Saturday, June 2, 2012

Supervolcanoes grow faster than we thought


There are many threats facing our world.

In terms of natural disasters, few other than asteroid collisions are as massively deadly as a supervolcano.  Now it is believed that supervolcanoes can form and erupt within only a few hundred years.  That's practically overnight in geological terms.

These findings come from research being done in Long Valley, California.  This is a new-to-me supervolcano site.  Its last eruption was nearly one million years ago and it left much of North America covered in ash.  A more recent supervolcanic eruption took place in Lake Toba, Indonesia about 70,000 years ago.  That one nearly wiped out the human race.

What makes supervolcanoes so potent, aside from their size, is the manner in which they form.  Molten rock or magma collects in a location such as plate boundary or a "continental hotspot" but it is unable to break through the Earth's surface.  The magma then continues to build, causing a growing pool underground and consequently greater pressure on the surface until the Earth's crust is unable to contain it any longer.  Boom.

How do geologists know how long these supervolcanoes take to accumulate?  That has to do with a material called zircon.  Zircon contains traces of radioactive elements.  This allows scientists to track the rate of decay just as is done with fossils and archeological sites. 

There are currently six known supervolcanic sites in the world with three of them being right here in the good ol' U.S. of A.  Probably the most potent of those critical points is the Yellowstone caldera.  When that thing goes...hoo boy.

The good news, as it says in the article above at any rate, is that none of the supervolcanoes are in danger of erupting any time soon.  That's probably just the opinion of a certain sect of researchers as I've also read that Yellowstone is actually overdue to blow its top.  Given the choice, I'd prefer the latter opinion to be bosh and the former to be the most accurate.  I'm in no rush to play "doomsday prepper."

Yet you could prep all you want but what could you do about it?  Greater knowledge of supervolcanoes might help us to more ably predict an eruption.  That might give us enough time to get as many as we can out of the enormous blast radius, but then what?  How do we cope with the after effects?  It would likely bring about another ice age.  And it's not like we'd have any way to prevent it.  I suppose we might try setting off nukes in areas around the magma pools and try to vent off the excess pressure, but even that sounds a bit far fetched to me.

More than likely, it will be an event to remind us of just how small and unimportant humanity really is.


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1 comment:

  1. And this just in from Yahoo: http://news.yahoo.com/yellowstone-supervolcano-erupts-154829509.html

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