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United States Earth Science

New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption 121

Posted by samzenpus
from the how-bad-is-it? dept.
An anonymous reader writes Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have used a program named Ash 3D to predict the impact of a Yellowstone volcano eruption, and found that cities within 300 miles from Yellowstone National Park may get covered by up to three feet of ash. From the article: "Ash3D helped the researchers understand how the previous eruptions created a widespread distribution of ash in places in the park's periphery. Aside from probing ash-distribution patterns, the Ash3D can also be used to identify potential hazards that volcanoes in Alaska may bring."
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New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:21PM (#47802625)

    Wow ... there is a lot of talk about the Yellowstone volcano. Do the authorities know more than they are saying to the public? Why all of the sudden interest in Yellowstone? Is an eruption imminent and we are not being told?

    • by niftymitch (1625721) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:41PM (#47802705)

      Wow ... there is a lot of talk about the Yellowstone volcano. Do the authorities know more than they are saying to the public? Why all of the sudden interest in Yellowstone? Is an eruption imminent and we are not being told?

      As a geologist the impact, size and risk of Yellowstone has been an ongoing learning experience.

      Yellowstone like large eruptions and large asteroid impacts are global game changers.
      Any that wake up in the morning and think about this get concerned.

      Both issues invoke magical thinking... we could make the problem go away by -________-.

      What we do know is that historic eruptions did blanket North America with ash,
      we also have some decent data about how many and how often and when we
      might be due...

      The un-interesting bit is the mumble foo about a computer program. Some think
      this is adding to the knowledge but the reality is hand drawn maps from
      20 years ago tell the same OMG KYAGB story.

      Add regions of Indonesia to the list right along side the Mammoth Mtn. caldera in California.

      These game changing big events are well beyond any FEMA planning.
      Have a good cup of tea and enjoy the fireworks.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by Noah Haders (3621429)
        isnt this what happened in pompeii? everybody got buried. that was what, 2000 years ago? what would be especially bad is if tehre were a big volcanic eruption and an emp blast at the same time, so all our electronic resources went down when we needed them most!
        • by Type44Q (1233630) on Monday September 01, 2014 @05:17PM (#47802857)
          Yeah, like, how much would it suck to be in a deadly car crash and get struck by lightning, like, at the same time, doood??!
        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Monday September 01, 2014 @05:19PM (#47802869)

          isnt this what happened in pompeii?

          No. Pompeii was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow [wikipedia.org], which is only a danger in the immediate vicinity of the eruption. The danger from Yellowstone is that it could blanket much of the continent with ash.

          • by Kiffer (206134)

            isnt this what happened in pompeii?

            No. Pompeii was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow [wikipedia.org], which is only a danger in the immediate vicinity of the eruption. The danger from Yellowstone is that it could blanket much of the continent with ash.

            Well... my understanding is that Pompeii was covered in hot falling ash over a period of about 6 hours, Herculaneum was hit by pyroclastic flows.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

          • i think if there were a pyroclastic flow heading toard me I would hop in my pool and hold my breath at the bottom. then after the heat wave had passed I would climb on my roof so I don't get buried by the ash. would that work?
            • by Nimey (114278)

              You're trolling and not actually that stupid, right?

            • by DrXym (126579)

              i think if there were a pyroclastic flow heading toard me I would hop in my pool and hold my breath at the bottom. then after the heat wave had passed I would climb on my roof so I don't get buried by the ash. would that work?

              No, it would just turn you into a delicious pool sized bowl of soup.

              • there's so much heat content in the pool I doubt that if the surface air went to 500 degrees for a bit it would make much difference.
      • ...The un-interesting bit is the mumble foo about a computer program. Some think this is adding to the knowledge but the reality is hand drawn maps from 20 years ago tell the same OMG KYAGB story.

        Right!
        They could have saved a bunch of time and money with:

        #!/usr/bin/perl
        print "You are well and truly fucked!\n";

      • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday September 01, 2014 @08:25PM (#47803701) Homepage

        Our current economic system has created existential risks by discounting the risks of centralization and just-in-time production and just-barely-works systems without huge margins of resiliency. One tragedy-in-the-making example is the USA recently selling off its emergency strategic grain supplies.
        http://ppjg.me/2010/11/12/usda... [ppjg.me]
        http://articles.latimes.com/20... [latimes.com]

        The USA could as a nation be putting in place a more distributed resilient production system (including indoors food production or even space habitats) to ensure the safety of its citizenry even under huge unexpected disasters. The USA has chosen not too because it does not fit with the current economic dogma that discount such "black swan" existential risks. Hurricane Katrina is an example of failure to systemically plan for obvious serious weather-related risks, Given that example, it is unlikely we can expect the USA to plan for even rarer risks like supervolcanoes, solar flares, pandemics, rogue AI technology, asteroid strikes, economic meltdown, civil war, or whatever else. Still, if you add up all the rare risks, taken together, the probability of some sort of "black swan" event may not otherwise be as rare as one might expect -- and they can all be addressed to some extent by creating a more resilient decentralized infrastructure and promoting more cooperation among people (rather than competition).

        I find that situation frustrating because I find issues about resiliency to be very interesting civil defense problems to think about (e.g. my OSCOMAK idea), but the current notion of national security is focused on intrinsic unilateral military might, not intrinsic mutual resilient security. The "Lifeboat Foundation" and "The Living Universe Foundation" though are examples of some groups that have concerns in this area -- but with little funding and lots of competition for that funding compared with the effectively trillion US dollars a year the USA spends (or effectively incurs) annually for military-oriented defense.

        Like George Orwell said:
        http://blog.gaiam.com/quotes/a... [gaiam.com]
        "We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, is possible to carry this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield [or a three foot deep ash field...]"

        A resilient infrastructure coincidentally is also more compatible with "democracy" since there can't be real political democracy without some level of financial and material independence for the citizenry. At least the Maker movement is a bit of hope there. As are the changing economics of indoor agriculture given LED lights and robotics, even without potentially cheaper energy supplies if either hot fusion or LENR/QuantumEnergy/ColdFusion turns out to be workable.

        • Typo: That should have been "*extrinsic* unilateral military might" not "intrinsic unilateral military might". Extrinsic means the security comes by extrinsically having soldiers defending supply lines, not intrinsically having local systems that can produce what you need or that can take a pounding.

        • Our current economic system has created existential risks by discounting the risks of centralization and just-in-time production and just-barely-works systems without huge margins of resiliency. One tragedy-in-the-making example is the USA recently selling off its emergency strategic grain supplies. .......

          Good stuff except that the Yellowstone volcano risk is vastly bigger than any emergency grain supply we ever considered.

          We are not talking about a regional disaster but one so big that with the modern population and population distribution
          we would be well and goodly firetrucked.

          You point is spot on if we consider lesser but still massive disasters. Most folk consider disaster planning of three days
          food and water to be a difficult investment. A continent wide disaster with spill over to other continent

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by l0ungeb0y (442022)

        These game changing big events are well beyond any FEMA planning.

        Planning or not, FEMA will always do a Heck of a Job

    • Yes. They found gold, and now they don't want everybody and his uncle setting off with a tin pan to Idaho.

    • by evilviper (135110) on Monday September 01, 2014 @08:19PM (#47803677) Journal

      Wow ... there is a lot of talk about the Yellowstone volcano. Do the authorities know more than they are saying to the public? Why all of the sudden interest in Yellowstone?

      Because people got tired of hearing about extinction-level asteroids... The Yellowstone Supervolcano was just the next ready standby to scare the public and get more viewers. I suppose it was the Y2K thing that taught the media herd that terrifying the public with BS is profitable, and they've kept it up ever since.

      Sure, we've got Ebola now, but it's not as visual and a bit more mundane than the crazy and exotic ways to end civilization that the media finds most profitable.

      • by Chelloveck (14643)
        I just heard Phil Plait talking about coronal mass ejections [slate.com] wiping out satellites and the power grid, and possibly small electronics as well. That's my current favorite non-asteroid doomsday scenario. No direct danger to life or limb, it just takes out everything that makes modern civilization work. Hilarity ensues.
      • FWIW, a lot of the Y2K non-event was a result of a lot of hard work leading up to it. We might well be able to stop an asteroid. We aren't going to stop Yellowstone.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          FWIW, a lot of the Y2K non-event was a result of a lot of hard work leading up to it.

          No it wasn't. The Russians didn't go crazy over it like we did, and yet the year rollover didn't cause them to accidentally nuke us to the stone age.

          We might well be able to stop an asteroid. We aren't going to stop Yellowstone.

          By the time we've got the technology to deflect an asteroid, we'll probably similarly be able to drill down into a caldera and release the pressure in strategic locations.

          • To repeat, Y2K was a non-event because of lots of work leading up to it. As with anything with the potential to go wrong, there was a lot of overhype, but there were a lot of real problems that were averted.

            We do have the tech to take a darn good shot at deflecting an asteroid. It would be really expensive (but cheap given the alternative), and it wouldn't necessarily work, but we could probably nudge an asteroid, and if we tracked it far enough in advance of the collision that's all it would take. I

    • Are the officials buying gold, firearms, and agricultural land on other continents at an increased rate? If the answer is "yes", start doing the same as soon as possible!
    • by necro81 (917438)
      [crunches pickle]This is wild [youtu.be]. This is really wild!

      The government knows all about this, man! Maybe you should read up about it on my blog [youtu.be].
    • by doccus (2020662)
      Good question. If us regular plebes obsess over it , is one thing, but when officials obsess, then is it time to worry?.Like Mt St Helens, It may be preceded by a noticeable quake, perhaps on the west coast. Check for missing pets. Like now. mine has never strayed afar for more than 2 hours, but now it's been 24 and missing. Others in the park I live in are having odd pet behavior too, and we live in SW Canada (same as the Pacific NW USA) Perhaps more of y'all keep your eyes out?
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:28PM (#47802643) Homepage
    That the Title does not read: 'New Model Predicts You're Doom' Or: 'Volcano Going to Rain Death on Eastern America'
    • by Anonymous Coward

      'Bitcoin-Financed Raspberry Pi Generates 3D Printout of Imminent Yellowstone Caldera Destroying Mankind; MPAA Claims Exclusive Rights'

  • 300 Miles context (Score:4, Informative)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:31PM (#47802659) Homepage
    Putting that into context, a circle with the radius of 300 miles produces an area 282743 mi^2 or 732301 km^2. Which is moderately bigger than Texas and about 10% of the area of the continental USA.
    • by PPH (736903)

      Can we have that in football fields please?

    • Putting that into context, a circle with the radius of 300 miles produces an area 282743 mi^2 or 732301 km^2. Which is moderately bigger than Texas and about 10% of the area of the continental USA.

      Im sorry, but the context is insufficient. How many libraries of congress is it?

    • by fermion (181285)
      To put it into more context, the area we talking about is so sparsely population that is should be classified as frontier and not a state. The real, short term damage, is most going to be agricultural. However long term any eruption is going to beneficial as the climate changes and the area becomes even more important important for agriculture.
      • by lgw (121541)

        I think you're off by a few orders of magnitude. This would be a much bigger deal than the year without a summer [wikipedia.org], which caused mass starvation. The short term damage would be a significant percentage of everything starving to death. There would be next to no crop land left in all of North America for decades, perhaps centuries. Depending on how much ejecta there was, it might well tip us over into the next ice age (well, technically, the next glaciation period in the ongoing Quaternary ice age).

        And if y

        • by careysub (976506)

          I think you're off by a few orders of magnitude. This would be a much bigger deal than the year without a summer [wikipedia.org], which caused mass starvation. The short term damage would be a significant percentage of everything starving to death. There would be next to no crop land left in all of North America for decades, perhaps centuries.

          It is worth noting that currently the world only maintains a 74 day supply of grain. A super-eruption of this kind would effectively shut down agriculture everywhere. About half of the world's grain is directly consumed as food, so if we immediately divert all grain use (feed lots, fuel and industrial use, etc.) to direct basic food use we could double that to 148 days, then we run out completely.

          Of course this ideal model of even distribution is not reality: poorer places and food importers run out much fa

  • by TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) on Monday September 01, 2014 @04:57PM (#47802787)

    I loved the neat 3D simulator the BBC fabricated for their docudrama Supervolcano [youtube.com]. After the run one of the geologists (played by Gary Lewis) says, "[laughing] That's great... and if frogs had wings they wouldn't bump their little green asses hoppin' around, eh? [...] You're letting yourself be spooked by a video game!"

    Great TEOTWAWKI drama, decent science, I recommend it: Supervolcano Ep1 [youtube.com], Supervolcano Ep2 [youtube.com], and the companion factual documentary Supervolcano.The Truth About Yellowstone [youtube.com] which re-uses CGI footage made for the drama between interviews.

  • ...back in 2009 [wikipedia.org]?
  • An article [agu.org] by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) briefly mentions climate change, but the article is mostly about how much ash that would fall on the continental US. The article also says, "... multiple inches of ash can damage buildings, block sewer and water lines, and disrupt livestock and crop production ...".

    Those are my main concerns - Ash on the ground disrupting the production of food and clean water and getting them to people, and ash in the atmosphere causing climate change.

  • How many miles away you are and how much ash you get will be the least of your concerns.

    Once the ash cloud encompasses the globe, we all freeze/starve to death within 10 years anyway. Unless someone comes up with a way to clean the air out before its too late, then how far away you are will matter..

    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      How many miles away you are and how much ash you get will be the least of your concerns.

      Once the ash cloud encompasses the globe, we all freeze/starve to death within 10 years anyway. Unless someone comes up with a way to clean the air out before its too late, then how far away you are will matter..

      Won't affect me. I don't believe in global cooling either.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        Won't impact anyone.

        10 years? We'll all have long past starved to death. Yellowstone blowing big is a mass extinction event, period, for many species. It's probably safe to say that most large carnivores, globally, wouldn't survive.

        • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

          Won't impact anyone.

          10 years? We'll all have long past starved to death. Yellowstone blowing big is a mass extinction event, period, for many species. It's probably safe to say that most large carnivores, globally, wouldn't survive.

          Maybe it's the Rapture.

          • No, not the rapture. But it could create conditions that are described in passages of Revelation post-Rapture.
        • It erupts every 600 thousand years... While things like bears are probably somewhat different over that span, they certainly could not have evolved completely in that time.. Which to me means there must be plenty of survivors when this occurs.

          • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

            It erupts every 600 thousand years... While things like bears are probably somewhat different over that span, they certainly could not have evolved completely in that time.. Which to me means there must be plenty of survivors when this occurs.

            The hot spot moves over time.

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          It's probably safe to say that most large carnivores, globally, wouldn't survive.

          But they'd have a great time eating all of the herbivores that die of starvation ... at least until they run out.

        • by nurb432 (527695)

          While i agree most everything would die out, i still think that we as a species would make it 10 years or so. ( this is approx ) Locally of course that wouldn't be the case and you would see mass death, but i think a few would hang on a while using some extreme methods.

          Could we make it long enough for things to improve then slowly repopulate/rebuild? There is always a chance, but not a great one.

          This of course assumes we are not already colonizing mars or something, with the ability to come back at some poi

  • The article does not make clear who wants the funding that this scare story is supposed to generate.

  • At 300 miles, the largest city that'll get hit will be Billings, MT. Population 110K.

    I'm not saying it won't be fairly devastating to lots of small towns in lower Montana, Wyoming and parts of Idaho and Utah.

    But a vast swath of that is essentially nowhere.

    • by ScentCone (795499)

      But a vast swath of that is essentially nowhere.

      Not counting the huge amount of our food that comes from those places.

      • by Chas (5144)

        But a vast swath of that is essentially nowhere.

        Not counting the huge amount of our food that comes from those places.

        From Wyoming? Seriously. The majority of Wyoming's income is mineral production and tourism. Sure, tourism is going to take a whopping hit for a while. And the mines will probably see a short term hit.

        (Note: Unless the eruption is especially destructive. Then, there's a lot more to worry about than a few feet of ash.

        One of the BIG hits would probably be the short term effect on coal mining. Illinois tends to import much of its coal (yes, one of the largest coal producing states in the union IMPORTS co

        • by ScentCone (795499)

          From Wyoming? Seriously.

          Well, you did say, "Montana, Wyoming and parts of Idaho and Utah" ... which is more than Wyoming. Lots of cattle throughout those four states. Lots of agriculture in Idaho, timber in Montana. Anyway, those states together produce just under 10% of the grain and ranch output we consume - many billions per year worth. Considering the just-in-time nature of the country's food supply, loss of it would be very non-trivial. We're also talking about herd destruction, which would have a lasting impact beyond the i

    • by dumuzi (1497471)
      I happen to live in bumblefuck you insensitive clod.
      • by Chas (5144)

        I happen to live in bumblefuck you insensitive clod.

        Well then! You have my condolences!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 01, 2014 @07:01PM (#47803315)

    http://www.freemaptools.com/radius-around-point.htm?clat=44.427963&clng=-110.58845500000001&r=482.8032001844076&lc=FFFFFF&lw=1&fc=00FF00&fs=true

    • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday September 02, 2014 @06:56AM (#47805581) Journal

      First, I'm not sure if you made that yourself, or what, but that's just a circle of X radius around Yellowstone - that might be useful if the Earth had no atmosphere, I guess?

      Prevailing winds and jet stream guarantee a more distributed pattern downwind, significantly different than a simple circle.

      BTW, the original article is missing pretty much anything of substance, and is written atrociously: "...In the Midwest, a few centimeters of ash is projected to be plummeted while coastal cities will have a few millimeter of ash buildup..."
      "...to be plummeted..."?

      AN ACTUAL MAP FROM ASH 3d:
      http://cdn.phys.org/newman/gfx... [phys.org]

      And an actual article that explains that whole "sciencey" stuff:
      http://phys.org/news/2014-08-y... [phys.org]
      Their slightly more substantive version of the above paragraph:
      "...In the simulated modern-day eruption scenario, cities within 500 kilometers (311 miles) of Yellowstone like Billings, Montana, and Casper, Wyoming, would be covered by centimeters (inches) to more than a meter (more than three feet) of ash. Upper Midwestern cities, like Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Des Moines, Iowa, would receive centimeters (inches), and those on the East and Gulf coasts, like New York and Washington, D.C. would receive millimeters or less (fractions of an inch). California cities would receive millimeters to centimeters (less than an inch to less than two inches) of ash while Pacific Northwest cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, would receive up to a few centimeters (more than an inch)...."

      • and those on the East and Gulf coasts, like New York and Washington, D.C. would receive millimeters or less (fractions of an inch).

        I find that difficult to believe. Mount Saint Helens dropped several millimeters of ash in Denver. A super volcano should be dropping more than that MUCH further away.

  • by Tanuki64 (989726) on Monday September 01, 2014 @07:06PM (#47803345)

    Since computer models and simulations are rarely 100% precise one can ignore them. See climate models. There is no climate change and probably no Yellowstone volcano either. Probably not even a place with the name 'Yellowstone'.

    • Even if you can simulate every atom in the atmosphere for such a situation, we are talking about fluid dynamics! The least predictable thing not really known to man or god. Best you can do is guess general trends for short periods of time or in the case of climate models, you have to get extremely general to be at all accurate.

      This is worse than accurately simulating a human brain and ending up with intelligence (without preloading a living brain scan; even so, it would be silly to think the machine woul

      • by pipingguy (566974)
        ...in the case of climate models, you have to get extremely general to be at all accurate.

        Or just do 25 different model runs with different inputs and then pick the one that came closest to actual measurements. Then say, "See? Computer climate modelling is valid!".
        • Simulations are loosely similar to doing unit testing in programming.

          The random chaos involved is not purely random; just way way beyond human comprehension. The statistical patterns may exist in the noise to be discovered someday - no, it won't describe the system in any reproducible way but it will increase accuracy for increasingly detailed predictions. Accuracy is inversely related to the level of prediction. We don't know the curve between these two without a great deal of work. Think of breaking encr

      • by fygment (444210)

        ".. extremely general to be at all accurate ..." Just think about that and what it means. Now think a bit harder.

        You also have to know what assumptions are made in the model to 'generalise' it.

        And you have to know just how 'fragile' the mode is, how does it hold up to deviations, perturbations.

        And then after you've run the model a hundred times and it matches closely the training data (there has to be some), you really have no idea of how it performs as a predictive model.

        No shame in that because that is

        • Oh, I did think about it. Accuracy in general predictions is different than Accuracy in specific detailed predictions. We can do a great job predicting it will be freezing in December; that is highly accurate and our model of the system is good enough for that. We can't accurately tell you that much about next week. Now perhaps I should have used Precision instead but I was trying to be easier to understand... A great simulation of the real fluid dynamic hell would have poor precision which would contra

  • Anyone interested in a halfway decently written adventure story built on the basis of the Whole Yella blowing might look into the Ashfall trilogy:
    http://www.amazon.com/Ashfall-... [amazon.com]

  • Optimistically, here in Denver three feet of ash on the roof would be like 30 feet of snow [usgs.gov].

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