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The Yellowstone Supervolcano

12 Jun

Yellowstone National Park is famous for its natural grandeur. Forests embroider immense canyons. Sulfur and mineral crystals engrail the edges of hot springs with gemstone-like colors. Wolves and bison roam, relatively unimpeded by the towns, roads, and fences that so callously divided the West. It feels eternal, like it must exist outside of our normal scope of time, something both eternal and ephemeral. But ask anyone in the US Geological Service, and they’ll tell you a different story about Yellowstone. About how it is one of the most dynamic and possibly most destructive places on the planet.

Yellowstone National Park sits directly over what is known as the Yellowstone Caldera, also called the Yellowstone Supervolcano. And it deserves its title of supervolcano. The caldera, the crater formed after an eruption, is more than forty miles across. With the last major eruption, which took place sometime around 600,000 years ago, Yellowstone ejected well over 240 cubic miles of debris (Mount St. Helen’s, the United State’s most destructive volcanic explosion ever recorded, ejected about 0.6 cubic miles). The ash cloud would have covered at least half of the continental USA and drastically altered the global climate for at least two decades.

Spread of ash and tephra falls after an eruption.

Fun fact, supervolcanoes are included in Wikipedia’s Risks to Human Civilization page.

But, grandstanding aside, Yellowstone is not very likely to erupt any time soon. These kinds of super eruptions are incredibly rare, only occurring once every one to two millions years. Plus, scientists have been monitoring Yellowstone for some time now and we’d have at least several hundred years of forewarning.

Oh, one last thing. Even though we’re pretty safe, know that the land is still undergoing change. A report in 2011 showed that the ground in certain spots of the caldera was starting to rise almost as much as a foot in some places.

Just thought you might like to know.

Sources: USGS, vulcan.wr.usgs.gov, National Geographic,

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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Natural History

 

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