Yellowstone Supervolcano Might Erupt In Decades, Wreaking Havoc On Earth
Geologists and volcanologists make a clear distinction between a volcano and a supervolcano. While both are devastating and can have ripple effects on the entire planet, one of them is definitely more devastating than the other. Unlike a usual volcano, a supervolcano draws its magma from the underlying mantle. Supervolcanoes are fixed on the planet, but the crust can move over these places – thus giving the impression that they move.
We currently know of 20 such supervolcanoes scattered all across the globe, which include Lake Toba in Indonesia, Cerro Galán in the Andes, Campi Flegrei in Italy, and of course, Yellowstone in the United States. Beneath the beautiful Yellowstone Natural Park lies one such supervolcano whose caldera expands over the entire park. In other words, yes, the crater of this supervolcano is the size of the entire natural park itself.
What’s more, according to the geological evidence, Yellowstone was seen to erupt every 650,000 years or so. And guess what? It’s already been almost 650,000 years since it last erupted. Its magma chamber is about 80 km long and 20 km wide and can easily eject 1,000 cubic km of rock and ash into the atmosphere if it erupts. To better understand how much that is – it’s 250,000 times more than what Mount St. Helens was able to produce when it erupted in 1980.
Now, if Yellowstone does decide to erupt, its effects on the planet would be devastating. It would cover the entire Northern Hemisphere in a thick cloud of ash – which would kickstart a volcanic winter that could last for two decades or even more. The lava flow itself will be devastating in the area surrounding the volcano, but from a planetary perspective, it would have a minimal impact. The biggest problem besides the ash would be the many toxic and greenhouse gases that would be ejected in the eruption.
At the current moment, Yellowstone doesn’t show any concrete signs that it’s about to blow, but a recent study on the matter has revealed that preliminary events before an eruption could happen way faster than initially anticipated.
“If something like this happened today, it would be catastrophic,” said Hannah Shamloo, a geologist at Arizona State, speaking to the American Geophysical Union. “We want to understand what triggers these eruptions, so we can set up warning systems. That’s the big-picture goal.”
Hannah Shamloo and her team have spent weeks at Yellowstone gathering certain geological samples that are able to give some information about the evolution of a volcano prior to an eruption. And based on these samples, they came to realize that the conditions inside the Yellowstone supervolcano changed in just several decades before it erupted the last time around. Prior to this discovery, vulcanologists believed that one such process required several thousand years before an eruption could happen.
“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” said Ms Shamloo, warning that more research is still necessary before we can draw definite conclusions.
Nevertheless, this information is critically important in understanding and predicting the actions of Yellowstone. Some other scientists are thinking of ways of how to stop one such eruption from ever happening. But if this study proves to be true, then we shouldn’t actually wait for Yellowstone supervolcano to give us any signs that it’s preparing to blow.