Skip to comments.Super Volcano Will Challenge Civilization, Geologists Warn
Posted on 03/08/2005 4:16:02 AM PST by AntiGuv
The eruption of a super volcano "sooner or later" will chill the planet and threaten human civilization, British scientists warned Tuesday.
And now the bad news: There's not much anyone can do about it.
Several volcanoes around the world are capable of gigantic eruptions unlike anything witnessed in recorded history, based on geologic evidence of past events, the scientists said. Such eruptions would dwarf those of Mount St. Helens, Krakatoa, Pinatubo and anything else going back dozens of millennia.
"Super-eruptions are up to hundreds of times larger than these," said Stephen Self of the United Kingdoms (U.K.) Open University.
"An area the size of North America can be devastated, and pronounced deterioration of global climate would be expected for a few years following the eruption," Self said. "They could result in the devastation of world agriculture, severe disruption of food supplies, and mass starvation. These effects could be sufficiently severe to threaten the fabric of civilization."
Self and his colleagues at the Geological Society of London presented their report to the U.K. Government's Natural Hazard Working Group.
"Although very rare these events are inevitable, and at some point in the future humans will be faced with dealing with and surviving a super eruption," Stephen Sparks of the University of Bristol told LiveScience in advance of Tuesday's announcement.
The warning is not new. Geologists in the United States detailed a similar scenario in 2001, when they found evidence suggesting volcanic activity in Yellowstone National Park will eventually lead to a colossal eruption. Half the United States will be covered in ash up to 3 feet (1 meter) deep, according to a study published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
Explosions of this magnitude "happen about every 600,000 years at Yellowstone," says Chuck Wicks of the U.S. Geological Survey, who has studied the possibilities in separate work. "And it's been about 620,000 years since the last super explosive eruption there."
Past volcanic catastrophes at Yellowstone and elsewhere remain evident as giant collapsed basins called calderas.
A super eruption is a scaled up version of a typical volcanic outburst, Sparks explained. Each is caused by a rising and growing chamber of hot molten rock known as magma.
"In super eruptions the magma chamber is huge," Sparks said. The eruption is rapid, occurring in a matter of days. "When the magma erupts the overlying rocks collapse into the chamber, which has reduced its pressure due to the eruption. The collapse forms the huge crater."
The eruption pumps dust and chemicals into the atmosphere for years, screening the Sun and cooling the planet. Earth is plunged into a perpetual winter, some models predict, causing plant and animal species disappear forever.
"The whole of a continent might be covered by ash, which might take many years -- possibly decades -- to erode away and for vegetation to recover," Sparks said.
Yellowstone may be winding down geologically, experts say. But they believe it harbors at least one final punch. Globally, there are still plenty of possibilities for super volcano eruptions, even as Earth quiets down over the long haul of its 4.5-billion-year existence.
"The Earth is of course losing energy, but at a very slow rate, and the effects are only really noticeable over billions rather than millions of years," Sparks said.
The odds of a globally destructive volcano explosion in any given century are extremely low, and no scientist can say when the next one will occur. But the chances are five to 10 times greater than a globally destructive asteroid impact, according to the new British report.
The next super eruption, whenever it occurs, might not be the first one humans have dealt with.
About 74,000 years ago, in what is now Sumatra, a volcano called Toba blew with a force estimated at 10,000 times that of Mount St. Helens. Ash darkened the sky all around the planet. Temperatures plummeted by up to 21 degrees at higher latitudes, according to research by Michael Rampino, a biologist and geologist at New York University.
Rampino has estimated three-quarters of the plant species in the Northern Hemisphere perished.
Stanley Ambrose, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois, suggested in 1998 that Rampino's work might explain a curious bottleneck in human evolution: The blueprints of life for all humans -- DNA -- are remarkably similar given that our species branched off from the rest of the primate family tree a few million years ago.
Ambrose has said early humans were perhaps pushed to the edge of extinction after the Toba eruption -- around the same time folks got serious about art and tool making. Perhaps only a few thousand survived. Humans today would all be descended from these few, and in terms of the genetic code, not a whole lot would change in 74,000 years.
Based on the latest evidence, eruptions the size of the giant Yellowstone and Toba events occur at least every 100,000 years, Sparks said, "and it could be as high as every 50,000 years. There are smaller but nevertheless huge eruptions which would have continental to global consequences every 5,000 years or so."
Unlike other threats to mankind -- asteroids, nuclear attacks and global warming to name a few -- there's little to be done about a super volcano.
"While it may in future be possible to deflect asteroids or somehow avoid their impact, even science fiction cannot produce a credible mechanism for averting a super eruption," the new report states. "No strategies can be envisaged for reducing the power of major volcanic eruptions."
The Geological Society of London has issued similar warnings going back to 2000. The scientists this week called for more funding to investigate further the history of super eruptions and their likely effects on the planet and on modern society.
"Sooner or later a super eruption will happen on Earth and this issue also demands serious attention," the report concludes.
Global warming is about to be replaced by The Big Chill.
It could erupt next year. Or in another 200,000 years. The 600,000 figure is an average.
So let me guess: Now we need to shut down US industry to prevent this big volcano from erupting!
Nah, but a major super volcano eruption would probably lead to the death of at least 90 percent of the world's population, if not more.
"And now the bad news: There's not much anyone can do about it."
I once saw Mighty Mouse fly around Krakatoa, creating a knot with his contrails and tying up the exploding volcano. So don't tell me there's nothing we can do about it.
On a more serious note, are these the same guys who can't get tomorrow's weather straight?
Cept build nuke power plants and warm your toes on an electric heater next to your hydroponic vegetables.
Well, when it happens, it'll be President Bush's fault.
Since roughly 3.8 million years ago...
....Yellowstone may be winding down geologically.....
If so, how come the base elevation in the park has risen by 18 to 20 inches?
Yellowstone is presently active.
This, of course, would hurt women and minorities the most.
That ought to chill out those global warming alarmists - unless they try to blame volcanic eruptions on global warming.
So there is a solution to global warming.
Maybe something for the list. Interesting links w/in the article.
why not make a giant underground tunnel and release the pressure slowly. I know it wouldn't relieve all the pressure, but it could possibly delay an eruption.
Heehee, GOOD one.
I will use that some time and always remember you.
I can always tell when you've been talking to Carl Sagan.
How is he doing, by the way? ;)
Oh yes we can. We can sign Kyoto. /s
I hope Flash Gordon is keeping an eye on this. He may need to save every one of us.
Hell, my dentist did that to me when I had a bad abscess and it worked.
Prolly need to wait for a strong wind, 'cause the smell is real bad.
Sme people will not believe fossil evidence.
This has made me cancel plans to visit Yellowstone.
Well, I guess that'd take care of that pesky global wariming "problem".
There are geologists and probably climatologists. Weather people are meteorologists.
The eruption pumps dust and chemicals into the atmosphere for years, screening the Sun and cooling the planet. Earth is plunged into a perpetual winter, some models predict, causing plant and animal species disappear forever.'
That'll get the Feds going. Fines for everyone.
I've always had good luck with baking soda.
I am interested in this topic, but I think this particular announcment may have more to do with the upcoming BBC docudrama about such a supervolcano explosion in Yellowstone actually taking place. It was supposed to have aired already, but they delayed it because they thought the Tsunami coverage would make their movie look fake.
There had been a series of similar news announcments in the lead up to the original schedule, plus re-airing of the science documentary on the yellowstone supervolcano, all to drum up interest. I think they're just starting up the hype cycle again.
If we're going to ensure the future of the human race we have to get off the planet. That needs to happen sooner than later. Later may be too late.
What I don't understand about that Lava Creek ash pattern is that prevailing winds blow from west to east due to coriolis forces that are unlikely to change. So, how would it be distored westward?
Damned straight skippy. With all that dust in the air don't even THINK about lighting off the BBQ.
But we face a dual danger in this here United States. On the one hand we face the dangers of volcanic ash. And then there's Hillary with her volcanic ass. We're DOOMED I tell ya, DOOMED!
of interest to you?
My turn, All your ashes belong to us.
Soooo....do I have to go to work tomorrow, or not?
More like it will wipe civilization off the map in the affected area. When Tomu erupted the estimates were that about 70,000 humans survived worldwide.
"So let me guess: Now we need to shut down US industry to prevent this big volcano from erupting!"
These scientists aren't using scare tactics to try and push social engineering like the environmentalists, they just want more funding.
They haven't figured out how to make it sound like an urgent emergency yet, so they'll likely be ignored.
Ashes to ashes, bust to bust.
Volcanic eruptions frequently eject debris with such force that prevailing air currents have little initial bearing on the distribution pattern. In particular if the volcanic eruption is asymmetrical (as Mount St. Helens was, by example) then the resulting ash zone can easily end up extending completely against the wind direction.
That's settled. On to the next story.