Symonds, Rose, Bluth, Gerlach (1994) have reported on the concentrations of various gases present in volcanic emanations for three volcanoes: Kilauea, Erta` Ale, and Momotombo. These gases typically include water vapor (H20), and, in order of their occurrence by volume, carbon dioxide (C02) and sulfur dioxide (S02). In addition, volcanoes are also known to release small amounts of several other gases, among them hydrogen sulfide (H2S), hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen chloride (HCL), hydrogen fluoride (HF), and helium (He). The United States Geological Survey, in a web site describing volcanic gases (2006), includes some of the data provided by Symonds et al. and lists the gases present in the previously mentioned volcanoes. The USGS site also provides information about the tectonic style and the temperature of the three volcanoes under consideration. Kilauea is reported as a “hot spot,” Erta’ Ale is listed as a divergent plate volcano, and Momotombo is indicated to be a volcano typical of a convergent plate boundary. The temperature for each volcano is listed as: Kilauea: 1170oC, Erta’ Ale: 1130oC, and Momotombo: 820oC .

It is important to note that in all three of the volcanoes (Kilauea, Erta’ Ale, Momotombo) described by the USGS (2006), the volume percent of water is 37.1%, 77.2%, and 97.1% respectively. C02 is the next major gas present, and, as a matter of fact, constitutes a greater percentage of the volcanic gases present in Kilauea than water vapor. For the three volcanoes, the C02 content is respectively 48.9%, 11.3%, and 1.44%. The volumetric percent of the other gases present in these volcanoes is provided on the USGS website (2006).

Miller (1953) conducted a series of experiments in which he demonstrated that amino acids could be formed by passing an electric current through an “atmosphere” consisting of gases similar to those anticipated on the very young Earth. These gases were largely volcanic in origin, although Cowen (2005) notes that impacts by meteorites could have introduced organic molecules into the Earth system, and he further suggests that comets “in particular” may have contributed organic molecules to the Earth’s surface. Under the influence of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the young Sun, many organic chemicals might have been produced on or near the Earth’s surface. Cowen (2005) suggests that these organic molecules might include ammonia (NH3), methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO), ethane (CH3), and formaldehyde (CH2O). Cyanide (HCN) was also likely formed in Earth’s early atmosphere (Cowen, 2005).

Given this “witches brew,” if you will, of simple organic compounds both in volcanic emanations themselves and in the waters surrounding volcanoes, it is far from unlikely that some beer-like compounds were formed over the course of geologic time at some ideal environment of formation, perhaps a fresh-water lake located at the base of an erupting volcano located in a convergent plate tectonic boundary. While evidence for such volcanic or near-volcano emanations has not yet been observed today, that may simply reflect our not looking for it, or, perhaps, that under current environmental conditions, such beer-like compounds may disappear before they can be detected. Several possible reasons may be offered for this quick disappearance of such organic compounds in the natural environment today, but further study is required to propose, evaluate, and establish hypotheses about this effect. What is particularly important to remember is that geologic time often provides a backdrop against which highly unlikely events may, in fact, occur more often than we might think. With this in mind, the presence of beer or beer-like compounds in volcanoes or in the environments surrounding them on Earth cannot be discounted.

Cowen, R., 2005. History of Life, 4th Edition. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, 324 pp.

Miller, S.L., 1953. A production of amino acids under possible primitive earth conditions. Science 117: 528-9.

Symonds, R.B., Rose, W.I., Bluth, G., and Gerlach, T.M., 1994, Volcanic gas studies: methods, results, and applications, in Carroll, M.R., and Holloway, J.R., eds., Volatiles in Magmas: Mineralogical Society of America Reviews in Mineralogy, v. 30, p. 1-66.

United States Geological Survey, 2006