Thursday, July 12, 2012

Holy shit, supervolcanoes!

A few years ago, I was enjoying a concert by my favorite folk singer and he decided to tell us a story about Yellowstone. Yellowstone has an enormous amount of what we would consider volcanic activity: hot springs, geysers, sulfur, earthquakes, all that fun stuff. For a long time, people were left wondering, "With all this volcanic activity, where's the actual volcano?" Then came the answer.

Yellowstone Caldera
Oh. There it is.
Yellowstone is a volcano. Most of the national park is part of the more than 1500 square mile caldera of a pants-shittingly enormous volcano that erupts every 50,000 years or so, with a bonus, extra-violent eruption every 500,000-1,000,000 years. When it erupts, the entire immediate area straight up sinks into the Earth, the surrounding regions get a soothing magma bath, and most of the rest of North America gets covered in such a thick layer of ash that most living things that need to breathe suffocate or have their lungs torn apart from the inside. As for the rest of the planet, it's possible that a supereruption would change the atmosphere to such an extent that a new Ice Age would begin.

Here's where it gets a little scary. Last time Yellowstone erupted in any way was a lava flow about 70,000 years ago. Last time it went totally berserk was about 640,000 years ago. So...we're about due for a big one. And recent studies have shown the caldera moving upwards more quickly than ever. So there's something to think about.

Oh, and one more thing - Yellowstone is only one of six known supervolcanoes.

Holy shit.

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