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Researchers: Global Risk of Supervolcano Eruption Greater Than Previously Though 325

Posted by samzenpus
from the big-boom dept.
rbrandis writes "The eruption of a 'supervolcano' hundreds of times more powerful than conventional volcanoes – with the potential to wipe out civilization as we know it – is more likely than previously thought, a study has found. An analysis of the molten rock within the dormant supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park in the United States has revealed that an eruption is possible without any external trigger, scientists said."
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Researchers: Global Risk of Supervolcano Eruption Greater Than Previously Though

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  • Puzzling (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:29PM (#45881235)

    You mean that up til now it has been widely believed that a super volcano required an external "trigger" before it erupted? I'm no vulcanologist, but I've been intrigued with super volcanoes for over ten years now, and in everything I've read or seen I don't recall anyone saying that some sort of external trigger was needed to "light the fuse", so to speak.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:30PM (#45881247)

    If we know where the magma chamber is, why can't we tap the chamber to create pressure relief wells, allowing the pressure and magma to drain an semi controlled fashion?

  • by Mabhatter (126906) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:40PM (#45881357)

    The Great Plains will be really fertile again after that goes boom.

    I don't see what the worry in the USA is... They're just "flyover states" they will just be a smoking crater for a few dozen years. The Appilacians and Rockies might keep the coasts from being utterly destroyed... But with no food and no resources because everything built will be knocked over it will be worse on them than the peeps that just go boom. It's like a couple of nuclear wars in a can.

    No amount of "bunker" is going to save you because most of North America will be knocked over and/or on fire. Even if you get out (as youll be under feet of hot ash) there will be no place to go, no way to get there, the grounds itself will be baren for a dozen years like Mt St Hellen's.

  • Re:Priorities (Score:5, Interesting)

    by maverickgunn (3480787) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:40PM (#45881359)

    In this case, "likeliest" is a subjective term, since there are so many factors at play and it's difficult if not impossible at this point to try to predict what roaming variable will arise that will push the volcano over the tipping point. The best we can do is compare previous events with current factors, but even then our predictions will fall further on the guessing side of the line.

    So, on a serious basis, I think a higher priority at this point should be placed on developing ways to protect ourselves from an imminent disaster like that relative to the size of that potential disaster. Worst case scenario, we need to pursue solutions which involve leaving the planet entirely if it is rendered uninhabitable for a period long enough to exterminate us.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:43PM (#45881423)

    It is a good question that has been asked many times. Even if we devoted much of out GDP toward creating such a well would reduce the pressure by a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. It'd be like using sand paper to reduce the weight of an asteroid.

  • by wjcofkc (964165) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:48PM (#45881501)
    It's been proposed. Supercomputer simulations show that attempting to poke in a relief valve would give the existing pressure a channel to explode though with full force. Just because super volcanoes may not require a trigger does not mean that one cannot be triggered.
  • triple threat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by csumpi (2258986) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:49PM (#45881517)
    killer volcano, killer warming and the killer earthquake

    heck, for bonus let's throw a meteor in there, too

    and the best thing? we can avoid all this, if we just create a tax for it!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:12PM (#45881761)

    Mount Rainier wouldn't be a cork in the giant bottle that is Yellowstone.

    Also, sorry you don't understand the level of output from a supervolcano. For a 1/100 scale, go look up Mount Pinatubo.

  • by akozakie (633875) on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:29PM (#45882485)

    Would not be the first such gamble. Until the first actual nuclear test the scientists were not entirely sure it won't ignite the whole atmosphere (burning nitrogen). All they had was "almost certainly no" - the Monte Carlo simulations are only simulations. The "micro black hole will swallow earth" controversy about the LHC was also interesting, although different - the scientists doing this were quite sure it wasn't possible, but the idea sounded intriguing to the media, leading to a swarm of interesting discussions and a lot of FUD.

    If we get to the "almost certain" level of modeling the supervolcano and have the technology and knowledge to release pressure in a relatively controlled way it's a matter of risk analysis. If the eruption within a decade seems probable, the project will be launched. And yes, we might be wrong. Oops.

    OTOH - how much energy would such a controlled drain release? What amount of ashes and gases? How much water would evaporate? That's actually more interesting than the "trigger" problem. Can we do it so that the effect will be acceptable, or will it be nearly as destructive to us as an actual explosion?

    An intriguing thought - what if the explosion would ruin a significant part of the US (likely), a controlled drain could reduce that kind of damage a lot (likely), but the worldwide effects (chemical, climate, etc.) were very similar and disastrous (IANAVolcanologist, so perhaps). The supervolcano is on US territory. US risk analysis: do it ASAP, it's less destructive and the explosion is very likely. World risk analysis: don't do it EVER, every month without either draining or explosion is a month more for preparation. Imagine the dillema, the political tension... Ready material for a gripping novel or a blockbuster movie!

  • by lgw (121541) on Monday January 06, 2014 @07:22PM (#45882817) Journal

    If by "those armed groups" you mean "the new government", then no, I'm not forgetting. The largest, most organized group wins fights. If that group isn't lead by the old government (and it most likely would be), then it would swiftly become the new government, as no one likes being shot back at. That's where most governments come from, after all.

  • Re:Priorities (Score:2, Interesting)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <(VortexCortex) ( ...> on Monday January 06, 2014 @09:07PM (#45883435)

    Worst case scenario, we need to pursue solutions which involve leaving the planet entirely if it is rendered uninhabitable for a period long enough to exterminate us.

    What if I told you: That's not how survival works. One does not simply walk into outer space due to impending doom; You strike out in multiple directions long before nature's empire strikes back. Afterwards you morn the loss of Ceres Station 9, Mars One, or Earth, etc. and when the great disturbance in the forces of nature have passed it's safe for the return of the kings, or knights, peasants, etc. Developers begin assuming direct control and estimate reoccurrence to determine if they rebuild it, so they will come or instead boldly go where no one has gone before.

    In other words: You can lead a horse to water but they have to swim for themselves. Spreading humanity across the universe to explore under pain of death from hypothetical disaster won't work. Just look at the fools rebuilding New Orleans instead of abandoning ship and deeming it a wildlife habitat. It's the same coin, but different sides as the folks opposing manned space exploration funding. Why you're so resistant to just go -- save yourself -- from extinction realizing you can't take it all with you is beyond me. That's why, despite the poor bastards being doomed, we have to cheer Mars One folks as pioneers and champions of the world -- even if they leverage reality TV gimmicks to pull it off, it can't be helped.

    IMO, although a moon base is too close for comfort to Earth to escape a gamma death ray or solar flare (esp. during a the magnetic pole flip -- which we're 500,000 years over-due for, BTW), all your base needs is to begin developing the tech for survival outside the magnetosphere -- The surface is hard, but you can dig it and live like mole people or just have the habitat be buried alive in regolith. It's more within reach than Mars.

    That humans have the right stuff for space programs and yet wasted four decades without leaving the nest is a much more advanced and persistent threat to the survival than any other singular threat of extinction, including super-volcanoes. If the magnetosphere flips you off during a perfect storm of solar flares, or another disaster extincts you: You have no one to blame but yourselves. You had your chance to survive, but did not make your time count. No matter how many prime directives embedded in your culture, you just wouldn't get your ass to Mars.

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.