Supervolcanoes: are we next?

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Amidst the growing hysteria of 2012 and other apocalyptic theories supervolcanoes are a growing topic of today. These mammoth sized volcanoes have plagued Earth’s history for millions of years causing numerous mass extinctions.

The question then arises: will humans be next? By studying the Earth’s explosive history and analyzing how supervolcanoes impact ecosystems we can better predict the future welfare of humankind. Many believe these volcanic giants are waiting ready to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting public. Others have gone as far as to say the next super eruption will bring upon the apocalypse.Whatever does happen, humanity will be ill prepared.

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Many of us today are unaware of what supervolcanoes actually are and are oblivious to the destructive potential they possess. These giants can be viewed as the older, more destructive brothers of regular volcanoes. By definition, a volcano that spews greater than 1000 cubic kilometers of ejecta is considered a supervolcano. There are, however, many more characteristic of these destructive giants.

Supervolcanoes are born when magma escapes from an underground chamber thousands of miles beneath the Earth’s surface.This magma then travels towards Earth’s surface and creates a ginourmous pool of magma within the Earth’s crust; otherwise known as a caldera. Over time the pressure within a caldera builds up and eventually blows rupturing the ground around it; this is a super eruption. A super eruption can eject magma, ash, rock, and gas into the atmosphere.

This explosion is often times disastrous for surrounding areas causing unrelentless damage. Despite current technology, eruptions and eruption size cannot be forecasted making supervolcanoes an unpredictable killer.Scientists are only able to monitor seismic activity around a supervolcano which often escalates days before a possible super eruption. Through this monitoring, a possible eruption can be predicted and surrounding areas can be evacuated and braced.

Such a technique, however, is unreliable as often times seismic activity surrounding a supervolcano will increase resulting in no eruption. Moreover, super eruptions are often very different in nature. Some super eruptions spew incredibly hot lava out of the volcano at a very slow rate. This lava is extremely destructive but very slow.

The amount of lava emitted within an eruption varies substantially. An incredible four million cubic kilometers of lava is thought to have been released over a period of roughly one million years during a super volcanic eruption in ancient history. The daunting truth is that some supervolcanoes of today possess similar potential. In other super eruptions a combination of red hot lava, gas, rock, and ash are ejected.

These eruptions are often times more destructive. Areas close to the eruption fall victim to the merciless pyroclastic surge.A pyroclastic surge is a racing cloud of ash, gas, and rock that destroys everything in its path. The surges can reach up to 1050km/h, reach temperatures up to 1000 degrees Celsius and travel up to ten kilometers.

Moreover, during super eruptions greenhouse gases can contaminate the atmosphere. This could alter the Earth’s climate and make it less inhabitable for certain organism including humans. Perhaps the most destructive agent of a super eruption, however, is the volcanic ash. To many, the threat of ash does not seem daunting, volcanic ash, however, is highly destructive.

When inhaled, the ash combines with the moisture in your lungs creating a liquid cement-like substance. Inhale too much contaminated air and “you essentially drown in liquid cement” (BBC). Furthermore, this ash has been known to bury many people alive, destroy homes, devastate resources, and wipe out infrastructure. Theoretically, if the Yellowstone Caldera were to erupt, the ash alone could kill virtually all crops and livestock, contaminate all water supplies, collapse roofs, destroy infrastructure, and, if inhaled, essentially drown millions alive.

Factor in the collapse of a global power the size of the United States and the entire world could implode. The global stock market would collapse, trade routes and resources would cease, and hysteria would outbreak. Super eruptions have the potential to cover the majority of Earth’s landmass in volcanic ash and scorch nearly the entire sky. If such an event were to occur a global winter would then ensue.

These winters last decades possibly even centuries. Undoubtedly, the ash alone could devastate this planet.Following a large scale super eruption the Earth would appear as if it had gone through a nuclear holocaust. Many areas would be left a desolate wasteland, and the Earth’s natural climate would be contaminated.

Truly, the supervolcano is nature’s atomic bomb. Despite being on our planet since the dawn of age, humans still have very limited primary evidence and knowledge of supervolcanoes and how they impact the ecosystem. As a result, we turn to Earth’s explosive history to learn more on how supervolcanoes could impact us today. Throughout history supervolcanoes have relentlessly devastated life on Earth.

The merciless destruction of supervolcanoes has blemished our planet’s history and has arguably caused two mass extinctions and the near destruction of humankind. Hundreds of millions of years ago possibly the largest super volcanic eruption Earth has ever witnessed took place. The eruption was on a scale inconceivable to man and incomparable to any other eruption on Earth within the last 500 million years. This immense eruption triggered a lava flow lasting around one million years and “flooded an area about the size of the lower 48 United States” (O’Hanlon).

The devastation, however, did not stop there as the entire planet was plummeted into conditions reminiscent of a nuclear holocaust. The sky was blackened, poisonous rain fell, ash covered the entire globe, and the oceans were starved of oxygen. As a result, an incredible ninety percent of life on Earth at this point was wiped out making it the “most severe extinction event in Earth’s history” (O’Hanlon). Today this “mother of all extinctions” is known simply as, the Great Dying (Erwin).

Solely through a supervolcanic eruption all life on Earth was brought to its knees.This, however, was not a one off event as mass extinctions like these have occurred in a pattern throughout history. Some 180 million years after the Great Dying, Earth was again rocked by the immense power of supervolcanoes. This time the super volcanic wrath was felt more so within the seas.

Again, enormous amounts of lava was spewed trapping countless organisms. The eruption starved the seas of oxygen killing virtually all marine life “creating a thick mat of organic matter on the sea floor” which, over time, became the oil we use today (University of Alberta).Furthermore, the greenhouse gases omitted from the eruption altered the atmosphere to a state inhabitable to the majority of organisms. Once more, supervolcanoes had brought the demise of a prehistoric era.

Both of these cataclysmic events, however, occurred millions of years ago, so naturally, a threat of this kind to humanity, at first glance, seems improbable. Deep analysis into our history, however, may say otherwise. Around seventy-four thousand years ago in ancient Sumatra the “eruption of the largest super volcano in the recent history of the Earth” nearly wiped out all humanity (O’Hanlon).The many destructive effects devastated all humans.

In particular, the greenhouse gases of the super eruption caused a global winter which lasted for decades. The prolonged winter killed millions of crops and “left humans on the brink of extinction” (Anetei). Humankind was lucky to survive. This eruption, however, was only very minor in size compared to other super volcanic eruptions.

Humans may not be so fortuitous the next time. Clearly there is a pattern of life becoming extinct by super volcanic activity, and evidently humans are just as susceptible to the natural phenomenon as any other organism.Perhaps then it is just a matter of time. Today humans are prospering; however, many believe we may again be on the brink of extinction.

Our knowledge of supervolcanoes is growing and we have now become aware of the numerous super volcanic threats this planet possesses. There are currently seven known supervolcanoes: Lake Toba, Sumatra Indonesia; Long Valley, California; Lake Taupo, New Zealand; Valles Caldera, New Mexico; Aira, Japan; and the Siberian Traps, Russia. These are seven very real threats to humanity. One supervolcano in particular is considered a very serious threat as scientists believe it is “overdue” to erupt.

The Yellowstone Caldera is situated within Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States. The caldera is roughly 1530 cubic miles in size and is the most active of all the supervolcanoes. This supervolcano erupts roughly every 600,000 years and the last eruption was 640,000 years ago. Many people, therefore, believe humanity is biding its time.

Based on this logic the super volcano could erupt tomorrow and the welfare of the United States even perhaps the entire world is at immediate risk. This may be true, but again we cannot predict the size of the next super eruption.Supervolcanoes, in truth, are sporadic and we may never know when the next super eruption will occur. Despite this, some theorize that the next super eruption will occur on exactly December 21st 2012 and that it will bring upon the apocalypse.

Within the 2012 apocalypse theory it is believed the intensity of the sun’s microwaves will increase. This will then raise the temperature of the Earth’s core dramatically and lead to many of the layers of the Earth’s interior to melt thus allowing the Earth’s plates to move more freely.The dispositioning of the plates may then disturb the calderas within the supervolcanoes triggering super eruptions. This theory proposes that the Earth will not endure merely one catastrophic super eruption but seven.

The damage caused by such a chain of cataclysmic events is unfathomable. Surely not a single organism could possibly survive such a disaster. The Earth itself would be extremely unstable and could rupture beyond repair or even explode. Simply, supervolcanoes may end the world.

The truth is, however, super volcanic activity is unpredictable even with the technology available today. Modern day Earth is home to seven supervolcanoes each with the destructive power of an atomic bomb. Scientists believe the Yellowstone Caldera amongst other supervolcanoes are on the verge of eruption. The future of humanity, therefore, hangs in the balance.

As evident throughout history, supervolcanoes are a ruthless merciless force of nature responsible for two mass extinctions. Nothing is for certain, however, history suggests we will be next.

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Supervolcanoes: are we next?. (2017, Dec 10). Retrieved from

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