash and topsoil and break up the surface crust which may form on ash deposits. Targeted fertiliser treatments may also be required to buffer acidic soluble salts and remedy deficiencies of essential nutrients. Reworking of ash deposits was found to be highly disruptive to pasture re-establishment and in extreme cases may prolong and intensify the impacts following an ashfall.
The majority of farmers impacted by ashfall will continue farming, albeit with varying levels of disruption. However real or perceived impacts to human health may result in farm evacuation in the short-term. Where ashfall thicknesses are too thick for a return to profitable farming, migration from impacted farms and agriculture-related industries will result in significant demographic changes to rural communities and potential social impacts. Stressed farming systems are most vulnerable to failure and psychosocial impacts.