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Earth United States Science

Is the Yellowstone Supervolcano About To Blow? 877

An anonymous reader writes "Apparently, Yellowstone National Park has been having a very unusual number of earthquakes. Many of the most recent tremors have been deeper underground, an ominous sign. Combine that with a rapid rise in elevation over the past three years, and the possibility that earthquake activity from surrounding areas could trigger such an eruption on its own, and you've got the possible warning signs of a supervolcano eruption that would wipe out half to 2/3 of the continental US, plunge global temperatures, and wipe out a very significant chunk of world food sources. Here's a little more info to make your New Year brighter!"
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Is the Yellowstone Supervolcano About To Blow?

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  • by Wrath0fb0b ( 302444 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @07:42PM (#26286495)

    After all, if we are going to have the sun blocked out by a huge cloud of dust, it would be fantastic to have as much heat trapped on earth as possible!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by badasscat ( 563442 )

      Jesus Christ, the summary is a bit alarmist, no? "Wipe out half to 2/3 of the continental United States?" Uh, no. It would leave half the United States under a dusting of ash. That's not the same as "wiping it out". Because, see, once the ash is cleaned up, the people, places and things underneath are all still there. At worst, it'll mean some clogged pipes and some really dirty shoes for a week or so.

      The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 left approximately 1/3 of the United States under a dusting

      • by Linux_ho ( 205887 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:14PM (#26286829) Homepage
        Oh come on -- that's no good. What am I going to do with all these Obama's the Antichrist pamphlets if you keep spreading all that rational thought around and telling everyone things are going to be OK? No good at all.
      • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:22PM (#26286895)

        You have NO friggin' idea what you're talking about. The mega-eruption, if it happens, could be *hundreds of thousands* times bigger than Mount St. Helens. The last super volcano was 75,000 years ago. Light was blocked out all over the world. 35 centimeters of ash fell *2500 miles* away. The global temperature plunged 21 degrees. Mankind was almost extinguished, cut back to only a few thousand. This one...could be *ten times bigger*.

        • by Mtn453 ( 1442435 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:31PM (#26286971)
          I wouldn't actually be "hundreds of thousands" as you say. Go back to school and learn your VEI scale.
        • by WalksOnDirt ( 704461 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:35PM (#26287037)

          The Toba eruption is generally thought to have been larger than any of the Yellowstone eruptions. The largest Yellowstone eruption was pretty close, though. Source: http://www.armageddononline.org/known-super-volcanoes.html [armageddononline.org]

        • by Keen Anthony ( 762006 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @09:23PM (#26287431)

          Mankind was almost extinguished, cut back to only a few thousand.

          But this was human civilization from 75,000 years ago, which intellectually and technologically pales in comparison to human civilization today. Wouldn't the advancements we've made since the Toba eruption help us to endure the effect of another mega-eruption?

      • by UconnGuy ( 562899 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:30PM (#26286953)
        You are forgetting about the volcanic dust in the lungs that will cause a painful death for many. For the most part, the dust is too fine to be filtered out.
      • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:37PM (#26287059)
        No, it could very easily be much, much worse [wyomingnews.com] than Mt St Helens.

        The 1980 explosion at Mount St. Helens in Washington state blew out about 540 million tons of debris. Morrell said an explosion at Yellowstone likely would be 1,000 times greater, releasing about half a billion tons of ash.

        (emphasis mine).

        Second cite [bbc.co.uk]:

        Experts say such an event would have a colossal impact on a global scale... It would have a similar effect to a 1.5km-diameter space rock striking Earth, they claim.... A super-eruption is also five to 10 times more likely to happen than an asteroid impact, the report claims.... The volcanic winter resulting from a super-eruption could last several years or decades, depending on the scale of an eruption, and according to recent computer models, could cause cooling on a global scale of 5-10C.... The crater from the last super-eruption, 640,000 years ago, is large enough to fit Tokyo - the world's biggest city - inside it.

        Not just a dusting of ash, by any means. To extrapolate from a single event (Mt St Helens) which may or may not even be in the same geologic region (I don't know) is pointless when the Snake River Plain has erupted several times over - the entire landscape their bears the scars of it.

        • by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Thursday January 01, 2009 @01:16AM (#26288799) Journal

          Yellowstone will erupt in this dramatic fashion. The Siberian Traps will too. The 1.5km-diameter (or much more) space rock will definitely strike earth in the future. A comet will too. These aren't tinfoil hat ideas - everybody in the related sciences agrees that these events will occur. It's just a matter of time. Maybe it will be a long time, as we think about it usually, or maybe it will be a short one. Each of these events is neither more likely nor less likely to happen on a particular Monday a million years hence than they are on July 4, 2012.

          They will happen and when they happen there's a good chance they'll wipe out all human life still on the Earth. Events like these don't have to wipe out mankind. We can choose to not let that happen. Or not.

      • Um no (Score:5, Informative)

        by snaildarter ( 1143695 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:40PM (#26287089)

        Um no, dude, you don't really get it. If Yellowstone blows, there is no volcano eruption in human history that even remotely comes close. Mt. St. Helens would look like a fart standing next to Chernobyl. Areas 400 miles away would get covered in a foot of ash. There is just nothing like it.

        Here is a nice, graphical link for you to look at:

        link [discovery.com]

        The number of deaths could be staggering. That foot of ash, even 400 miles away in Denver, would collapse most roofs, and any with people in them would get severely injured or die. It would be the end of the U.S. as a global superpower, and there would be wars. You are naive.

        • Re:Um no (Score:4, Insightful)

          by delong ( 125205 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @09:30PM (#26287501)

          Actually, the number of deaths would be negligible. Yellowstone sits in the most sparsely populated region of the U.S. The actual direct destructive power of the volcano would only effect a 40 square mile area, which except for Jackson Hole, is largely empty.

          Laramie, Cheyenne, Bozeman, Billings, etc would be hit hard by ashfall, but Denver would only get about a foot. Folks know ash collapses roofs. So, gasp, folks would clear the ash as it accumulates. Many or most people would evacuate anyway.

          This is alarmism. At its worst, there will be an immense disruption of the electrical and telecommunications grid, immense expense from ash damage and removal, alot of immediate deaths and some ash deaths.

          • Re:Um no (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @10:03PM (#26287725)

            At its worst, there will be an immense disruption of the electrical and telecommunications grid, immense expense from ash damage and removal, alot of immediate deaths and some ash deaths.

            You forgot one little detail: Widespread subzero temperatures and no new food anywhere on the planet for at least a year.

      • once the ash is cleaned up

        Um. How would you clean up a layer of ash 20 centimeters thick that spans half a country?! That's enough debris to create about 30 new Mount Everests... Well that's if it were compacted; in its dusty form it's probably more like half a meter thick. Since it tends to collect in lower areas, expect up to a meter of very fine (like quicksand) ash in the streets. This will not be cleaned up; mother nature will add add a bit of water and half the country will effectively become a massive mudslide or it will be covered under a big fat slab of concrete heavy enough to make just about any house collapse. Well, not just about any house, only the houses that are still standing after the massive mudflows...

        This ash is not just normal ash either, it is like tiny splinters of glass that form a layer of concrete when water is added. Lungs are very wet places as fat as this ash is concerned...

        Also, your comparison with Mount St. Helens makes no sense; if Yellowstone were to blow, it would produce 300-1000 times as much debris as Mount St. Helens did in 1980. Volcanos like Yellowstone probably produce enough debris to not only trigger an ice age, but the dust they leave in the atmosphere might very well be enough not to have any agricultural production for years. So Yellowstone might not just be big enough to wipe out half the United States, it might be big enough to wipe out most of humanity. The summary is not "a bit alarmist", it is very conservative.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @07:44PM (#26286515)

    Dec 21, 2012

  • Suddenly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @07:44PM (#26286519)

    Suddenly the economy doesn't sound like such a big problem after all.

  • Why not? All the mathematical models claimed that the US Financial credit market and the Housing Bubble wouldn't burst at the same time- they calculated that was a once in 75 million years event. Given the luck of the United States lately, a 1/600,000 year event going off right now would just be the icing on the cake.

    • by ZorbaTHut ( 126196 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:10PM (#26286791) Homepage

      History books will refer to late 2008 as The Year God Decided He Really Hated America.

      (This is only true if the volcano blows within the next 5 hours, and I have to say - if it's going to blow, it should do it then, just for the humor value.)

    • by Unix Ronin ( 1442443 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:27PM (#26286927)

      Well, this is true, but what you have to remember is that those "mathematical models" were created by imbeciles who believed that all events in the financial market were independent (i.e no event in the market affects any other event), that the market can grow forever without limit, and -- worse -- still believe that when an event that the models say is a once-in-a-hundred-years event happens three times in six months, it's not an indication of a basic flaw in the model, but rather a rare fluke that means it's now statistically certain it'll NEVER happen again. The global financial sector's "mathematical models" are worthless, and always have been. They built a house of cards using imaginary money as cards, and the question was only one of when the house of cards would collapse.

      The financial market and the Yellowstone basin are hardly related. Our models of vulcanism are incompletely understood, and based on what is -- on a geological scale -- a very short period of observation, a mere century and a half or so in the case of Yellowstone. But they are at least based on observation and study, not wishful thinking. Yes, many of the models indicate that there could be another supervolcanic event at Yellowstone "any time now". But on a geological timescale, that "any time now" could be a thousand years away.

      This is interesting news, and absolutely bears close monitoring, but I think it's a little premature to run around shouting that the sky is falling. But regardless of the actual risk from Yellowstone, I don't think that the failure of the consensual delusion passed off as mathematical models of the global economy constitutes anything that can be used as evidence for anything except for how stupid a whole lot of ostensibly really smart people can actually be, when they're blinded by greed.

    • by ricky-road-flats ( 770129 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:39PM (#26287077)
      The *luck* of the United States recently? WTFF?

      You elect an imbecile to the most powerful office in the world. Twice.

      You spend/borrow your way into a financial crisis.

      You alienate and disgust 99% of the rest of the world with (just off the top of my head) Guantanamo, bombings inside Pakistan, extraordinary renditions, the whole Iraq fuckup, Kyoto, etc.

      You remove more and more of the basic rights of your own citizens.

      Apart from that, please think about the majority of humanity around the world, count your fucking blessings, and shut the fuck up. Try living just one day as an average Somali, Haitian, Zimbabwean, or Burmese.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:55PM (#26287203)

        Try living just one day as an average Somali, Haitian, Zimbabwean, or Burmese.

        I'm sure you're posting to Slashdot from an average Somali, Haitian, Zimbabwean, or Burmese household. On a high horse, no doubt.

  • Warning (Score:4, Funny)

    by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @07:48PM (#26286553) Homepage

    Well, if it's going to be the apocalypse (and I'm not going to be responsible, much to my chagrin), can you just make sure I get a few weeks' notice? There are... things... I want to do.

  • by Greg_D ( 138979 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @07:53PM (#26286599)

    ... when the global cooling occurs, it'll get Al Gore to STFU for once.

  • by DanWS6 ( 1248650 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @07:54PM (#26286623)
    I wasn't going to party tonight but this gives me a valid excuse to stop by the liquor store on the way home.
  • by KORfan ( 524397 ) <korfan AT frontier DOT com> on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:01PM (#26286683) Homepage
    Map showing recent earthquakes is over here http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/recenteqsus/Maps/US2/43.45.-112.-110.php [usgs.gov]
  • by DanWS6 ( 1248650 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:02PM (#26286687)
    How many Library of Congresses is that?
  • by Werkhaus ( 549466 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:05PM (#26286721)

    Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow.

  • by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:07PM (#26286745) Journal

    The linked articles do not really raise any cause for concern. The title sure has a ZOMG!!! factor to it, but in reality it's just a bunch of what-ifs. Move along, nothing to see here.

  • Too late (Score:4, Informative)

    by Captain Nitpick ( 16515 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:08PM (#26286763)

    Seriously Slashdot, you need to work on your reaction time. This was news two days ago.

    These earthquake swarms happen frequently in Yellowstone, and this one has already ended. Yellowstone has dropped back to its ordinary low rumble [utah.edu].

  • by chaossplintered ( 1164745 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:16PM (#26286851)

    At times like these, I feel it's appropriate to start rocking back and forth singing:

    Life's a piece of shit
    When you look at it
    Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
    You'll see it's all a show
    Keep 'em laughing as you go
    Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

    And always look on the bright side of life...
    Always look on the right side of life...

  • by RazzleDazzle ( 442937 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:34PM (#26287023) Journal

    Figured taco would post this story from the "maybe the volcano might warm me up dept"

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 @08:55PM (#26287205) Homepage
    ...courtesy the U.S. Geological Survey: [usgs.gov]

    Fortunately, the Yellowstone volcanic system shows no signs that it is headed toward such an eruption in the near future. In fact, the probability of any such event occurring at Yellowstone within the next few thousand years is exceedingly low.


    Lava flows and small volcanic eruptions occur only rarely--none in the past 70,000 years. Massive caldera-forming eruptions, though the most potentially devastating of Yellowstone's hazards, are extremely rare--only three have occurred in the past several million years. U.S. Geological Survey, University of Utah, and National Park Service scientists with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) see no evidence that another such cataclysmic eruption will occur at Yellowstone in the foreseeable future.

    (emphasis mine)

    As for that "several million years" figure for a devastating explosion of the kind TFA is describing, consider that the United States as a nation is still less than 250 years old. I'm not saying it can't happen, but the idea that "it hasn't happened in a long time so it must be ready to happen now" is just a popular Las Vegas delusion.

Only God can make random selections.