Yellowstone’s Gonna Explode! We’re All Gonna Die!

Ha! You totally fell for my click-bait.

The first-half of the title of this post is quite true, but the second-half exaggerates the results and implies an unlikely timeline.

Yellowstone, the most dangerous volcano in the world, could reduce the United States to a third-world country in a week and trigger a domino effect of global environmental and geopolitical consequences that would take humanity a hundred years to recover from.

I am not a volcanologist, so I fall back on the experts. Understand however that no one can know for certain the signs and events that lead-up to the major eruption of a volcano like Yellowstone. If a class 8 eruption were to occur anywhere in the world it would be a global cataclysm that would hit the reset button on civilization and the survivors who start studying volcanology again would be many generations downstream from those who actually witnessed the event. The best that anyone can really do is study smaller eruptions and try and extrapolate. Based on that, the experts do not think that an eruption of Yellowstone is imminent. The nature of these things is such that they are not very predictable in the long-term, but are very predicable in the short term. This means that if Yellowstone…the most closely watched volcano in the world…were due to explode in your lifetime, we would probably know. One study that I read speculates that in the lead-up to a caldera like Yellowstone erupting there would be mini-eruptions that would build several smaller volcanoes around the rim of the caldera over the course of several hundred years. Based on this, there are other supervolcanoes in the world that might be due to erupt before Yellowstone.

The worst eruption to impact the United States in recent history is thought to be Mount Saint Helens in 1980 (though there was another in California in 1915). It gave numerous clues ahead of its explosion, but the way it blew, though small by comparison to a supervulcano like Yellowstone, was similar in that it destroyed most of itself in the blast. Now when I say small, I mean that Mount Saint Helens is a composite or stratovulcano and the 1980 event is classified as a level 5. Geologic history has recorded Yellowstone eruptions as 7s and 8s. The Volcanic Explosive Index is based on how much material the eruption ejects and you move the decimal place to the right one spot for every increment of the number. That would make an 8 one thousand times larger than a 5.

Of course, none of this matters a whit unless it happens to us, right? 2 inches per year is really slow and no one knows if it will maintain that pace or stop. Lets look at some other calderas around the world…

Lake Toba — Roughly 70,000 years ago this caldera in Indonesia was the site of the largest vulcanic eruption in homanid history. Some scientists claim that it nearly wiped out the human species.

Askja — Lots of volcanism in Iceland. This caldera isn’t as big as Yellowstone, but it had had recent minor eruptions in 1875 and 1961. In 2012 the lake in this caldera was open water when it should have been ice capped, leading same to speculate that the caldera had been heating it.

Mount Tambora — Included here because it is the worst eruption in recorded history. It resulted in what has been called the year without a summer, worldwide crop failures, starvation, poverty and religious revivals. It obliterated half the island, caused the loudest sound in, again, recorded history, and is still active. That eruption that occurred in 1815 was classified as a class 7 and dumped rocks on neighboring islands.

Phlegraean Fields — A collection of volcanically active features associated with a large caldera in Italy. The ancient eruption of Pompeii was part of this volcanic system. If there is a potentially destructive eruption brewing in your lifetime, it isn’t Yellowstone…it is the Phlegraean Fields. If a class 8 eruption were to occur here it would destroy most of Europe and have a similar world-wide impact as Yellowstone. A magnitude 4 earthquake occurred at the western end of this area in 2017.

~ by Bill Housley on May 24, 2019.

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