Yellowstone National Park is known for its astoundingly beautiful and diverse landscape, but it's a hotbed for geologic activity. Looks can be deceiving is an understatement when it comes to Yellowstone. You might not be aware that those hot springs and geysers are driven by an underground supervolcano.
This particular supervolcano has the ability to expel 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash that would cover most of the United States in a thick layer of ash, which would send the earth into a volcanic induced winter, if it were to erupt. An eruption of that magnitude will be more powerful and expel 2,500 times more material into the atmosphere than that of Mount St. Helens, which killed 57 people when it erupted in 1980.
The scary part is that the supervolcano buried at Yellowstone isn't the only one on Earth, and scientists believe that supereruptions from these volcanos occur every 100,000 years. Being that the last time the Yellowstone's supervolcano erupted was 631,000 years ago, it seems that the time for it to blow it's top is long overdue.
This is causing many people to wonder how close the next planet-changing event is. In order to find answers to that question, scientists are digging deep into Yellowstone's past and results are showing that these rare, violent volcanic events can take place much rapidly than previously anticipated.
Volcanologists estimated that geological processes could take millenniums to occur, but research found that the most recent supereruption occurred within decades of new magma moving into the system. A study to further understand this process was conducted by Hannah Shamloo, a graduate student at Arizona State University, and her colleagues who spent weeks hauling rocks, gathering samples, and examining the fossilized ash deposit known as Yellowstone’s Lava Creek Tuff.
Shamloo analyzed trace crystal in the volcanic remains, which allowed her to pinpoint changes that occur before supereruptions. Each crystal was once within a vast ocean of magma deep underground. As the crystals grew outward, they recorded changes in temperature, pressure, and water content at different layers beneath the volcano.
This research has lead to the conclusion that the geological process that was once thought to take millenniums can actually occur within the human life cycle. With this evidence, as research advances, scientists hope to be able to identify supereruptions in the making before catastrophic events take place. Understanding and being able to forecast volcanic eruptions, especially events of this magnitude, will allow for advanced warnings that could potentially save countless lives. Volcanologists are hoping to have this ability within a matter decades. Related