The original 1993 Jurassic Park film brought audiences to Isla Nublar, a small, lush fictional island off the west coast of Costa Rica. At the time, it was intended to be the home of the Jurassic Park theme park and the genetically engineered dinosaurs that populate it. Now, in the latest installment of the franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a ready-to-blow volcano turns Isla Nublar into a death trap of another sort, which scientists tell Inverse is frighteningly realistic.
Two years after the events of 2015’s Jurassic World, Isla Nublar’s Mount Sibo volcano shows its first signs of geological activity in 500 years, threatening to destroy all life on the island — including the beloved dinosaurs. Sure enough, Mount Sibo erupts quickly and chaotically, sending massive clouds of ash and flying fire-rocks into the air. While the eruption has all the sensational effects expected of a summer blockbuster, volcanologists say it realistically demonstrates the catastrophic dynamism of actual volcanos.
“My feeling while watching the trailer was that it was reasonably realistic and a reminder that the adrenaline that is generated in your body during a real eruption is incredible,” University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee professor of geosciences and volcanology expert Barry Cameron, Ph.D., tells Inverse. “If you are a safe distance away, it is amazing to just sit and watch the power of nature.”
In the film, the Costa Rican Institute of Volcanology rightly interprets Mount Sibo’s volcanic activity as bad news. On the real site run by the fictional Dinosaur Protection Group, the foreshadowing is dramatic and frankly quite accurate:
“The actual destructive power of Mt. Sibo is unknown. However, a high energy particle scan of the crust beneath the volcano’s interior revealed a large chamber of pressured magma. If this magma were to breach the surface, it is widely believed that the resulting explosion would have the capacity to destroy all biological life on the island’s surface, driving the dinosaurs back into extinction in a single blow.”
After watching the trailer for Fallen Kingdom, Cameron noted that the images shown are “very typical of explosive blasts.” In real life, these eruptions are driven by the gas content in magma; he adds that “often volcanic eruptions will start very explosive when gas content is high and then evolve to more effusive lava flows once all the gas escapes from the magma chamber beneath the volcano.”
David Pyle, Ph.D., a volcanologist and professor of earth sciences at the University of Oxford, agrees that the eruption “looks like the start of small but violent explosive eruption” and notes that the “‘ballistic rocks’ being thrown out of the vent are typical of this sort of this eruption.”
The “incandescence that we can see during the explosions suggests that there is fresh hot magma involved,” he says, “but the violent nature of the eruption could well be caused by explosions triggered when the hot magma makes contact with groundwater beneath the summit crater of the volcano.”
Both volcanologists agree that the fast-flowing clouds of ash and gases, seen above, indicate that the Fallen Kingdom eruption comes with pyroclastic flows — the same deadly mixture of lava, ash, gases and pumice that caused multiple deaths when Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted in June. The pyroclastic density shown in the film, says Pyle, looks very similar to how the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelee has been described, with “grey to red-hot clouds of ash running like a hot, powder-snow avalanche down the slopes.”
Pyle and Cameron agree that it’s realistic to suggest an explosive volcanic eruption could destroy an island like it does in Fallen Kingdom. Hot rock avalanches can travel three to six miles per hour, while pyroclastic flows can be over 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit — a recipe for disaster. Cameron says that the island’s demolition is reminiscent of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, an island volcano in Indonesia. That island, he says, “was obliterated, and the eruption was the loudest noise recorded on Earth and generated deadly tsunamis throughout the Pacific Ocean.”
In Fallen Kingdom, both humans and dinosaurs have no choice but to jump into the sea as a means of escape. It’s not clear whether any dinosaurs survived that forced evacuation, but in real life, say the volcanologists, diving into the ocean isn’t a terrible choice: Pyle explains that there are first-hand accounts of survivors of an explosive, 1902 eruption in the Caribbean who dived underwater to avoid being engulfed in the ash cloud. While you wouldn’t be exactly safe being in the ocean, being there would minimize the threat of getting burned by hot ash currents and clouds because those elements would predominantly remain on the surface.
If there’s no ocean option available, Cameron says, then your best hope to get low and hide.
“We teach our students that, if you’re ever running in a pyroclastic flow, your best hope to survive if on land is to find a low spot, get low, hold your breath, cover your head, and stay down as long as possible,” says Cameron. “The pyroclastic flow might run over top of you and you could possibly survive.”