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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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  • Ok (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sla$hPot (1189603) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:29PM (#45881233)

    Any spare ( one way ) tickets for Mars left?

    • Re:Ok (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:08PM (#45881723)

      Okay, on the chance that you're not joking:

      You think that Mars is going to be a better environment than a post-volcanic eruption earth? Post-eruption earth would still have oxygen, survivable air-pressure, water, and soil (though you may have to dig for it). We may have to retreat underground for a few years--but still way more survivable than the barren, cold iron desert of Mars ever will be (if there were a way to even get there).

  • Puzzling (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:29PM (#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.

    • Re:Puzzling (Score:5, Funny)

      by PNutts (199112) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:47PM (#45881475)

      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.

      Any good vulcanologist knows all you need is a cold fusion device to stop a volcano.

      • Re:Puzzling (Score:5, Funny)

        by plover (150551) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:53PM (#45882165) Homepage Journal

        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.

        Any good vulcanologist knows all you need is a cold fusion device to stop a volcano.

        Any good vulcanologist would use logic to solve the problem, instead of approaching it with emotions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      I don't recall anyone saying that some sort of external trigger was needed to "light the fuse", so to speak

      Aaachooooo! ...... oh shit ...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:30PM (#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 grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:34PM (#45881303) Homepage Journal

      Good idea. Some ABS pipe from the lumberyard should do the trick.
    • by DJ Jones (997846)
      Probably not. Keep Hydrofracking! We need more money [cough] I mean jobs!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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 @03:48PM (#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.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      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?

      Sure, drill into it and slowly drain the pressure, or accidentally trigger an eruption through a previously unknown mechanism. (like maybe the well relieves pressure on one side, leading to instability on the other side and an eruption.)

      Willing to take that gamble?

      • I say we nuke it! Show that volcano some mutually assured destruction. That will bring it in line.

      • by akozakie (633875) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:29PM (#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 Hatta (162192) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:05PM (#45881681) Journal

      Go take a drill to a cannister of liquid CO2 and let me know how that works for you.

    • by kellymcdonald78 (2654789) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:26PM (#45881899)
      I don't think you realize the scale of the energy involved. When St. Helen's blew, it released ~24MT of energy and ~1 cubic km of ash. The last eruption of the Yellowstone caldaera (Lava Creek 640,000 years ago) released more than 1000 cubic km of ash. You're looking at having to dissapate 1000's of MT of energy somehow. Plus, one of the typical triggers to one of these eruptions is a smaller eruption or earthquake that drops the pressure of the magma chamber to the point where dissolved gases come out of solution, then it's like opening a bottle of soda that's been shaken.
      • It's not about the amount of energy released it's about the time it takes to release the energy.

        24MT of energy released in an instant is quite bad, but if you could somehow spread that out over millions of years it wouldn't have any effect.

        If we can double, quadruple, or otherwise increase the amount of time the energy is increased it wouldn't be as bad.

        Of course this is a relative term because perhaps releasing the same amount of energy over 1000x the time still would be very very very bad.

        If it was certai

    • by mysidia (191772)

      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?

      The regulators will never approve it, after they see the environmental impact statement: In case of errors, relief well may become enlarged -- resulting in full scale eruption, and massive ash cloud posing a minor threat to local ecosystems

  • Forget the super volcano, there's a typo in the title!
  • by stazeii (1148459) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:31PM (#45881269) Homepage
    Sharkcano!
  • by Mabhatter (126906)

    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 bec

    • by judoguy (534886) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:56PM (#45881595) Homepage

      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.

      Listen to you, Mr. glass-half-empty.

      • by Billly Gates (198444) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:25PM (#45881891) Journal

        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.

        Listen to you, Mr. glass-half-empty.

        Actually these 2 graphs ya ya strange site [cuttingedge.org] show past eruption damage. People as far away as Houston and LA would die.

        It is a fact. The dust is broken up glass particles and traces of rock that will cut up your lungs from the inside out and then cement into rock inside them! A very painful and awful death as this is what killed the Romans in Pompeii rather than being burned to death. There lungs got eaten away and it rained the next day or two and cemented their bodies with the ash and preserved their bodies for 2,000 years.

        Now even if you live in Europe and feel you are safe the global nuclear winter will come complete with a full glacialization ice age. Crops will die and food will be scarce. Snow and freezing temperatures will fall well north and south into the tropics. Unless you live near the equator you wont be fine at all. Expect everyone to invade your country and kill you and your neighbors for food too as this land will be highly prized mixed with a new world where there wont be enough food for 6 billion people as 1/3 of it will be frozen tundra.

    • How soon can we make that happen? Sounds like paradise, plus, we'll finally get rid of our do-nothing Congress.

    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      The ejected material is going to really screw up the climate. There will be all sorts of mass extinctions.

  • One-in-a-billion is a thousand times more likely than one-in-a-trillion odds, right? I'm still not anywhere likely to win that bet, though.

    The article doesn't even have any odds/numbers. Yet the headline contains "far greater." And then ends with this:

    Dr Perrillat said there are no known supervolcanoes that are in danger of erupting in the foreseeable future, and it would take at least a decade or so for the magma pressure within a caldera to build up to a point where an eruption is likely.

    In other words, t

    • Disagree.
      The perceived odds (not the "real" odds) have changed.
      If a supervolcano can only go off during an earthquake, well those don't happen continually. But if a supervolcano can just go off whenever, the odds have changed in the opinion of the oddsmakers (us). Granted, the actual chance of a supervolcano spewing has never changed regardless of our knowledge (imo but I'm not a quantum mechanic either).
  • Researchers: Global Risk of Supervolcano Eruption Greater Than Previously Though

    Though what? It'll only blow up America? There's a plan to move to Mars? I need closure!

  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Monday January 06, 2014 @03:48PM (#45881487)
    "Supervolcanoes represent the second most globally cataclysmic event - next to an asteroid strike - and they have been responsible in the past for mass extinctions, long-term changes to the climate and shorter-term 'volcanic winters' caused by volcanic ash cutting out the sunlight."
    • ... You know that removing particulate matter requirements from pollution laws has long been circulated as a possible solution to global warming, by way of lowering planetary albedo, right? Humans can trivially reverse the temperature changes if we're willing to suck up some really nasty air.

    • by hey! (33014)

      And it's 100% effective, just like curing diabetes with a bullet to the head.

  • I'm pretty sure a good portion of the world knows how to operate despite very dim sunlight and half of the US gone.
    It takes power to make light to make food, and we can do that on a pretty decent scale, even if it takes burning the bodies of those who couldn't.
    We're a pretty resilient pest.

    • by danlip (737336)

      I don't think you will get nearly enough energy from dead bodies. Maybe from dead trees but those will have already burned in the initial cataclysm. We can burn a lot more fossil fuels, or we can build a bunch of crappy nuclear power plants (built very fast and cheap with no regulation). And trying to manufacture enough greenhouses and lights to grow enough food for the world would take a long time too, plus the time for the first crops to mature, I doubt we have enough food stored up for very many people t

  • triple threat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by csumpi (2258986)
    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!
  • Until a grizzled Woody [youtube.com] Harrelson [youtube.com] tells me it is so!
  • Quick, we don't have much time, lets end this on a high note...
  • by edibobb (113989) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:27PM (#45881907) Homepage
    "Dr Perrillat said there are no known supervolcanoes that are in danger of erupting in the foreseeable future."
    Tricked again! The hysterical headline is exaggerated, and society as we know it survives another day.
  • by TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) on Monday January 06, 2014 @08:23PM (#45883547)

    People must take precautions to avoid breathing ash. While even wet cotton can help, the use of respirators is recommended because the finest particles can be as small as 10 microns [usgs.gov].

    While dry ash is not conductive, even a small amount of moisture produces a paste that is conductive enough to cause high voltage flash-overs [usgs.gov]. Tall pylons with ceramic insulators may manage to stay clean but electrical substations where ash can form piles, are especially vulnerable.

    And if insulators accumulate ash after a rain or already have ice on them it's pretty much flash-pow grid down.

    BBC did a great two hour docudrama depicting possible effects, Supervolcano [2006] [youtube.com] along with a companion program Supervolcano.The Truth About Yellowstone [youtube.com]

    Beyond the ash fall there are long-term climate concerns. There have been two major eruptions that have affected climate severely in the Northern Hemisphere with a clear historical record, Tambora (1815) and Krakatoa (535AD). I cover these in this recent Slashdot post [slashdot.org].

    My plan, and I am being pretty annoying about it in the hope that it becomes everyone's plan -- is to fast-track the two-fluid Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor to commercial deployment in North America AS SOON AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE, specifically the 1GW unit design with multiple on-site units sharing core salt reprocessing infrastructure -- that is a best-fit for our base load grid supply. These plants would deliver an unprecedented level of safety even if they are modularly constructed and mass-produced, will continue to operate even if rail or roads are damaged, and can store years of fuel on-site.

    In short, a best hope for survival under many disaster scenarios, both natural and man-made.

    The electrical grid is more of a problem since its points of failure cover a wide area and the vulnerability extends to the transformers in your neighborhood. For the grid I advocate a build-out of buried High Voltage DC conduits to interface between the three major North American interconnects, and to progressively deliver bridge junctions that can route around regional failures.

    In short, we should be powering up new base load energy and building cross-country energy pipelines -- in addition to oil pipelines.

    Re-tooling the grid will take much more time and capital than the deployment of LFTR but it is no less important. One of the advantages to LFTR is that it need not be sited near a large source of coolant water, so (unlike water reactors) there is NO region of North America that cannot accommodate this technology, and these plants can be built as far away from population centers as desired.

    But it cannot and will not happen without your help.

    See my letters on energy,
    To The Honorable James M. Inhofe, United States Senate [scribd.com]
    To whom it may concern, Halliburton Corporate [scribd.com]

    And see the fascinating Thorium Remix 2011 presentation [youtube.com].

    Also, here is an excellent overview on HVDC pipelines: Roger W. Faulkner [2005]: Electric Pipelines for North American Power Grid Efficiency Security [scribd.com]

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