EGU23-12452, updated on 09 Jan 2024
EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The ethics of volcano geoengineering

Lara Mani1, Mike Cassidy1,2, and Anders Sandberg3
Lara Mani et al.
  • 1Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge
  • 2School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Birmingham
  • 3Future of Humanity Institute, Department of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Volcano engineering is the practice of altering the state of volcanic systems and/or volcanic eruptions to exploit them or mitigate their risk. Past and current examples of volcano engineering are limited but include drilling crater walls to drain volcanic lakes, channeling and bombing lava flows, siphoning off CO2 rich volcanic lakes, and cooling lava flows with seawater. There have also been several incidental examples of drilling into magma reservoirs in search for geothermal resources in Hawaii, Iceland, and Kenya. While not causing anything more damaging than the loss of drill bits or forcing the use of alternative holes, this demonstrates that humans are increasingly able to reach volcanic plumbing systems. As the pursuit of high temperature and enhanced geothermal energy increases as the world strives for renewable energy and critical metal resources, it is also likely that such contacts will become more common. We must accept, therefore, that despite the controversial nature of this topic, geoengineering of volcanic systems is an inevitable consequence of such exploration in the coming century. Since we possess the technological and engineering potential to perturb volcanic systems, the question we ask here is, should we? Do we have the scientific knowledge to do so? What are the potential benefits to future humanity? And, what are the ways it could do more harm than good? We highlight that while volcano geoengineering has significant potential benefits, the risks and uncertainties are too great to justify its use in the short term. Even if we do not decide to conduct volcano geoengineering, we believe there is a strong ethical case to support research into the efficacy and safety of volcano geoengineering going forwards. In this work, we lay out a series of protocols and practices based on the ethical arguments to be followed should humanity decide to conduct volcano geoengineering in the future.

How to cite: Mani, L., Cassidy, M., and Sandberg, A.: The ethics of volcano geoengineering, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 23–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-12452,, 2023.