There is a 10% chance the Yellowstone Supervolcano could blow sometime in the next 80 years; and while that’s a pretty slim chance, the event would devastate humanity.

Experts at the European Science Foundation (ESF) are warning that instances of volcanic eruptions are the highest in 300 years. They fear that a major eruption could kill millions of people and wreak havoc on the planet.

In the spring of 2015, scientists said they had discovered that the Yellowstone Supervolcano was much bigger than they thought. A newly found reservoir of magma and hot rock that lies 12-28 miles beneath the volcano turned out to be 11,000 cubic miles (46,000 cubic kilometers), “which is about the volume of Long Island with 9 miles of hot rock piled on it, or 300 Lake Tahoes.” [1]

A report – Extreme Geo-hazards: Reducing the Disaster Risk and Increasing Resilience – warns that not only is the caldera more expansive than previously thought, governments around the world would be left nearly helpless should Yellowstone erupt.

The Yellowstone Supervolcano is thought to have last erupted some 640,000 years ago. When it did, it probably covered much of North America in 1.2 m-2 m of ash, close to 6 feet. ESF scientists say supervolcanoes, like the one at Yellowstone, pose more of a danger to human survival than asteroids, earthquakes, nuclear war and global warning.

Yellowstone is not the only supervolcano that poses a threat to the planet. There’s also Mount Vesuvius in Campagnia, Italy, and Popocatépetl near Mexico City. Scientists put the risk of eruption at the other sites in the next 80 years at 5-10%. [1]

If any of them were to erupt, it would kill millions of people and destroy the earth’s atmosphere with ash and toxins “beyond the imagination of anything man’s activity and global warming could do over 1,000 years.”

Source: tjflex2/Flickr
Source: tjflex2/Flickr

The report says:

“Although in the last few decades earthquakes have been the main cause of fatalities and damage, the main global risk is large volcanic eruptions that are less frequent but far more impactful than the largest earthquakes.

Due to their far-reaching effects on climate, food security, transportation, and supply chains, these events have the potential to trigger global disaster and catastrophe.

The cost of response and the ability to respond to these events is beyond the financial and political capabilities of any individual country.”

The report concludes:

“Volcanic eruptions can have more severe impacts through atmospheric and climate effects and can lead to drastic problems in food and water security, as emphasized by the widespread famine and diseases that were rampant after the Laki 1783 and Tambora 1815 eruptions.

“Hence extreme volcanic eruptions pose a higher associated risk than all other natural hazards with similar recurrence periods, including asteroid impacts.”

The Tambora eruption in Indonesia killed 100,000 people, but the ash clouds meant no summer the following year and it was “one of the most important climatic and socially repercussive events of the last millennium,” the report said.

The Laki event instantly wiped out 10,000 people, but the long-term consequences of the eruption killed another 25% of the population and were felt across the globe, setting off a famine in Egypt that reduced the population by 1/6. Breathing problems claimed the lives of about 25,000 people in the U.K.

The eruption also caused extreme weather worldwide.

Today, much bigger populations, global travel, food chains, and our reliance on technology would mean that a supervolcano eruption would kill many more people and cause a greater worldwide calamity.

The scientists add that research over the last 300 years shows that we are in a “volcano season.”

This week, Mount Soputan in Indonesia erupted for the second time since mid-November.

On January 3, Mount Momotombo erupted in Nicaragua, a month after it had spewed hot rock and ash into the air on December 1, 2015. It had been dormant for 10 years before then. [2]

A Wired article published January 5 said the following volcanoes are likely to be active in 2016:

  • Cotopaxi, Ecuador

The only Cascade Range volcano to erupt in the past century is Mount St. Helens, but there are 13 potentially active volcanoes stretching from California to Canada. [3]

Sources:

[1] Discovery News

[2] Mirror

[3] Wired


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.