|Forget Trump, This Huge Volcano Could Literally Wipe Out Life on Earth ***
If only for a moment, this story is forcing many to put the current political chaos "into perspective"
Yes, Donald Trump is president. And yes, he has access to the nuclear codes—a fact that has become all too vivid in recent weeks. But many allowed themselves to forget, if only for a brief moment, about the man in the White House on Thursday to hone their attention on what is potentially an even more horrifying development. As USA Today reported, new research indicates that the supervolcano resting beneath Yellowstone National Park "may blow sooner than thought, an eruption that could wipe out life on the planet."
USA Today's Matthew Diebel notes that Arizona State University researchers have "analyzed minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent mega-eruption and found changes in temperature and composition that had only taken a few decades. Until now, the magazine reported, geologists had thought it would take centuries for the supervolcano to make the transition."
"The discovery, which was presented at a recent volcanology conference, comes on top of a 2011 study that found that ground above the magma reservoir in Yellowstone had bulged by about 10 inches in seven years," Diebel adds.
Scientists believe that the volcano's last supereruption took place around 631,000 years ago. As the New York Times notes, researchers "suspect that a supereruption scars the planet every 100,000 years, causing many to ask when we can next expect such an explosive planet-changing event."
Though no one is attempting to put a time frame on the next eruption, Hannah Shamloo of Arizona State University observed that it is "shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption."
Amid the perpetual chaos of the American news cycle and the looming threat of war between nuclear-armed nations, commentators on social media met the possibly dire new research with a mixture of alarm and somber humor.
"We are all just living at the mercy of the super volcano under Yellowstone," concluded director and environmentalist Josh Fox. "Puts things into perspective doesn't it?"
*** Just to give this some context, virtually all of Yellowstone is the caldera of a supervolcano (think of a martini glass rather than the cone-shaped volcano we all know) deep within the earth. It is one of about 30 of these things world wide, but believed to be the only one not covered by an ocean. It was only about 60 years ago when someone (Bob Christiansen of the USGS) finally noticed that Yellowstone was a supervolcano.
Because we can readily see this one, it is studied to death. Every few years a new survey issues a new dire warning, usually followed by a few sobering studies that confirm what we should all know instinctively - and that is that we don't know nuthin'.
But if scientists are right, there is some vague regularity to the eruption of Yellowstone and, using those presumed opinions, we're overdue.
While this is not my field of professional study, I do read a lot of science. And based on what I've learned over the years, I believe an explosion of Yellowstone is inevitable. If it blows, it might do so with a whimper. But it could also blow with such force that most life (certainly you and me) would be eliminated.
So I accept that Yellowstone could one day kill us all. If you're reading this, that hasn't happened. Yet.
- prh, ed.