Over the years there have been many doomsday scenarios which have come and gone but one which is ever present on the radar of natural disaster experts is the Yellowstone National Park super volcano. There are varying opinions as to the potential damage an eruption of this super volcano could cause to America and the world but what is the truth and when could it happen?
Yellowstone National Park was established by US Congress as a national park back in 1872 and offers a variety of natural phenomenon and a massive 3,468 mi.² of landscape encompassing lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. The area is home to literally thousands of different varieties of animals, insects, fish and birds and is one of the main tourist attractions in the US state of Wyoming.
However, Yellowstone National Park is situated on top of one of the largest super volcanoes in the world which is said to be 55 km by 72 km as measured by a number of geographical experts around the world. So what exactly is a super volcano and what damage could it do to America and the rest of the world?
To describe a super volcano has a massive volcano is too simple because quite literally a super volcano has the potential to change the climate around the world and immediately wipe out life within a few hundred km radius of an eruption. When you consider that a super volcano eruption is larger than 1000 km³ in size and consists of magma, molten rock and an array of potentially explosive and poisonous gases we may start to appreciate the size of the potential problem in countries such as America, which is home to the Yellowstone National Park super volcano.
The strength and power of a volcano is measured by the Volcanic Explosivity Index which runs from 0 to 8. To give a comparison between “smaller volcanoes” and super volcanoes, the volcanic eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 threw out 1.2 km3 of volcanic ash and only registered at the bottom end of the volcanic index. Mount Pinatubo in 1981 and the infamous Krakatoa volcano in 1883 caused widespread disruption, death and affected the local climate for some considerable amount of time but with 25 km3 of dense rock thrown out during explosions even they only touched level 6 on the scale.
A super volcano would throw out at least 1000 km3 of volcanic rock which would rise 25 km into the atmosphere covering thousands of kilometres of the sky and raining down hot ash and tiny rock particles onto the ground below to a depth of metres in the local vicinity. So how big is the Yellowstone national super volcano?
Yellowstone National Park super volcano
While the vast majority of opinions on the super volcano located under the Yellowstone National Park are pure scientific and yet to be proven, many experts predict that up to 50% of the US could be affected by a massive ash cloud which would cover the skies for many months and raining down ash on areas literally thousands of kilometres away from the volcano itself. This is before even taking into account the deadly pyroclastic lava flows which would see a rolling mass of ash, smoke, lava and rocks literally wipe out all life and vegetation in its path of miles. We saw an example of what damage pyroclastic lava flows can cause during the recent Montserrat volcanic activity.
However, the Montserrat explosion is minuscule in comparison to the potential damage which the Yellowstone National Park super volcano could inflict upon not only America but the worldwide climate. All towns, cities and rural settlements in the local area would literally be wiped out in a split-second as the 500°C rolling mass of lava and deadly ash destroys everything in its path. There would also be significant lightning storms following behind due to the immense heat being pumped into the local atmosphere.
How long would the after effects be felt?
When we talk of natural disasters we often assume that once the pivotal moment has passed, such as the explosion of a super volcano, life and society will get back to normal in the short term. However, such is the power and ferocity of a super volcano that the after-effects could be felt for decades after the explosion due to a number of factors which include:-
Ash clouds covering the earth
If the Yellowstone National Park super volcano erupted it would literally pump poisonous gases and ash up to 25 km into the air. The ash is effectively very small particles of razor sharp rock which have been obliterated during the lava flows and explosion and will literally hang in the air for weeks and months. The thick smog will encompass large areas of the Earth blocking out the sunlight with scientists estimating a reduction in the temperature of the Earth’s surface of -10°.
A mini ice age
It has been proven by scientists that super volcanic eruptions have occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago across the Yellowstone Park area and one may be due any time now (give or take 100,000 years!). There is evidence of substantial change in the local landscape and the onslaught of a mini ice age over the years, which at one point was thought to have pushed the human race to near extinction.
Drought and famine
With the Earth’s surface starved of heat and water, the growing seasons would change significantly with many areas of the earth unsuitable for farming with drought and famine commonplace around the world. This would lead to a deterioration of society, an increase in unlawful activity and potentially threaten the democracy of governments around the world.
While literally thousands of the US population would be wiped out in the immediate aftermath of the a super volcanic eruption at Yellowstone Park, this figure would be minuscule compared to the damage around the world from both weather change and famine as discussed above. However, evidence has been found that of volcanic eruptions pump masses of ash into the atmosphere, although this is not a normal ash.
Scientists have been able to examine the fallout from earlier volcanic eruptions and found that this ash is in effect very small particles of razor-sharp rock which can be inhaled and cause severe damage to the lungs. This has been known to cause a fairly rare lung disease which causes the body’s immune system to literally collapse and bone growth goes out of control leading to excruciatingly painful joints and bone structures around the body.
While we often look at natural disasters and the consequences which these can have on the local area, local property markets and local economies, with the Yellowstone National Park super volcano rocks these will be the last things on our mind!
It is difficult to exaggerate the power of these natural phenomena and while many people will be of the opinion that it will not happen in their lifetime, it will happen sooner or later as history has shown us. Vast areas of America would be wiped out by the eruption of the Yellowstone National Park super volcano and the effect on the world would be felt for decades to come. Climate change, imminent deaths and long lingering fatal medical conditions would dominate the earth with many scientists suggesting this is what may well have wiped out the dinosaurs millions of years ago.