You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Yellowstone Supervolcano's Nasty Surprise: Only Decades To Prepare For An Eruption

Forbes logo Forbes 10/11/2017 Trevor Nace, Contributor
© Provided by Forbes Media LLC

Beneath the beautiful Yellowstone National Park lies a supervolcano, a hidden a force of nature that has the potential to blanket the United States in ash and send the world into a volcanic winter.

While scientists have studied Yellowstone’s supervolcano extensively, the fact of the matter is there’s not much we can do about it if/when the supervolcano erupts again. Albeit, that hasn’t stopped NASA from trying to engineer a solution to the next supervolcano eruption.

What scientists have relied upon is that when Yellowstone’s supervolcano begins to rumble and its magma chambers begin to fill, we would have centuries to prepare for the devastating eruption. However, recent studies find that the speed at which the volcano can fill its magma chamber and erupt is on the order of a few decades. That means Yellowstone supervolcano could go from its usual activity like today to erupting in 2030′s.

Unraveling Yellowstone’s Past Eruptions

How did scientists unravel the timing of the latest Yellowstone supervolcano eruption? As the magma chambers filled, portions of the magma were cool enough to solidify into rock. While they solidified or lithified, the minerals grew over time, creating bands of progressively younger mineral around older mineral.

Scientists inspected the bands of these minerals and what they found is the last few bands of mineral formation recorded a sudden spike in temperature on the order of decades before mineral lithification stopped. Hence, the rapid increase in temperature on the order of decades represents the time required for a sudden injection of magma and release through an eruption.

© Provided by Forbes Media LLC

Highlighted areas are where ash beds have been identified from previous Yellowstone supervolcano eruptions.

That’s a scary thought for anyone that intends to understand and plan for action in response to the Yellowstone supervolcano eruption. To put the eruption into perspective, the volcano has the ability to spew 1,000 cubic kilometers of ash and rock into the air, which is approximately 250,000 times more than the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. This amount of rock and ash would cover most of the United States and could send the entire Earth into a volcanic winter. This event, similar to the large asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs, sends enough dust into the atmosphere that it blots out the sun, potentially for years.

Thankfully, there are no signs of imminent danger, with the last Yellowstone supervolcano eruption occurring 631,000 years ago. However, it’s important for scientists to continue to study and understand the telltale signs of a volcanic eruption, particularly on this scale. Scientists will become better at predicting a future eruption. This will, hopefully, give Americans enough time to prepare as much as possible for what will be a catastrophic natural disaster.

MORE FROM Trevor Nace, Contributor

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Forbes

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon