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Earth Science

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

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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  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:46PM (#45881465)

    It's still only happening about every 100,000 years. Will it eventually happen? Yes. Can we do anything about it? Nope. This planet is still the dog and we are still the fleas.

    Depends what you mean by "do anything about it" - if by "do anything" you mean "preserve the human race", then we could easily have a permanent and self-sufficient base on the moon within a few decades if we dedicated half of our military budget to it, and a base on Mars a few decades beyond that. The entire Apollo project "only" cost around $170 billion in 2005 dollars -- the USA Military Budget is around $700B annually.

  • It's Been Done (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:57PM (#45881609)

    Someone has actually written a novel called Sharcano [].

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @04:58PM (#45881613) Homepage Journal

    Airflow has little to do with it. That part is what gets leveled by a shockwave. Multidigit gigatons equivalent. The dust layer chokes out most of the worlds' plants for decades, but not all of them. Humanity is adaptable enough to survive as a species even at current tech levels.

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

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

  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:25PM (#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 [] 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.

  • by trongey ( 21550 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:40PM (#45882045) Homepage

    You may not know this, but Yellowstone is largely in a state called Wyoming.

    You may not know this, but the Yellowstone volcano complex has a history of massively explosive eruptions, not just pouring out lava. The Lava Creek ash bed from the explosion 630,000 years ago extends to the Gulf of Mexico and is as much as 4m thick in places like New Mexico and Kansas.

  • Re:Priorities (Score:3, Informative)

    by foma84 ( 2079302 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:56PM (#45882213)
    To be fair, they were convicted because they actually they DID predict there would be NO earthquake, and encouraged people to return to their homes. For political/economical interests.
    The journalists got it wrong, no one ever checked the sources.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @05:59PM (#45882235)

    Krakatoa is the more apt example. It's eruption (explosion) was heard 3000 miles away and its shockwave reverberated around the earth 4 times. The 20ft tsunami it created killed 40,000 people. The explosion was equivalent to 13,000 of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima. And it's still significantly smaller than Yellowstone.

  • Re:Puzzling (Score:5, Informative)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:00PM (#45882243) Journal
    Unfortunately the Yellowstone caldera has been swelling [] for a decade.
  • by Almost-Retired ( 637760 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:20PM (#45882411) Homepage

    Prevailing winds if not disturbed by it, and they probably will be, will send the ash cloud east. Various estimates put the layer of ash on an Iowa cornfield from 6" to 40 feet deep. One estimate is as good as the next in this case because the magnitude of the Yellowstone blow cannot be known much before it blows. The correct term is S.W.A.G., which many here are familiar with.

    And if as big an event as some have written, it will do more than "slightly" impinge on the world food production. While I'm not saying it will happen on such a scale, the potential to starve 99% of this planets population of all genus combined genuinely exists. IOW, an extinction event on a par with the KT Boundary 65 million years ago. Or worse. But the record seems clear that it will not be benign, there are known valid records here on this continent between the last blow 640k? years ago, and the arrival of the first humans perhaps 25k to 50k years ago. The rock layer between the surface today, and the KT boundary is a bit short on major bone finds.

    And short of drilling into it, and removing that heat by using it for geothermal power on a scale that will run the rest of the planet, probably not a thing we can do about it.

    Cheers, Gene

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:27PM (#45882463)

    Mt pinatubo and krakatoa where both a VEI6.
    The only real eruption in recent history was the eruption of mt Tambora in 1815.
    That was a VEI7. There was no summer in 1816 and the summer of 1817 wasn't much better.
    A supervolcano eruption wil probilly be a VEI8

  • Re:Priorities (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 06, 2014 @06:33PM (#45882511)

    No. To be *accurate*, the scientists said there was insufficient evidence to suggest than an earthquake was imminent. The politicians said there would be no earthquake. Then, when there *was* an earthquake, the scientists were convicted because of what the politicians said, and the politicians got off scot-free because they "just said what the scientists told them".

  • by TheRealHocusLocus ( 2319802 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @09:23PM (#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 [].

    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 []. 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] [] along with a companion program Supervolcano.The Truth About Yellowstone []

    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 [].

    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 []
    To whom it may concern, Halliburton Corporate []

    And see the fascinating Thorium Remix 2011 presentation [].

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

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday January 06, 2014 @09:44PM (#45883677) Journal
    The following is probably a better description of what will happen than what you have said. []

    First, the pyroclastic flow (superheated gas and ash) would play havoc with the western half of the U.S.:

    It would kill all life within roughly a 300 mile radius, in a matter of minutes.

    It would most likely melt or incinerate anything with a boiling point equal to or less than that of iron.

    After about 300 miles the heat would gradually start dying out, leaving people alive, but suffering first, second, and third degree burns.

    About that time, the shockwave should hit. There's really no way to predict what kind of damage will happen, but it will likely leave almost anyone in the western half of the U.S. deafened, or with severely damaged hearing. Ironically, this will be the least of the troubles, because...

    Though the gas has cooled enough to only scald people, for the remainder of the roughly 600 mile radius, people will have to also deal with their air being poisoned and acidic. Those not killed outright will soon have a very bad day, however, because...

    The next effect will primarily cover twice the 600 mile radius in ash, most likely in an eliptical pattern to follow windflows, up to about 4 meters. A good portion of this ash will also come from the previously incinerated landscape. Those not killed by heat, poison, and acid, will now find breathing and moving extremely difficult as they wade through a 12-foot sea of fine powder.

    Global Effects would be felt the same day and continue to worsen for the next 3-14 days, depending on the weather patterns. The would include things like.

    Little, if any, government assistance. The largest disaster FEMA has ever had to face is 9/11, which stretched their resources to the limit. The affected area of the supervolcano is an estimated 10 million times greater than that of 9/11. To date, FEMA does not have a contingency plan for a disaster on the scale of a supervolcano. Though they have shown an interest in developing one, it is doubtful they will ever have the resources capable of dealing with such an event. So you might want to be prepared, either with supplies, with guns, and/or with your god.

    Another problem that will have to be dealt with is the gas sulphur dioxide which forms sulphuric acid when it gets into the stratosphere. This has two main effects, one is blotting out the sun, the other is, of course, sulfuric acid rain.

    Within a day or so, temperatures would plummet 15-20 degrees, on average, across the globe. While this wouldn't exactly cause the end of the world, it is likely to turn many temperate climates into arctic ones. Strangely, the greatest differences would be in the southern hemisphere, though thanks to the normally high temperature, it would probably make them a cool average of 72-degrees year-round, thus remove San Diego's monopoly on such temperatures.

    Since most foodcrops depend upon a particular temperature and sunlight range, and most foodcrops are grown in temperate climates, and the breadbasket of the U.S. will be under a 12-foot layer of ash, and the damage to global infrastructure, one can expect that a lot of people will starve--roughly 1 billion, at best estimates.

    Travel using engines would be severely limited for a while, though the time and location would depend largely on the ashfall. The enormous amount of particulates in the air would not only impair visibility on an unprecedented scale, but also clog air filters within a very short amount of time.

    Anyone with breathing problems or allergies can count on a miserable life. Those with perfectly healthy lungs can count on developing breathing problems and allergies.

    Most of North America would become uninhabitable until the ash had been beaten down by the acid rain, and hardened enough to walk on. Even then, the poisons within the ash, the topsoil covered with volcanic roc

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll