Super volcano

Discussion in 'Earth Science' started by Jordan, Sep 11, 2003.

  1. Jordan Registered Senior Member

    A Monster Awakens?
    By Ian Gurney

    "In the heart of America lies a monster that could destroy life on earth."

    Part of America's Yellowstone National Park was closed to visitors on July 23rd. this year and remains closed today due to high ground temperatures and increased thermal activity in the park. National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis said that "A portion of the Norris Geyser Basin on the west side of the park has been closed."

    On August 7th. the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported that scientists were planning to set up a temporary network of seismographs, Global Positioning System receivers and thermometers to monitor increasing hydrothermal activity in the Norris Geyser Basin and gauge the risk of a hydrothermal explosion.

    On August 10th. the Denver Post reported that Liz Morgan, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist had discovered a huge bulge underneath Yellowstone Lake that had risen 100 feet from the lake floor. The bulge is two thousand feet long and has the potential to explode at any time. Morgan was quoted as saying that "The inflated plain is a potential and serious hazard and possible precursor to a large hydrothermal explosion event."

    Then, on August 24th. The University of Utah Seismograph Station reported that a magnitude 4.4 earthquake occurred just 9 miles southeast of the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. USGS scientists agreed that the earthquake was "uncommon" in that it was a very shallow earthquake, occuring just 0.3 miles below the surface.

    Jacob Lowenstern, a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey and scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory said: "Our goal is to understand what's driving this volcanic system, and are there indications it could be moving into a period of unrest?"

    This worrying situation was confirmed on September 8th. by Dr. Bruce Cornet, a geologist and paleobotanist with the USGS, who explained: "Steam pressure is apparently building again in Yellowstone, and hydrothermal fluids and steam are working their way up through fractures and vents. If more steam vents appear, that means a continuous pathway for pressure release has been established to the magma chamber. If that happens, the pressure in the magma chamber will continue to drop until it reaches a critical stage when the superheated water within the magma explodes. Unfortunately, as the steam venting subsides, there will be a false sense of security. People will think it was just another cyclical event, and the danger is over. But that will be the farthest from the truth. It will be the quiet before the storm."

    Initially this should be of little or no consequence to anyone apart from those planning to visit Yellowstone.....................
    except for one thing. Lurking beneath Yellowstone National Park is one of the most destructive natural phenomena in the world - a massive supervolcano.

    Only a handful exist in the world but when one erupts the explosion will be heard around the globe. The sky will darken, black acid rain will fall, and the Earth will be plunged into the equivalent of a nuclear winter. It could push humanity to the brink of extinction.

    Volcanoes have always been a threat to humanity. The Tambora eruption in Indonesia in 1815 killed more than 90,000 people, while the Krakatau eruption in 1883, also in Indonesia, killed 36,000. The last supervolcano to erupt was Toba in Sumatra 74,000 years ago. It created a global catastrophe that dramatically affected life on Earth. Toba blasted so much ash and sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere that it blocked out the sun, causing the Earth's temperature to plummet, and possibly reducing the population on Earth to just a few thousand people. For a long time scientists have known that volcanic ash can affect the global climate. The fine ash and sulphur dioxide blasted into the stratosphere reflects solar radiation back into space and stops sunlight reaching the planet. Temperatures drop dramatically and nothing grows, causing mass starvation.

    Bill McGuire, professor of geohazards at the Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre at University College London, says that America's Yellowstone Park is one of the largest and most dangerous supervolcanoes in the world. "The Yellowstone volcano can be likened to a sleeping dragon," says Professor McGuire, "whose slow breathing brings repeated swelling and sinking of the Earth's crust in northern Wyoming and southern Montana."

    Professor McGuire went on to explain that: "Many supervolcanoes are not typical hill-shaped structures but huge, collapsed craters called "calderas" that are filled with hot magma and are harder to detect. The Yellowstone supervolcano was detected in the Sixties when infra-red satellite photographs revealed a magma-filled caldera 85km long and 45km wide. It has been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, so the next is long overdue."

    Volcanologists have been tracking the movement of magma under the park and have calculated that in parts of Yellowstone the ground has risen over seventy centimetres, almost two and a half feet, since 1923, indicating a massive swelling underneath the park.

    "The impact of a Yellowstone eruption is terrifying to comprehend." says Professor McGuire. "Magma would be flung 50 kilometres into the atmosphere. Within a thousand kilometres virtually all life would be killed by falling ash, lava flows and the sheer explosive force of the eruption. One thousand cubic kilometres of lava would pour out of the volcano, enough to coat the whole of the USA with a layer 5 inches thick. The explosion would be the loudest noise heard by man for 75,000 years."

    The long-term effects would be even more devastating. The thousands of cubic kilometres of ash that would shoot into the atmosphere would block out light from the sun, making global temperatures collapse. This is called a nuclear winter. A large percentage of the world's plant life would be killed by the ash and the drop in temperature. The resulting change in the world's climate would devastate the planet, and scientists know that another eruption is due - they just don't know when.

    Michael Rampino, a geologist at New York University, quoted in a BBC Horizon documentary on Supervolcanoes three years ago explained: "It's difficult to conceive of an eruption this big. It's really not a question of if it'll go off, it's a question of when, because sooner or later one of these large super eruptions will happen."

    Professor McGuire says "There's nowhere to hide from the effects of a supervolcano. One day - perhaps tomorrow, perhaps in fifty years, perhaps in 10,000 - it will erupt; once again wreaking devastation across the North American continent and bringing the bitter cold of Volcanic Winter to Planet Earth. Mankind may become extinct."

    So the rumblings currently going on underneath Yellowstone should be a warning not just to those who plan to visit the National Park, but to the whole world. If the increased thermal activity is the precursor to an eruption event, we may well be on the brink of the biggest catastrophe the modern world has ever witnessed.
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  3. truth Registered Senior Member

    Maybe that is what killed off the dinos.

    I had read about this, but did not know it was that bad.

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  5. Jordan Registered Senior Member

    I hear mars is nice this time of year

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  7. Lord_Couchpotato Registered Member

    This is a section about Supervolcanoes in a site I personnally recommend called Exit Mundi (
    Another site with a section about Supervolcanoes called Armaggedon Online is temporary unavailable, so I couldn't get it's URL....

    Well, this is kinda scary. I never like knowing about impending disasters. There is a story about someone in the Greek mythology who had the power to know the future, and eventually went mad, don't remember his name. This is something like it - you know that very soon you might very well be dead, can do nothing to stop it, and all is left is to hope it happens after your and all your loved one's lifetime.
    This case is like the La Palme Megatsunami case, where there is also a volcano threatening to destroy every living thing on the USA east coast if it erupts - it will cause a ground shift on the La Palma island, which will make 500 billion tons of rock and debries fall into the sea and cause a Megatsunami...
    I personnally take such things more seriously than astroids or GRBs, since you can be certain that they may strike during your lifetime.
    That's all.
  8. Vortexx Skull & Bones Spokesman Registered Senior Member

    That's some scary shit dude!

    Human race as a whole will probably survive, but civilisation as we know it, might not...

    I bet countries like Australie would survive the aftermath nuclear winter best, as it can be pretty hot in the outback.

    Crazy thought:

    - keep injecting back water to keep enough pressure on the magma chamber to prevent pressuredropping to a point that the superheated water will explode

    - and if it does after all, have like 10 very heavy hydrogenbombs automatically explode above the vulcano in short sequence, in order to:

    - bounce back the shockwave downwards
    - evaporate millions of tons of magma that the vulcano spits out
    - again, bouncing back, attempt to slow down the upward velocity of the magma/ashes to prevent ashes reaching the upper atmosphere ---> will otherwise spread and darken the whole earth atmosphere.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2003
  9. Vortexx Skull & Bones Spokesman Registered Senior Member

    Maybe we better hurry up our global warming, to pre-emptively counter the effects of a nuclear winter, more SUV!
  10. Clockwood You Forgot Poland Registered Senior Member

    If man as a species survives I am pretty sure that even if civilization falls it will rise again soon after. Technology could be reclaimed in any of the ruins and it would bring whoever weilds it great power. It wouldn't take long for somebody to learn this.

    Alas where I live I most likly will not survive. Last time yellowstone blew Nebraska was under many feet of ash. I've been to the site where they are still digging up the fossilized remains of thousands of animals who died from the ashfall. Inhaling that stuff is like breathing tiny razorblades.

    Just remember to breath through a wet rag.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2003
  11. curioucity Unbelievable and odd Registered Senior Member

    apology if this suddenly de-stress you

    What distinguish(es) normal volcanoes and supervolcanoes? Their 'magma depths'? Whether or not there exist craters? Or what?
  12. Clockwood You Forgot Poland Registered Senior Member

    Size of the magma chamber and frequency of venting I would imagine.... and perhaps how many megatons of energy are released when it blows.
  13. cornelius Registered Senior Member

    Can be magma's pressure relesed slowly through controlled eruptions? This may replace a global major explosion with a serie of smaller (same total energy), but with localized effects.
    Other potential supervolcano is the Toba calderra in Indonesia; approx same size and same poential effects.
  14. Vortexx Skull & Bones Spokesman Registered Senior Member

    Yeah, let's try a field experiment overthere before you try it at home

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    It's a good thought, probably would be best to mess around a little with the smallest supervulcanos first and also those that are not past due (like the arizono case) to limit the effects should our involvement actually wake up the dragon instead of lulling it to sleep...

    Now let's hope the Jemaah Islamiah doesn't get any bright ideas about triggering the local indonesian caldera with some good old fashioned dynamite.....
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2003
  15. curioucity Unbelievable and odd Registered Senior Member

    Perhaps some even wish they did not know bout this.... but hey, what if there's a nerd in?
  16. river-wind Valued Senior Member


    The magma at the center of the earth is under tremendous pressure; one effect of that is that certain gases are forced into solution at abnormally high consentrations. Namely, sulfur.

    When the pressure drops to a critical point, then this gas starts coming out of the liquid magma and back into the air; and when it does it comes out *fast*. once the explosion starts, it moves rock out of the way, causing a futher drop in pressure above the magma pillow, which then keeps the explosive release of gas going.

    This is different from a regular volcano, where the pressure of the magma keeps building up until the pocket of earth it's encased in pops like a balloon.

    The earth above the magma pillow then destablalises, and collapses into the magma chamber, which drive vast amount of liquid rock into the air and up ontop of the land mass. This is how much of yellowstone formed. this is also what forms the crater, known as a Caldera.

    The ground underneith Yellowstone swelled between 1920 and 1980, pushing lakes around and worrying people. However, between 1980 and today, the pillow of lave appears to have receaded some, reducing many people fears. Of course, given we have never been witness to a supervolcano prior to it's explosion, maybe the reduction in swelling is the signs of a drop in pressure inside the magma pillow.

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    There are three or four supervolcanos' in the CA, MT, WY, OR area, from Yellowstone out to the Three Sister's volcanic area.

    as a note, yellowstone has erupted three known times, the largest one being the most recent - the lava covered a large section of the midwest, IIRC. Also, the caldera it formed covered 1/3 of Yellowstone Nat'l Park. It happens every 600,000 years or so, and it's been 800,000 since the last one (my numbers may be off, but the point stands. we are long overdue)

    note:this thread was first, I think a link to the other articles should be posted here, and the other thread closed.
    /armchair moderator mode off
  17. curioucity Unbelievable and odd Registered Senior Member

    So, the pressure characteristics also distinguish normal volcanoes and super-volcanoes, right?
    BTW, what are the things that make the pressure drop possible? Liquified crust? Or what? Also, why does the liquified gas 'wait' till the pressure drops badly enough before it bursts? Why can't it just come out steadily as the pressure drops?
  18. river-wind Valued Senior Member


    gives an explination of sorts, though it confuses the issue a bit.

    The gas escape the solution as the pressure drops, which allows it to form bubbles, expand and "increases the pressure". According to the article. This is odd, because then the pressure would be too great to allow for more gas to come out of solution. The missing link in this article is the constant addition of lava to the system, which increases pressure as well, tiping the scales enough for a big BOOOOM.
    However, the problem of gas bubbles increasing the surrounding pressure is not an issue if the initial bubble release (because of the vast amounts of lava present) is large enough to disrupt the seal around the lava pillow. This rupture of the seal would allow for a dramatice drop in pressure (as you would then be free to access the open air, which is *much* lower in pressure), which would be akin to opening the soda bottle. It's the release of the pressure all at once which allows the bubbles push so fast that he liquid doesn't have a chance to drip back down into the bottle, and everything comes pouring out the top.

    The reason that the initiial bubble formation might be enought o fracture rock is that bubbles don't form slowly. They require specific conditions to form, and they do so very quickly - from not exsisting to *pop* there it is, in milliseconds (it has to due with the proper shape to most reduce surface tension/pressure). So the formation of bubbles deep within the lava pillow (as opposed to the evaporation of the gas one molecule at a time from the surface of the lava) that causes an explotion of molten material.

    much better links:
  19. Kunax Sciforums:Reality not required Registered Senior Member

    thanks river-wind
  20. wet1 Wanderer Registered Senior Member

    Actually, some where within sciforums archives, is a thread on this very subject about a year and a half ago, complete with pictures of maps to go with it. This subject does indeed keep resurfacing as people find out about it for a first time.

    The supervolcano idea has been around for a while. Satellite measurements show that the area was gaining in height several years ago. The damage range is quite large when looked at on a map. Seems I remember it extending all the way to Texas. That is the magma flow, if it is correctly remembered.

    Sulphur compounds have always been associated with volcanoes, causing deaths in large numbers from populations that did not evacuate early. H2S is extremely deadlly, given high enough ppm concentrations.
  21. curioucity Unbelievable and odd Registered Senior Member

    Wouldn't it be CO which is deadlier, since it is unsmellable? I heard that H2S smells like rotten egg.... though I never actually know how a rotten egg smells...
  22. Zeaper Mutant Alien Registered Senior Member

  23. river-wind Valued Senior Member

    seems like the closings were due to an increase in the annual changes in geothermal activity. The trails are no open because the activity has subsided, but that occurs every year. The fact that this years activity is hotter than ever before is a bit worrysome, but everything cycles. We won't know until it goes boom, then everyone will say "they had all the evidence, why didn't the plan for it!"

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