Yellowstone Supervolcano

November 19, 2017

Did you know that there is a supervolcano in the United States’ own Yellowstone National Park? That’s right… the National Parks Service reports that the more than 4 million people  who visit the park every year tread on potentially deadly ground. Here are 5 things everyone needs to know about this massive supervolcano:

1. The last time a supervolcano erupted on this planet was 27,000 years ago.

Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand, is the caldera and remnant of the supervolcanic eruption.

2.  It may erupt much sooner than previously thought.

The magma reservoir heats up the water to near-boiling temperatures. This creates a unique environment for thermophilic archaea, resulting in colorful hot springs such as Grand Prismatic SPrings

A reservoir of magma lies below every volcano. All of that magma is spewed when the volcano erupts. Geologists previously believed that the magma would required hundreds of years to refill, but know it is thought this takes only decades. That may seem like a long time, but geologically speaking it is very short.

3. We would have plenty of warning if it started acting up.

Technology has gotten so much more advanced over the last 25 years, it is estimated that we would have weeks, if not months or even years, to prepare for the eruption, because scientists are now able to detect movement underground better than ever before (2). The U.S. Geological Survey closely monitors the volcanic activity, but natural disasters are often unpredictable.  

4. It can spew lava 240 cubic miles. 

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

That is a thousand cubic kilometers! If it were to erupt again, it would reach Idaho,Montana, and Wyoming. The ash could fall as thick as 10 feet, and would make a significant impact on climate in the region.

5. We’re not likely to fry anytime soon.

Yellowstone Waterfall

The U.S. Geological Survey states that the likelihood of an eruption is only about 1 in 730,000. This is the same chance as Earth being hit by a large asteroid . No need to retreat to the doomsday bunkers!

While the supervolcano could potentially pose a threat to millions upon millions of people, it is being closely observed, and we would have plenty of advance warning in the event of an eruption. Yellowstone is one of the most beautiful places in America, deadly or not, and visiting is definitely something that is on everyone’s bucket list. Another thing to check off the bucket list: walk on top of a supervolcano!

Claire Houchen

Claire Houchen is a staff writer for the Colonial Scope. She is from Louisborg, Kansas and is currently a freshman double majoring in Biological Anthropology and Biology with a concentration in Cellular and Molecular Biology. She is also a member of the Elizabeth J. Somers Women's Leadership program. Claire was the recipient of of the Kansas Idea Network Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) grant in 2017 for a project on hepatic histology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. She also works as a lab assistant in the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, researching neurogastroenterology.

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