… and God shall rain down destruction fire and brimstone upon the land and all that which remains will be blanketed in a smoldering silencing ash, hushing the wails of sorrow. While this all sounds very biblical and even whimsical, the scientific fact is that the western mountain and central sections of The United States face such a fate, but not at the hands of a deity or an antichrist.
The only question is “when?” not “if?”
A caldera is formed when a volcano suffers so massive an explosion and ejects so much magma, ash, and gas under pressure that it collapses of its own weight into the emptied subterranean chambers that fed it. The result is a huge pit as big as 50 miles in diameter and hundreds of feet deep in place of the usual majestic snow-covered mountain peak.
Such an event has happened in North America not once, but three times in a place you normally wouldn’t think of as a hotbed of volcanic activity. This particular renowned and famous tourist destination has a little-known periodic feature that is more deadly than Old Faithful and is ominously about 40,000 years behind schedule.
Of the three most massive volcanic eruptions in our continent’s geological history, Yellowstone National Park holds the first and second place records. The Long Valley California caldera comes in at number three. Yellowstone so far has had two mega-destructive events — 2 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and a smaller one (for the sake of comparison, not severity) 600,000 years ago.
The area around, beneath and within our nation’s first national park is known in scientific circles as a “Super Volcano” and there’s a good reason for all that magnificent mountain scenery. Approximately two million years ago the first Yellowstone blast left a crater that has been estimated at 49.8 miles long by 40.5 miles wide. Geological records reveal a ballpark figure of the output of that eruption at 585 cubic miles of molten magma.
According to geologists, our pleasant little nature and wildlife preserve has an average cycle of caldera-building eruptions of about every 600,000 years — and the last one was 640,000 years ago. That one produced a crater measuring 53 miles long by 28 miles wide. The resulting pyroclastic flow deposited enough material to cover 3000 square miles, settling into a rock layer known as the Lava Creek Tuff, a volume, if rolled out evenly, that would equal covering the entire continental United States with five inches of asphalt. In addition, the eruption blasted 625 cubic miles of vaporized rock into the air, the majority of which settled as smothering ash across much of what is now the United States. The rest formed a cloud that encircled the globe, cooling it by several degrees over a period of years before it finally dissipated.
Volcanologists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have predicted that the next major Yellowstone eruption would make Mt. St. Helens look like a mere geologic hiccup. The 1980 St. Helen’s eruption sent 1.25 cubic miles of ash into the air; in comparison the next Yellowstone “event” could potentially produce approximately 500 times that output volume (or 625 cubic miles). Crop failures resulting from the cataclysmic event could last for years as a consequence of that much particulate and sulfur dioxide content in the air.
The immense North American plate’s friction moving beneath the Earth’s crust under Yellowstone is currently heating the magma, gas, and ground water. In other words it’s slowly boiling the park, like the bubbling top crust of mom’s apple pie in the oven. The “filling” is molten magma, which is feeding and expanding chambers under the park and building up pressure.
When (not if) that Yellowstone bubble bursts it will cost millions of lives, devastation of hundreds of species of animals and plants, and drastically alter our global atmosphere. The result will be widespread destruction of crops and the cause of millions more people to die of starvation. After the first good rainstorms, the nation’s farm belt will be buried under a hardened layer of ash the consistency of dried concrete. Vehicles will be trapped in it and house roofs will collapse beneath it.
Geologists seem to be divided as to the likelihood of a “super” eruption happening any time soon because the cycle seems to be slowing down. The last small but “significant” non-caldera eruption was about 70,000 years ago. However reports from the National Park Service using sophisicated satellite readings show that the ground in the region within Yellowstone has been rising and falling in super slow motion. Over the last century several places within the park have shifted as much as several inches.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, for the month of July 2006 alone there were 110 earthquakes in and around Yellowstone National Park. Most were relatively small with the largest being 2.9 in magnitude, which was one of 34 to have occurred on a single day last month (July 10) within a few miles of the Lower Geyser Basin.
The White Lake GPS stations have also reported a consistent uplift over the last 23 months.
This activity has motivated the USGS to create a nationwide system of alert levels to identify volcanic movement. It is expected to be adopted by the fall of this year at The Cascades Volcano Observatory in the northwest, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, the Long Valley California Observatory and of course the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.
The rankings are:
- Normal -Typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase;
- Advisory – For elevated unrest;
- Watch - For escalating unrest or a minor eruption causing limited hazards;
- Warning – If a highly hazardous eruption is underway or imminent.
Should this event actually come to pass, global warming would no longer be a problem, as enough sunlight would be reflected away by the ash and dust to cool the atmosphere by several degrees causing extended winters and brief, if nonexistent summers.Powered by Sidelines