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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Yellowstone Supervolcano: Way Bigger Than We Thought and Way Overdue

Yikes.

by: Ted Alvarez

photo: Yellowstone NPS / Flickr
photo: Yellowstone NPS / Flickr

Are you sitting down? You should probably be sitting down. By now we all know that a giant, simmering cauldron of lava sits directly underneath Yellowstone – that’s where all the delightful geysers, mud pots, and steam vents come from. Turns out they’re sort of cute, scenic harbingers of The Apocalypse: New research by University of Utah scientists shows the caldera is bigger than previously thought, and way overdue for a big bang. From the AP:

The hot molten rock beneath Yellowstone National Park is 2.5 times larger than previously estimated, meaning the park's supervolcano has the potential to erupt with a force about 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens, according to a new study.

By measuring seismic waves from earthquakes, scientists were able to map the magma chamber underneath the Yellowstone caldera as 55 miles long, lead author Jamie Farrell of the University of Utah said Monday.

Fifty-five miles you say? Outstanding.

[Another eruption] would spew large amounts of volcanic material in the atmosphere, where it would circle the earth, he said.

"It would be a global event," Farrell said. "There would be a lot of destruction and a lot of impacts around the globe."

The last Yellowstone eruption happened 640,000 years ago, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. For years, observers tracking earthquake swarms under Yellowstone have warned the caldera is overdue to erupt.

Farrell dismissed that notion, saying there isn't enough data to estimate the timing of the next eruption. "We do believe there will be another eruption, we just don't know when," he said.
So this is kind of like a pop quiz, except everybody dies. Fantastic.

The scientists are quick to note that we’ll likely have some advance seismic warning. And as measurement tools improve, we’ll learn more about how supervolcanoes like the Yellowstone caldera work. Let’s just hope we’ve colonized Mars or created floating underwater cities by the time the alarm goes off.

Read more: Associated Press


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