Despite the excitement generated by a somewhat sensationalized research paper released in October, the denizens of North America are not about to be buried beneath an ocean of lava, one geologist claims.
Hopefully, that helps everyone sleep a little easier.
Everyone in the field of volcanology recognizes that there is a gigantic volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park, one which, when it periodically erupts, spreads enough lava to fill the Grand Canyon and enough ash to bring on a global winter which might last for decades, wiping out most life.
In October of this year, The New York Times published an article outlining the latest findings of Arizona State University geologist Hannah Shamloo, which claimed that such a “super-eruption” could be imminent—geologically speaking.
“Imminent” in geological terms can mean decades, or several centuries. Geologists are used to measuring time in ten-thousand-year chunks.
But everyday readers saw the article and inferred that it might be time to stock up on canned goods.
To make matters worse, researchers at Bristol’s Schools of Earth Sciences and Mathematics in the UK estimated how often the largest explosive “super-eruptions” happen. Their research showed super-eruptions might happen nine times more frequently than most geologists had believed.
Professor Jonathan Rougier told The Mirror, “The previous estimate, made in 2004, was that super-eruptions occurred on average every 45 to 714 thousand years, comfortably longer than our civilization.
“But in our paper just published, we re-estimate this range as 5.2 to 48 thousand years, with a best guess value of 17 thousand years.”
Rumors of an impending volcanic disaster spread across the U.S. border. Canadian Jackquie Ringstad was planning a vacation trip to Yellowstone to marvel at the natural beauty when a friend told her to cancel the trip to avoid the natural disaster.
“When we decided to come down here we were talking to some people,” Ringstad told NBC Montana. “One of the fellas was like ‘You can’t go to Yellowstone, there’s this big volcano underneath it and it’s going to blow up!'”
Sorry, But the Apocalypse Will Be Delayed
Geologist Jeff Hungerford works at Yellowstone National Park, and if anything were happening, he would have the inside scoop.
His take on the matter?
“The volcano is not going to erupt anytime soon; however, we definitely have stories saying otherwise,” Hungerford told NBC. “They usually don’t spin them in the right direction.
What is the “right” direction? Well, the stories could mention that even the most alarmist experts admit that there would be decades of warning signs before a major eruption—and those warning signs would definitely be noticed.
“The Yellowstone area is the most monitored volcanic system in the world,” said Seismologist Mike Stickney, with the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology.
“We would likely see years to decades of anomalous activity at Yellowstone before any kind of a significant eruption,” Stickney added.
No one is downplaying the extent of the damage a super-eruption would cause. The Yellowstone super-volcano has erupted three times in the past 2.1 million years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The least of these eruptions was 2,500 times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. The strongest was almost triple that.
What scientists like Jeff Hungerford want people to realize is that even the paper covered by the New York Times, which recently resurrected the super-volcano panic, stated clearly that there would be decades of increasing seismic activity before any sort of major volcanic event.
Hopefully, voices like Hungerford’s can be heard above the sensationalist din predicting imminent devastation. Yellowstone National Park saw a record number of visitors in 2016.
Are you afraid of a super-volcano eruption? Do you think Yellowstone is due to erupt soon? Post your comments below.
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