Yellowstone Supervolcano Could Explode Sooner Than Expected (Which Still Isn’t That Soon)

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If you’re somebody who enjoys living, you may have been disappointed by some news making the rounds on Thursday that seemed to imply a supervolcano sitting beneath Yellowstone National Park could erupt sometime soon, taking out all life on Earth when it does.

This slightly concerning news came about after researchers from Arizona State analyzed some materials they found in fossilized ash from the volcano’s previous eruption, and saw changes in composition and temperature that built up in just a few decades. As the New York Times put it:

The early evidence, presented at a recent volcanology conference, shows that Yellowstone’s most recent supereruption was sparked when new magma moved into the system only decades before the eruption. Previous estimates assumed that the geological process that led to the event took millenniums to occur.

Furthermore, as National Geographic points out, the last of three major eruptions over the course of 2 million years occurred roughly 630,000 years ago and, when it did, it created a 40 mile wide crater (the Yellowstone caldera) that makes up most of the park. The supervolcano at Yellowstone is capable of unleashing an eruption about 2,500 times as powerful as Mt. St. Helens’ 1980 eruption, which killed 57 people. That would mean a burst that could cover most of the U.S. in ash and potentially plunge the planet into volcanic winter. Additionally, the previous eruption (meaning before the one that happened 630,000 years ago) happened in a similar timeframe, as it shot its wad about 1.3 million years ago.

So give or take 40,000 years.

This got people buzzing that an extinction level event could be impending because science is frequently boring since it’s not sensationalistic (that NYT article, which was very informative and well written, put my ass to sleep). However, as noted by Esquire, a massive volcanic discharge is not impending. In fact, the story is relevant because scientists are now realizing how quickly factors for a supereruption can come together.

“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” said Hannah Shamloo, an ASU grad student who spent weeks at the Yellowstone site. Previously, as the excerpt above mentions, scientists thought supereruptions would exhibit signs over the course of thousands of years. Now they believe it could happen in a human lifetime. The next eruption is probably coming soon relative to the pace that Earth’s geology works at, but that is slow AF in terms of human lifespan. Don’t panic over hyperbole.

Additionally, Michael Poland, the scientist who runs Yellowstone’s Volcano Observatory said “We haven’t seen anything that would lead us to believe that the sort of magmatic event described by the researchers is happening.” Sounds like we’ll all be dying some other way.

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