Yellowstone 'supervolcano' could swiftly erupt, kill millions: Scientists solve riddle of 'Supervolcano' eruptions
An eruption by a supervolcano would have devastating effect on global ecology
With 20 so-called supervolcanoes spread across the globe, the danger of one of them erupting is one of major concern. If one were to erupt, it would send debris and magma high into the Earth's air, probably sending the planet into another ice age. Scientists know think they have a handle on what would cause such an eruption, and therefore possibly stave off catastrophe.
Among the supervolcanoes on Earth are Lake Toba in Indonesia, above, Lake Taupo in New Zealand and the somewhat smaller Phlegraean Fields near Naples, Italy.
Lead author Wim Malfait, of Zurich says that simulating the intense heat and pressure inside these "sleeping giants" could help predict a future disaster.
"We knew the clock was ticking but we didn't know how fast: what would it take to trigger a super-eruption? Now we know you don't need any extra factor - a supervolcano can erupt due to its enormous size alone.
"Once you get enough melt, you can start an eruption just like that."
Among the supervolcanoes on Earth are Lake Toba in Indonesia, Lake Taupo in New Zealand and the somewhat smaller Phlegraean Fields near Naples, Italy.
Super-eruptions are very infrequent, occurring only once every 100,000 years on average. But when they do occur - the world's climate is affected drastically.
When a supervolcano erupted 600,000 years ago in Wyoming, in what today is Yellowstone National Park, it ejected enough ash to bury a large city to a depth of a few kilometers. This ejection was 100 times bigger than Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1992 and dwarfs even historic eruptions like Krakatoa in 1883.
"This is something that, as a species, we will eventually have to deal with. It will happen in future," Dr. Malfait says. "You could compare it to an asteroid impact - the risk at any given time is small, but when it happens the consequences will be catastrophic."
Being able to predict such a catastrophe is critical. The good news is if Yellowstone happened to be on the brink of an eruption, the good news is that we will still see a warning, Malfait told television reporters.
"The ground would probably rise hundreds of meters - a lot more than it does now. We think Yellowstone currently has 10-30 percent partial melt, and for the overpressure to be high enough to erupt would take about 50 percent."
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