A new study that will be presented at the American Geophysical Fall Meeting will show that the Yellowstone super-volcano is about two and a half times larger than previously thought.
The University of Utah team found that the magma chamber is some 55 miles long, and it contains up to 600 cubic kilometers of molten rock. If even a third of that volume erupted at Yellowstone we would be facing a global disaster.
Prof. Bob Smith, one of the Utah team leaders said:
“We’ve been working there for a long time, and we’ve always thought it would be bigger… but this finding is astounding.”
Dr James Farrell, also with the Utah team added:
“We record earthquakes in and around Yellowstone, and we measure the seismic waves as they travel through the ground. The waves travel slower through hot and partially molten material… with this, we can measure what’s beneath.”
“To our knowledge there has been nothing mapped of that size before,” (source)
What the team found has left them stunned. The magma chamber is huge, reaching depths of 1 to 9 miles. With an average length of 55 miles and average width of 20 miles its potential as a ‘continent killer’ is obvious.
Yellowstone last erupted 640,000 years ago and although the ground in the park is rising, there is no indication at this point that it’s ready to blow again. Earthquakes are constant within the park and currently there has been no rise in frequency or intensity, often a precursor of an impending eruption.
One day Yellowstone will blow, and the global effects will be devastating. Tambora, a still active volcano in Indonesia, exploded in 1815 spewing out an estimated 160 cubic kilometers of ejecta. The eruption threw so much debris into the atmosphere that 1816 became known as ‘the year without a summer’. Crops suffered from the unseasonably cold weather and famine conditions set in. It’s estimated that 80,000 people died from the effects of the Tambora eruption. That’s in addition to the 10,000 who died on the island at the time of the explosion.
Yellowstone is many times larger than Tambora, and the world is far more highly populated than it was in 1816. The 90,000 deaths from the Tambora eruption would appear insignificant if Yellowstone blew.
The nearest thing in size we have to compare with Yellowstone is the Mount Toba eruption some 74,000 years ago. Toba left a crater larger than the City of London in an eruption 10,000 times larger than Mount St. Helens. (source)
Thick ash deposits would cover a large proportion of North America and the volcanic gases and ash thrown into the air would affect our climate for years. When Yellowstone blows, we won’t just be facing one year without a summer, we will be facing many.
Increasing vulcanism is being recorded around the globe. Lets hope Yellowstone doesn’t follow the trend.
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