Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

The Overdue Catastrophes of Earth: Eruption of Yellowstone’s Supervolcano 

Yellowstone National Park – A place on my ‘Must Visit Before I Die’ list. With tranquil and breathtaking scenery, the United States’ first official National Park is a geothermal hotspot home to active geysers and steaming hot

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Fig 1. A view to die for          (Google Images)

springs oozing colour.

 

From memory, Yellowstone is also the home of Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo. Definitely before my time, but the association still remains. Little did Yogi Bear know that Yellowstone is home to a 630,000 year old supervolcano simmering beneath the surface. Run! Bear, Run!

Growing up, speculation in the geology community was that an disastrous eruption was imminent. So,

SUPERVOLCANO = SUPER DEVASTATING-CHANGING THE SEASONS-AND CLIMATE-AND THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT VOLCANO 

But that was sort of debunked and the fact that eruption wasn’t due for another 90,000 years overlooked. However, a recent surge in seismic activity worldwide indicates that there are more “at risk” volcanoes to be worried about. Being the disaster seeker that I am, I’m still going to illustrate the potential Yellowstone’s supervolcano-caldera has to offer.

Reader says “What’s the deal with this thing I’ve never heard of?”

Located in the North-West of North America’s state Wyoming, Yellowstone’s supervolcano is an invisible caldera beneath the surface of the National Park. Invisible? This is because much of the park is the cone of the volcano. It should be noted that the volcano is classified as active due to the hotspot below, fueling the springs and geysers.

How does a caldera work?

A caldera is formed when a previous volcanic feature ( in this case, volcano) has collapsed or exploded onto itself during subsurface activity. Such events are usually triggered when magma usually filling the chamber at the centre decides to empty beneath the volcano. An empty chamber has no structural support causing an inwards collapse, forming a large crater.

yellowstone-caldera-heat-source

Fig 2. How does it work? (NPS)

A collapse can trigger a larger explosion from the presence of magma rich in silica and full of escaping gas. Highly viscous from melted rock, the pressure from gas bubbles trapped inside reaches it’s limit and bursts forcefully through the crater. The result: Enormous explosions, large amounts of rock ejected, ash falls and magma.

Reader Says “That’s pretty serious, when did this happen last in Yellowstone?

382999-39af45bc-62be-11e3-bb71-e2c853748ae0.jpg

Fig 3. Yellowstone has been destroyed before, eh?

The last eruption at Yellowstone was approximately 640,000 years ago, the one before at 1.2 million and a third at 2.1 million years ago. For a bit of perspective the estimated power on these explosions were 6,000, 700 and 2,500 time more catastrophic than the devastating eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980, respectively. Each spewing over 1,000 cubic metres of magma.

 

The Burning Question: “Umm, so how likely is the supervolcano eruption?”

According to the United States Geological Survey Team, there is some possibility there could be another catastrophically altering eruption at Yellowstone. But alas, there is not yet convincing evidence of the scenario that another caldera will form after an eruption.

Considering Yellowstone’s volcanic history, the USGS conclude the “yearly  probability of another eruption… can be calculated as 1 in 730,000 or 0.00014%.

And what do we say to SUPER DEVASTATING-CHANGING THE SEASONS-AND CLIMATE-AND THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT VOLCANO

Not today!

 

Sources:
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This entry was posted on May 11, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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