Beneath Yellowstone lies an immense supervolcano. Should a volcanic eruption occur, it would almost certainly result in nuclear winter and an immense loss of life.
The eruption of a supervolcano is easily one of the earth's most destructive natural forces. More powerful than the strongest earthquake or hurricane, the eruption of one of these massive volcanoes could result in a climate change on earth that would be felt for decades. Greg Breining explains the details of supervolcanos and their destructive potential in his book, Supervolcano: The Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park.
How Is a Supervolcano Different From a Normal Volcano?
A normal volcano occurs when pressure beneath the earth builds and is periodically released via eruption. Over time, these eruptions form a cone. The caldera is the opening at the center of the volcanic cone through which magma is released.
A supervolcano, however, has no cone through which magma is directed. The caldera of a supervolcano is merely a massive depression within the earth's crust. Like a normal volcano, magma will build beneath the crust until the pressure must be released. The caldera of a supervolcano, however, is much larger than that of a normal volcano and capable of releasing over a trillion tons of magma when it erupts, resulting in a nuclear winter for the earth's inhabitants.
Supervolcano Locations Throughout the World
Modern science has discovered evidence of past supervolcanos in the following areas of the world:
* Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.
* The Grampian Mountains of Scotland
* Sumatra, Indonesia
* Idaho in the U.S.
* Colorado in the U.S.
* Lake Taupo in New Zealand
* Island Park on the Wyoming/Idaho border in the U.S.
* Whakamaru in New Zealand.
Many supervolcano locations, however, are well hidden by ocean waters.
What Would Happen if a Supervolcano Exploded?
The initial effect of a supervolcano eruption would be devastating to the surrounding area. All life in the vicinity of the eruption would be immediately destroyed, not by hot magma, but by a poisonous ash cloud traveling at speeds of up to 100mph. Although global climate change would be an inevitability, Dr. Robert B Smith, a geophysicist with the University of Utah, claims that the change would be in effect for no more than a few decades and would not usher in a new Ice Age.
Nuclear winter, however, would almost surely occur. Nuclear winter is when the earth is blocked from the sun's rays by events on the surface. In this case, the blockage would be caused by ash in the atmosphere.
Perhaps the greatest threat of a supervolcano eruption would not be the temperatures but the ever-present ash. Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler published a study, "Tephra as Dental Abrasive", in the issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science, demonstrating that volcanic ash is much harder than human teeth. Volcanic ash would be spread everywhere following the eruption of a supervolcano, and both humans and animals would find it incredibly difficult to eat. Not only would the ash harm teeth, but it would be dangerous to ingest.
The Earth is Due for Another Supervolcano Eruption
The entirety of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is an enormous caldera for a supervolcano. The Yellowstone supervolcano is said to erupt roughly every 600,000 to 800,000 years. The last eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano occurred over 630,000 years ago.
Although an eruption at Yellowstone is a common feature of many recent doomsday scenarios, scientists point out that an eruption in the near future is unlikely. Volcanic activity in the area is closely measured by the University of Utah, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).