Super Volcanoes Essay

Super Volcanoes

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Super Volcanoes

There is no exact definition for a super volcano, but the expression
is often used to refer to volcanoes that have produced extraordinarily
large eruptions in the past. When one of these large eruptions occurs,
a huge amount of material is blasted out of the super volcano, leaving
a massive crater or caldera. A caldera can be as much as forty or
fifty miles wide. At Yellowstone, the caldera is so big that it
includes a fair amount of the entire park. In effect, it is so big
that at first scientists didn't see the state a caldera had until it
was photographed from space.

Supervolcanoes are formed when magma rises from the mantle to create
a scorching reservoir in the Earth's crust and they start to form in
layers. This chamber increases to a gigantic size, building up huge
pressure until it finally erupts. After it finally erupts, the
calderas collapses. When the reservoir has formed, a substance is
collected that will trap the volcanic gases. They form depressions in
the ground and it is very hard to imagine the eruptions, explosions,
car atrophic proportions that they cause. Super volcanoes produce vast
amounts of ash and destruction. There are thousands of normal
volcanoes around the world and at least 50 erupt every year. Vast
clouds of ash are deafening sounds; it affects the climate on earth
for many years and affects the agriculture colour. At yellow stone, if
the substance is plunged into catastrophe, this means that humans
could become distinct. Super volcanoes cause unimaginable forces and
affect everything in ways that humans cannot begin to imagine.

There are many pieces of evidence that prove that Super volcanoes do
exist. The first is that all animals were infected, from the orchard,
abruptly, ten million years ago. These included bones of fossilised
rhino, horses, camels, and lizards. Bones were covered in soft
material, cellular; the disease was growing quickly on bones.
Scientists discovered, the ash from volcanoes, has chocked them to

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Volcanoes         Super         Reservoir         Mantle         Proportions         Amounts         Increases         Bones         Yellowstone        

death and Bruno Jabage was the cause of this, samples of ash were
identified as the same.

Another piece of evidence to prove that super volcanoes do exist is
the last one that erupted. The last super volcano to erupt was Toba
74,000 years ago in Sumatra. It was ten thousand times bigger than Mt
St Helens; it created a worldwide devastation dramatically affecting
life on Earth. Three quarters of all plants in the northern hemisphere
were killed. It is known however that lying underneath one of
America's areas of great natural beauty, Yellowstone Park, lays one of
the largest super volcanoes in the world. Scientists have discovered
that it has been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The
last eruption was 640,000 years ago, therefore this shows the next
eruption is late and could erupt at any moment.

Scientists know that the collision of a Yellowstone eruption is
terrifying to understand. Vast areas of the USA would be destroyed,
the US economy would most likely collapse, and thousands of people
might die. If these super volcanoes do exist, they would have many
other effects in the world. For example, once the part of Yellowstone
erupts, if it were to rise up to 30, 40, 50 km we would instantly be
distinct. Other super volcanoes would be killing ten thousands of
people, plants would die and crops would have less time to grow as it
would be colder. Magma would be spread at least 50 kilometres into the
atmosphere. Within a thousand kilometres falling ash, lava flows and
the utter explosive force of the eruption would kill practically all
life. Volcanic ash would cover places as far away as Iowa and the Gulf
of Mexico. One thousand cubic kilometres of lava would tip out of the
volcano, enough to cover the whole of the USA with a layer 5 inches
thick. The explosion would have a force 2,500 times that of Mount St.
Helens. It would be the loudest noise heard by man for 75,000 years,
the time of the last super volcano eruption. Within minutes of the
eruption ten or fifteen thousand people would be dead. Climatologists'
now know that Toba wretched so much ash and sulphur dioxide into the
atmosphere that it blocked out the sun, which caused the earth's
temperature to fall. Many geneticists believe that this had a
disastrous effect on human life, possibly dropping the population on
Earth to just a few thousand people; mankind was on the surface of

The magma chamber would be unstable and bigger earthquakes would form,
as parts of the land would rise. Magma floors kill ten thousands of
people in an area every time and there is at least 1000 km of ash
spread over the land, which affects a lot of things such as animals,
plants etc.

Overall, in my personal opinion, I believe that super volcanoes do
exist as there are many pieces of evidence which has been proven to
have been caused by those super volcanoes, such as the erupt death to
animals millions of years ago and the last eruption at Yellowstone
park. I think in the future, if anything were to happen, I would be
worried, as many people would be, because it would be life changing
for any few survivors who were lucky to actually survive. However, I
feel that it is really scary and unimaginable to believe that one day
we could all be distinct in a matter of time from these forces. It
could be an end to animals, crops and human nature.
From this evidence it is a possibility that a super volcano will erupt
and cause mass destruction to everything on earth.


[IMAGE]The Yellowstone Volcano could erupt with 10,000 times the force
of the explosion at Mount. St. Helens in 1980.

Yellowstone, we feel, is a very, very safe place to visit,” says Hank Heasler, one of two park geologists at Yellowstone. It’s true that acrid, piping-hot groundwater flows just under the park’s rocky plateau, forming a landscape bubbling, steaming, and spraying with hydrothermal activity. It’s also true that three of the most astonishing volcanic eruptions in the geologic recordeach hundreds to thousands of times the volume of 1980’s Saint Helens eruptionoccurred around what is now Yellowstone National Park, which includes parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Over three million visitors step onto this charged volcanic landscape every year. Yet the geologists that monitor it are unconcerned about a large, imminent eruption.  Far more unnerving is an encounter with one of the park’s wolves or bears.

Each of the three largest eruptions of Yellowstone's magma chamber resulted in the collapse of the chamber's roof rock, resulting in a circular caldera tens of kilometers wide.

Arlene Ducao for AMNH

A Restless History

“To the public, an active volcano is one that’s erupting now,” says United States Geological Survey geologist Jake Lowenstern, who heads the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Yellowstone is not erupting, but it is active. About 400 km below it, in the Earth’s upper mantle, lies a hot spot: a fixed region of partly molten rock far from any tectonic plate boundary. “You can think of the hot spot as a blowtorch,” explains Lowenstern. “It's creating melt in the mantle, and that melt is rising and melting the continental crust above it.” At the moment, a 50 km wide chamber of molten rockmagmasits about 8 km beneath Yellowstone. When the crust above the chamber no longer can withstand the upward pressure of the swelling magma chamber, it fractures and the magma erupts.

The first of Yellowstone’s three big eruptions was 2.1 million years ago, the next was 1.3 million years ago, and the last was 640,000 years ago. During each event, gas-laden magma erupted explosively like an uncorked champagne bottle. The explosions shattered magma and overlying rocks into fragments and ash particles. Fluid magma exploded through the fractures and paved the Yellowstone soil.

Only about 10 percent of the magma chamber exploded in each “supervolcano” event; still, that amounted to more than a thousand cubic kilometers of material per eruption. “Two of the three eruptions put out enough volcanic ash to spread a cloud all the way to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico,” says Heasler. This blocked the Sun’s rays and cooled the Earth’s atmosphere, which took years to recover. After each eruption, the roof of the partially emptied magma chamber collapsed, forming an enormous surface depression called a caldera. When the magma chamber filled again to a pressure point, it erupted in a slightly different location. Remnants of the clifflike walls of Yellowstone’s three calderas are still visible. (See part of one caldera in this interactive.)

Park geologist Henry Heasler sets out to measure the temperature and pH of a shallow thermal pool in Norris Geyser Basin.

David Rasmussen

Basic math on Yellowstone's eruption cycle (one event every 600,000 to 800,000 years) seems to suggest a fourth event, well, about now. Heasler demurs. ”Three data points do not make a compelling argument for almost anything in science,” he says. Geologists are uncertain whether Yellowstone is winding down from the third eruption or ramping up to a fourth.

Technically, the next eruption could happen anytime. However, catastrophic eruptions occur so infrequently in the geologic record that it is statistically not likely anytime soon. More importantly, if Yellowstone were preparing to blow another big one, its heavily monitored signs of unrest would also clearly indicate imminent eruption. (They don’t.) More likely hazards are localized lava flows and hydrothermal explosions, which are just symptoms of the park’s volcanic underbelly.

What Dangers Await?

“If a lava flow were to occur here today, it certainly would have an effect,” says Lowenstern. “But it wouldn’t cause many, if any, deaths.” Lava is what magma is called after it breaches Earth’s surface. About 80 lava flows since Yellowstone’s last big eruption 640,000 years ago have filled in much of the three calderas, so that their entire circumferences are only detectable with careful fieldwork. Lava erupting from existing or new cracks at Yellowstone would likely be thick and viscous and have little gas left in it. Thus, it would ooze, not explode, and be unable to flow long distances easily. “Tourists just wouldn’t be allowed in certain areas,” says Lowenstern.

Mud pot, Lower Geyser Basin

David Rasmussen

The remaining molten rock in Yellowstone’s collapsed magma chamber is now cooling. It donates heat to the water table above it, which creates Yellowstone’s more than 10,000 hydrothermal features. The hot groundwater can flash as steam in geysers like Old Faithful or belch through cauldronlike mud pots. The water also collects in pools, some of which are acidic, near boiling, blue-green with minerals and microbes, and reeking of rotten-eggy hydrogen sulfide. (“The smell of life,” Lowenstern calls it.) An unanticipated hydrothermal explosion could scald or severely injure park visitors and staff.

Still, a lava flow or a hydrothermal explosion does not herald a new catastrophic eruption. A surer sign would be a dramatic shift in the ground level at Yellowstone, a hint that the magma chamber was moving upward or significantly refilling. Scientists would also look for serious “swarms” of earthquake activity, which would suggest the malleable magma chamber was rupturing the brittle rock above it. Recent monitoring has detected both ground level rises (8 to 10 cm in the past 19 months) and seismic signals, but they’re not dramatic enough to warrant worry. They simply remind geologists that Yellowstone is naturally a place of change.

“Thermal features can change over one day,” says Heasler. “Yellowstone is an interesting place where we can see geologic processes changing on a day-to-day basis rather than a million-year-by-million-year basis.”Monitoring this change is the essence of the geologic work ongoing at Yellowstone. It is the key to predicting the park’s next big moment.

Related Links

USGS: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

USGS Volcano Hazards Program: Photo glossary of volcanic terms

Geotimes: Truth, Fiction, and Everything in Between at Yellowstone
Written by YVO scientist-in-charge Jake Lowenstern.

USGS: Hotspots

National Park Service: Yellowstone National Park

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