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Earth Science

Evidence Suggests Updated Timeline Towards Yellowstone's Supervolcano Eruption (nytimes.com) 320

Camel Pilot writes: Geologist have been aware of fresh magma moving in the Yellowstone's super volcano system. Previously this was thought to precede an eruption by thousands of years. Recent evidence by Hannah Shamloo, a graduate student at Arizona State University, demonstrates that perhaps the timeline from the underground basin filling to eruption is more on the scale of decades. A super volcano eruption has the power to alter life's story on this earth and even destroy all life on a continent. In light of this, it seems like a good time to invest some effort and resources into finding ways to prepare, delay or deflect the potential threat. The research was presented at the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) 2017 conference in Portland, Oregon.
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Evidence Suggests Updated Timeline Towards Yellowstone's Supervolcano Eruption

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  • a pattern lately (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Seems like the thing to do to get recognition in the scientific community these days is to come up with catastrophic predictions. Between global warming, asteroids, Yellowstone, mass extinctions, blah blah blah the list just goes on and on. I really have tuned most of this noise out. It's just people looking to get their name out there on a story that will get eyeball traffic. It's kind of like a modern-day biblical doomsayer.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:12AM (#55355025)

      The difference is that the scientists are correct about Yellowstone. The problem is that fools like you want to take the rest of humanity down with you when it does go off.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:42AM (#55355193)

        What, exactly, are you going to do to prevent its eruption? Send it a strongly-worded letter?

        • Re: a pattern lately (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @09:17AM (#55355365)

          Two approaches come to mind, both of which are probably too massive to actually be undertaken. One is to cool the magma, by drilling a grid of holes and pumping water into them. (Use the heated water or steam for electric power plants.) The other is to break up the surface to a depth of several miles (underground nuclear bombs), so that any eruption will be just magma flows rather than an explosion.

          Could either work? I don't even pretend to know. Would either attempt cause more problems than it solved? I wouldn't be surprised. At least some examination of possibilities should be done.

          • Two approaches come to mind, both of which are probably too massive to actually be undertaken. One is to cool the magma, by drilling a grid of holes and pumping water into them. (Use the heated water or steam for electric power plants.) The other is to break up the surface to a depth of several miles (underground nuclear bombs), so that any eruption will be just magma flows rather than an explosion.

            Could either work? I don't even pretend to know. Would either attempt cause more problems than it solved? I wouldn't be surprised. At least some examination of possibilities should be done.

            We are talking about Yellowstone, so consideration is needed as to how such preventative actions may affect the features which attract visitors.

            • Re: a pattern lately (Score:5, Informative)

              by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @02:02PM (#55357693)

              We are talking about Yellowstone, so consideration is needed as to how such preventative actions may affect the features which attract visitors.

              I certainly hope you forgot your </sarcasm> tag there, since given the choice between "Yellowstone is an uninhabitable crater" and "Yellowstone is the caldera of the supervolcano that destroyed humanity", I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the former option—the one where humans still exist—would be better for tourism.

              Last I had heard, they were estimating that an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano could result in 10 feet (i.e. 3 m) of ash being deposited in Houston. Even without considering the life-ending clouds that would cover the earth for decades, that much ash on the ground would be more than enough to end a civilization for the simple reasons that you wouldn't be able to breathe, move about, or work the land.

              Now, for folks who aren't intimately familiar with US geography, this may sound like yet another tragedy for the people of Houston after the recent hurricane that ravaged the city, but that's missing the point entirely. The point here is that Houston is nowhere close to Yellowstone. Nowhere close.

              To put it in perspective for any Europeans, the distance from Yellowstone to Houston (i.e. ~1300 miles or ~2100 km as the crow flies) is roughly the same as the distance from Amsterdam to Moscow (or London to Bucharest or Paris to Istanbul). Another way of putting it is that if an eruption of this magnitude happened in Munich, you'd have to travel to the Arctic Circle, the middle of the Sahara, or somewhere beyond Moscow before you'd see less ash than what I described. For any Aussies, it'd mean that if an eruption happened in Alice Springs, the entire country would be under that much ash or more. You'd have to get pretty far into Papua New Guinea or Indonesia before you'd see any less than I described.

              All of which is to say, we're talking about life-ending amounts of ash being deposited across entire continents, so preventative measures may be necessary if we want there to be tourism, not just in Yellowstone, but anywhere on the planet.

          • Two approaches come to mind, ... One is to cool the magma, by drilling a grid of holes and pumping water into them. (Use the heated water or steam for electric power plants.) The other is to break up the surface to a depth of several miles (underground nuclear bombs), so that any eruption will be just magma flows rather than an explosion. ...

            Would either attempt cause more problems than it solved?

            Both of those sound like things that are more likely to encourage, rather than prevent, an eruption. IMHO they'

            • Re: a pattern lately (Score:4, Informative)

              by s122604 ( 1018036 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @03:27PM (#55358443)
              The drilling plans I've seen is to come in at a very shallow angle. So shallow that the drills would actually start outside Yellowstone itself, intersecting with the magma chamber miles underground on its side.
              This is supposedly far less prone to cause destabilization risks..
        • "What, exactly, are you going to do to prevent its eruption? Send it a strongly-worded letter?"

          Trump will remove its vulcano-license.

      • Re: a pattern lately (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @09:19AM (#55355373) Homepage Journal

        There really is no difference. The problem here is the belief that Nature owes our civilization something. Nature is neither benevolent nor malevolent toward us; it is indifferent to our fate.

        Supervolcano eruptions are a fact. The study of the geologic record post-dates the emergence of our civilization, so it isn't surprising that the way our civilization operates doesn't take the possibility supervolcanoes into account.

        GP's reaction is fairly typical of the "reasoning" of the benevolent nature school: a supervolcano eruption in the near future would be a threat to civilization, therefore we can discount that possibility. That reasoning applies across the board to anything like climate change or sea level rise. We're not prepared for it, therefore it can't happen..

        It took 4.5 billion years for an intelligent species to emerge on the planet. In our species 300,000 year history, civilization is a novelty, barely 5,000 years old, the most recent 1.6% of our species' lifespan. Yet because 1000 years is a long time to us as individuals, we see civilization as something enduring and stable. There's no evidence to support that notion on a geologic timescale.

        • Re: a pattern lately (Score:4, Informative)

          by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:03AM (#55355729)

          The geologic timescale is exactly why the odds are against an eruption in the next few decades. And with an eruption that massive, there are likely to be years of very clear and indisputable warning signs all over the region. I highly doubt a supervolcano eruption will catch civilization by surprise.

          As a recent (by geologic scales) example, no one was surprised by Mt St Helens actually erupting. Everyone knew it was coming. Only the precise timing was unknown. And the way it erupted was surprising, of course. But at this point, scientists are pretty good at predicting impending eruptions. I just don't think predicting one decades out is anything more than speculation, considering that this is a pretty radical departure from conventional wisdom.

          For extra-ordinary claims like this, you'll need fairly extraordinary evidence. And not to impune Ms. Shamloo, but this is a grad student we're talking about, not a professional volcanologist with decades of actual experience. As such, it's wise to consider the source of this theory in regards to its feasibility.

          • Re: a pattern lately (Score:5, Informative)

            by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:35AM (#55356035) Homepage Journal

            I remember Mt St. Helens very well, because I was working as a technician in the lab which sent seismometers there. It's an irrelevant example, because the Mt. St. Helens event is something that could be prepared for with a few weeks warning.

            The larger scale the event, the longer you need to plan for it. A supervolcano can eject several thousand cubic kilometers of material. Mt St. Helens ejected 0.21 km^3. The last Yellowstone super-eruption was roughly twelve thousand time larger. If it happened today it would bury everything from California to Chicago in 10 feet of ash. It would effectively halt agriculture worldwide for several years. Given that the world's global food reserve is only adequate (if perfectly distributed) for 73 days, how many decades of planning do you think we'd need to be ready? How much of that time would be spent debating whether this was real, then debating on who was going to pay?

            Also, I'm not sure you understand what "geologic timescale" means. The usual unit of time used is the Ma or Mega annum. Decades don't enter into it.

    • Re:a pattern lately (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:16AM (#55355055)

      Asteroids, and a super volcano, do not seem to be due to human interaction, it is just a natural disaster that we will need to make sure we have a plan for dealing with. If we can't stop it, at least have an emergency infrastructure out there to move large scale of people.

      Global Warming and Mass Extinction, are slow disasters which is why there are so many more deniers, first they are cause by us and our life styles (which people take exception too) and second there isn't a single simple cause and fix, it requires a long fix having a change in our culture and how we do things.

      • Some are also claiming that all of the vehicle and air traffic are setting up a resonance in the crust that is spurring volcanic reactions as evidenced by an uptick in eruptions over the last hundred years.

        • All fine and good, how do we test and measure this.
          Science is about facts, not just wild or educated guesses. After making such a guess or Hypothesis then you need to find a way to measure and collect data to see if such a Hypothesis is accurate.

      • Global Warming and Mass Extinction, are slow disasters

        That depends on what causes the mass extinction or global climate change. A large asteroid impact can cause a mass extinction and a global shift in temperatures on a very short timescale. Similarly, large volcanic eruptions can cool the climate very rapidly causing crops to fail etc.

    • We'll just have to escape into the long earth
    • Back in the 1970's, a couple of USGS geologists predicted that Mt St Helens was going to erupt soon. And you know what? It did.

    • but I don't think you have your finger on the pulse of the scientific community.

      This isn't new information. I think you are confusing it with the mainstream media, where "BREAKING NEWS" is a constant ticker along the bottom of the screen.

  • Shit... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:05AM (#55355001)
    Yeah, I don't see us beating this one. Engage roman orgy mode.
    • We may not be able to beat this one, but we can prepare for this.
      Improving infrastructure to move people to the east coast. Having a backup supply of volcanic ash resistant air filters, and gas masks, to provide the public. Good relations with other countries as a way to deal with Refugees from America in case of such a disaster...

      • Re: Shit... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:43AM (#55355199)

        Insignificant. You are missing the point. A super volcano would cause massive climate change. Almost all current crops would die off in their new climate. All of California's crop would be covered in ash. You cannot feed massive populations without modern farms. That's just the beginning. The dinosaurs didn't die out due to getting hit by an asteroid. They died of starvation and climate change as a result of the asteroid. No moving of populations or mask filters would help that.

        • I am guessing you may be from Asia, Alaska or Hawaii. Because California is on the west coast. We need to move the population to the east coast. a Volcanic winter will destroy crops and there will be a food shortage. However there are crops that we could still grow. This would still be a life changing event, however there are things we can do to make sure our society survives and weathers this event, and some prep work we could save more lives.

          • Unless the jet stream reversed course, I believe people should move to the WEST coast. Ash and fallout will mainly head East, like it did when Mt. St. Helens blew. Western Washington for the most part was spared; Seattle and Tacoma completely untouched. Eastern Washngton got hammered. This jetstream is also why Yellowstone going is so bad - it will blanket our "breadbasket" midwest with ash. If the volcano was on the East coast, most of the fallout would end up in the Atlantic ocean, not on land...
            • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

              No problem, we're not even using the farmland here in Canada to capacity for food grains. We're actually using less every year because of increasing yields on existing farmland. And unless something very screwy happens with the jetstream the prairies in central canada and the great lakes region wouldn't have any issues either.

        • All of California's crop would be covered in ash.

          If the prevailing winds were to suddenly reverse direction, sure...

          • by rthille ( 8526 )

            If I recall my geology field trip correctly, the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff was about a meter thick, in CA, east of the Sierras at least.

      • We may not be able to beat this one, but we can prepare for this.

        True but it will take a LOT more to prepare than many people think.

        Improving infrastructure to move people to the east coast. Having a backup supply of volcanic ash resistant air filters, and gas masks, to provide the public. Good relations with other countries as a way to deal with Refugees from America in case of such a disaster...

        The problem will be far bigger than some dirt in the air and some refugees. A super volcano going off would cause massive and immediate global climate change. Temperatures globally would fall and crops would fail. Sunlight would be dimmed globally. Feeding people will become a huge problem far outside the US and Canada and a bigger problem in North America. We'd probably experience something akin to a nuclear winter for a time - even no

    • "destroy all life on a continent"
      Histrionics.

      Remember, this is a GRAD student's info.

      The ashfall of previous eruptions, while major and terrible, suggest such an eruption wouldn't be exterminatory, not even for the western US.
      https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vsc... [usgs.gov]

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:10AM (#55355017) Journal
    Elon Musk just announced he has accelerated the Mars rocket program. We should be able to migrate to Mars well in time.

    "Since we are starting ab-initio in a new planet", he said, "the entire planetary infrastructure will be built on sustainable resources from the ground up from the start from get go". Complete with Boring Machines taking all the roads underground, with some tunnels reserved for hyperloop, cars will drive themselves to charging stations, a Dyson Sphere of 2 Astronomical units in diameter will refocus sunlight on the Mars surface to maintain Earth like lighting and temperature.

    He said "If Secretary General of UN would sign the contract, all this will be completed in 100 days or it would be free. "

  • Shouldn't we wait until most people are no longer worried about a global warming catastrophe before we create a new armageddon story?
    • Re:Slow down! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:29AM (#55355105)

      Shouldn't we wait until most people are no longer worried about a global warming catastrophe before we create a new armageddon story?

      The Yellowstone hot spot has been a cause for concern for a long, long time. It's also one of those things we can't do much about.

      We also have case history https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] as the hotspot travels and does it's thing. No need for humans to "create" anything.

    • Now there is a problem witch science where the money for funding needs the pitch, so a little doom and gloom is a good way to insure their grants are up to date.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      You mean it would be "smart" to ignore one looming disaster because we have another looming disaster? Sounds suicidal to me.

  • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:14AM (#55355045)
    It'd be neat to know within decade precision when a supervolcano would blow, but that's still a pretty big window for humans to deal with practically. Can you do much to prepare for something on that scale that may or may not happen in 20 years?
    • Re:Neat to know (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:25AM (#55355093)

      Based on the debris from the last two Yellowstone eruptions, over 80% of the continental US, most of unpopulated western Canada, and some of northern Mexico would experience significant ashfall. Weather patterns around the world would be disrupted for years. It would be a larger release of energy into the atmosphere than the most generous estimates of total animal activity since any records of human existence.

      Much like most of the other doomsday scenarios, some areas would become uninhabitable, and everywhere else would need to adapt.

    • It'd be neat to know within decade precision when a supervolcano would blow, but that's still a pretty big window for humans to deal with practically. Can you do much to prepare for something on that scale that may or may not happen in 20 years?

      I'm not certain that much can be done to prepare for it anyhow. There are enough unknowns to make most predictions just about worthless. Some speculate that Yellowstone is dying, and the hotspot that it lies over won't be an issue for a few million years, some think that while that may be true, there is still a caldera forming event to come as a grand finale for Yellowstone. I'd like to see more of the report before I give a semi-educated opinion. And they aren't making it easy to get.

      • I guess that's what I mean... if we know for sure that it is going to blow soon, but the error bar on it is measured in decades how do you get people to do anything useful in response? It is hard enough to get people to evacuate when a hurricane is bearing down. In a supervolcano situation we could perhaps tell them that they need to leave because maybe they will all die, or maybe it won't be until their grandchildren are adults that they get blasted to oblivion. They're just going to accuse The Man of t
  • This makes for an interesting read. However, there is no point in actually getting our panties in a bunch because there is nothing we can do to really stop Yellowstone from erupting. When it decides to go off, it's going to go off with a bang. Certainly there will be warnings but a volcanic explosion of this magnitude is an extinction level event. The eruption of Mt. St. Helens will look like the proverbial cherry bomb in a toilet by comparison. I guess I am not going to worry about what I do not have contr
    • From watching The Road I suppose we could stockpile edible insects that live well on dead and dried plant material. Or try to come up with novel ways to confuse future archaeologists, like building a stone henge in the bottom of Lake Erie.
  • by Colin Castro ( 2881349 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @08:32AM (#55355131)
    The scientist said that within the human lifte time we might be able to see the effects of what leads to a supervolcano. Basically within decades we could start seeing signs of a supervolcano that might erupt in 100+ years. That's what the article says.
  • Volcanos are good at grounding aircraft - so everyone will have to go on ground transport. Heading south all at once could be tricky - especially if someone puts a wall in the way.
  • Somebody needs a few more years of real-world experience and tested hypotheses before making claims like this.

  • Good Grief (Score:5, Informative)

    by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @09:31AM (#55355447)
    They are not saying it's a matter of decades from now when it will blow. It about how long it took for magma to move into the system until an eruption. The current study says decades, versus a previous study of another volcano that said millenniums.

    There's still debate about about pinning down "the precise trigger of the last Yellowstone event."

    None of these super volcanos are going to erupt anytime soon. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/1... [nytimes.com]

    So clam down. You're much more likely to get hit by car crossing a street then by a super volcano.
  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @09:41AM (#55355519)
    When even Fox News reports that it may be directly and immediately profitable [foxnews.com] to prevent such a disaster then we have some hope as a species. After all the initial investment would be less than 0.5% of our military budget, it would make money by generating electricity, and the reality is Yellowstone has the potential to level America to smoking ruins with a far far far higher probability than some malnourished idiots with an assault rifle or two on the other side of the planet.
  • by boudie2 ( 1134233 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @09:51AM (#55355589)
    What would happen if "some nutjob" like in North Korea had one good missile and one good nuclear bomb attached to it and lobbed it right into the middle of the Yellowstone caldera? Would that possibly set it off or just make a mess? Or they could just throw a bomb in the back of a cube van and drive right in there. Precarious times we live in.
  • It's a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese!

    Either that or it's another scientific conspiracy to keep research $ flowing into worthless research while those darned scientists get rich off the taxpayer's backs.

  • The eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone is the basis of the Netflix show Van Helsing. Not a Zombie apocalypse, but a vampire apocalypse.
  • Old Faithful isn't really that faithful.

  • perhaps the timeline from the underground basin filling to eruption is more on the scale of decades.

    How long until the underground basin fills up?

    If that is still thousands of years, who really cares?
    But if it is due to be a year or two, I think all those "other continents" (where all life won't be destroyed) will start to re-think their immigration quotas.

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