Yellowstone National Park, once the site of a giant volcano, has begun swelling up, possibly because molten rock is accumulating beneath the surface, scientists report.
Way to start the article, AP! The volcano under Yellowstone, properly known as a caldera, remains as healthy today as it was the last time it blew Idaho, Wyoming and Montana over the international date line. To give a sense of proportion, volcanoes resemble calderas in the same way that an electric Razr scooter and an Airbus A380 both fall in the category of powered transportation.
Calderas have craters like volcanoes, but in Yellowstone’s case it’s hard to see because Yellowstone Park is the crater. Here is a map of the crater with the rim in red:
All that cool geothermic activity that packs in the visitors? Actually a message from nature that you’re walking in a place where the line between you and an “interesting” geologic event is quite thin.
Smith and colleagues report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science that the flow of the ancient Yellowstone crater has been moving upward almost 3 inches per year for the past three years.
That is more than three times faster than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923, the researchers said.
So should we be worried or not? This justaposition from the article amused me:
“[T]here is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption,” said Robert B. Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah.
[…] “But we have no idea how long this process goes on before there either is an eruption or the inflow of molten rock stops and the caldera deflates again.”
“No evidence” of an imminent eruption is a bit less reassuring when you consider that no caldera has blown in the history of human civilization. We don’t have “evidence” because we have no idea what an imminent caldera burst would even look like.
None of this means that people should run around panicking. After all, calderas are still unknown in the history of human civilization, and it would be weirdly ironic if one just decided to blow while we’re trying to deal with global warming, peak oil and the Bush deficit. One existential crisis at a time, please.
As Bush deficits, peak oil, and global warming are all hoaxes perpetuated by the effeminette liberal elite so that they can raise our taxes, I’m going to have to assume that all this talk of “Calderas” and “Yellowstone National Park” and “The Associated Press” is a bunch of made-up hoowie used to sell more of Al Gore’s movie tickets and books.
Nice try, John. But we’re all a little smarter than that around here.
The interesting thing is that, in a way, a big volcanic explosion could actually be the one thing that saves humanity. Global warming’s effects have been countered by global dimming for quite some time now, and we’re starting to see that if we cut back on fossil fuel use, the resultant drop in global dimming will happen faster than the drop in global warming.
To counter that, we need a massive amount of particulate matter in the air to create global dimming without the associated global warming effect, and a really big volcano going foom could do that.
The problem is that the Yellowstone caldera is, you know, just too big and the problems it would create by erupting outweigh the benefits.
On the bright side, nobody would give a rat’s ass about terrorists afterward.
“The Pacific Northwest just vaporized, and you’re worried about shampoo in my carry on? F**K YOU!”
Well Nat’l Geographic had a pretty good computer rendering of what it would look like when Yellowstone became hot molten red yellow and orange stone.
Just check out Super Volcano or Mega Volcano or whatever it was on Mega Disasters. This is something I’ve been following for a while especially once I learned that one of our largest national parks is pretty much a giant gash in the earth that is presently scarred over so to speak. That and the fact that if it did decide to go it would take most of the country with it followed by the rest of the world, albeit more slowly.
And the title for the post Hell is an apt description of the aftermath.
This could get ugly. If that sucker blows before 2009 Bushco will be waterboarding half of the population of Wyoming to determine who set it off.
I’m glad I got to visit Yellowstone before it became a molten lake of fire.
No. Prevailing winds would make the midwest uninhabitable in short order. The Pacific Northwest would actually be the last place on the globe affected by it.
I’m not quite sure how this will happen. Does fallout cover the great plains and destroy food production? Do we have an ice age from atmospheric particulates?
The main thing I learned from reading Krakatoa is that super-volcanos lead to really awesome sunsets all over the world. And huge whirling vortices of death in the ocean or wherever.
I’m actually not too worried about this one. I mean, I’ll still be building my underground shelter in an abandoned missile silo I will purchase from the US Gov. but it’s a long term thing.
Nothing I can do to prevent it. Caldera blows, human race (except for me and my picked lieutenants) dies, and then after we stabilize the climate we emerge and build MNPundit-World.
Supposedly when Yellowstone goes everything for about 800 miles radius from the center will be instantly vaporized, and the plume of ash covers the entire planet for around 100 years. Few multicellular organisms survive this 100 year cooling period. Lucky for me I am only about 90 miles from the caldera so my death will be quick and painless. Oh and everyone in the US would be killed instantly by the shockwave caused by the rapidly expanding air, ie hot magma hitting cold air.
What are you talking about? If it blows it will almost certianly be connected with the Iranian nuclear program. We already have a source in custody who has sworn up and down that Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden have a joint nuclear weapons lab under Yellowstone. He only needed a tiny bit of unconventional interrogation…
Personally, I’m more worried about New Madrid than I am Yellowstone.
Does this mean that your death will happen faster than instantly?
He’d have to find the ones living abroad at the time.
Three states would basically look post-nuclear, the midwest would probably end up buried under a thick layer of white-hot debris and flaming ash would rain on the rest of the eastern US. Stratospheric debris would come down pretty much wherever, and the global particulate load would make Krakatoa look like a chili fart. I’m not sure who would win the greenhouse warming vs. particulate cooling contest, but even a stalemate won’t do us any favors.
At least that’s how I understand it.
This all sounds pretty awesome, but when do the zombies come into play?
Models predict Yellowstone would dwarf Krakatoa and that everything you just said pretty much would occur. The amount of matter ejected into the atmosphere by the initial eruption would be enough to cloud, and thus cool the earth into a mini-ice age. Further the resultant ash would be on the order of several feet thick, very fine but very heavy. The blast itself would wipe out most of the states in the surrounding area and have immediate effects within several hundred miles.
Food production would indeed be halted in the midwest as the ground would be covered in ash, the sulfur in the atmosphere mixing in condensation would result in acid rain further killing crops. The death of plant life would immediately affect the food chain all the way up and this would, within months, affect the entire world.
It would also take a very large chunk of the human population of the world with it. Needless to say Katrina, by comparisson, was a spring shower and Humanity is not equipped to deal with a disaster of Yellowstone proportions.
Oh the Magma chamber, FWIW, is not even directly under Yellowstone, it’s somewhere under (if I recall) Montana, that means if Yellowstone (which is in Wyoming) is rising then the Magma chamber (the main one) back in Montana is most likely full…
On my planet, we have a name for that kind of event: we call it a “great dying” or (among the pointy headed types) “a mass extinction”. Now, the Yellowstone caldera is about 630Ky old — and, to my quite confident knowledge, there have been no mass extinctions in the last three quarters of a million years.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be watching too closely when the cladera blew next time — but I don’t think we need to worry about a cataclysm quite that dramatic.
not to get pedantic, but a caldera isn’t a volcano, a caldera is a geological feature similar to a crater, but rather than being formed by an impact or explosion a caldera is the after effect of certain large volcanoes with very large magma chambers caused when the emptying of the chamber causes the land above it to collapse creating a very large crater-like feature.
I so wish I had used that line…
i seem to remember a show on the discovery channel (so beware accuracy) that said the last supervolcano eruption somewhere near Indonesia about 75,000 years ago nearly made the human race extinct, with only several thousand humans surviving (i think it said 5,000-15,000 surviving globally.
I have only one suggestion for those of you left behind after Yellowstone does its thing, though: footie jammies. The nights are going to be profanely cold for a few years…
California caledera rising also:
That much of the earth being uplifted a foot every four years. You can’t consider that anything other than apocolyptic.
Indeed, if the world’s species can survive glacial-interglacial cycling then they can survive a caldera. Human civilization, though, is probably a bit more sensitive.
pffft. Tim, I’m sure intracontinental airline traffic would be completely unaffected by a volcanic eruption of that scale.
and the smoke and ash would actually focus the satellite beams into ultra-condensed signals thereby requiring drastic tinfoil hat reinforcement
particulate matter would dim the skies, but lots of stuff would also burn, releasing particulates as well as CO2. the stuff that doesn’t burn from hot ash etc will die from acid rain and rot. so whole forests and grassland and farmland burns or dies off, releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. also, when it cools off plant life won’t exactly take off and replenish itself.
the short term effects are easy to figure out, but its hard to say what happens when the haze clears and the extra jolt of CO2 starts kicking in. yikes.
Awwww….as if I’m not already worried enough about an asteroid hitting us.
But MERRIKEN civilization can survive anything! I’m sure the government has plenty of spaceships to take us to New America.
that was the Toba supervolcano, and IIRC it was even bigger than the last yellowstone eruption. it also coincides with a big genetic bottleneck in human history. geneticists have determined that about 75000 years ago humans came a hair’s breadth from going extinct, explaining in part how we have so little genetic diversity than pretty much any other mammal species.
Actually, volcanic soil is some of the most fertile in the world. Given a proper amount of rainfall, vegetation in the region probably could explode across the region.
Of course, if the nuclear-winter-esque fallout that ensued didn’t drive humanity to the brink of extinction, it would probably herald a new Dark Age to put the pre-Renaissance histories to shame.
thanks chopper. i figured someone else would have remembered that.
oh, and john
perhaps he meant instant as in about the speed of instant coffee
I think food production would be halted because all of the farmers would be dead. Everything else is just details.
Anyway, it’s clear that the Yellowstone caldera needs to be immediately shipped to Gitmo and waterboarded thoroughly. Anything less would be de facto capitulation to the Magmafascists.
Many species would go extinct thanks to this, many more would be pushed to the brink. It may not be a complete and total mass extinction, it would however be an apocalyptic event.
And yeah they do predict everything within 800 miles being basically vaporized really quickly.
Proponents of the Toba catastrophe theory might argue that “mass extinction” does not need to occur in order for a volcanic eruption of VEI 8 level to nonetheless have massive deleterious effects on both the environment and the species that survive the immediate calamity.
Having lived in Minnesota for a couple of years, I can just picture the day after the explosion, the folks come out of their houses, break out the snow blowers, and say things like, ‘This snow smells kinda funny, don’t ya know?’
not when it’s cold as balls and the sun is a barely-noticable hazy orange blob in the sky.
Well the rain that fell would have to be non acidic and the particulate matter that was ejected into the outer atmosphere would have to fall or be cleaned out before real recovery could begin.
As for Nuclear Winter-Esque….more like full blown Nuclear Winter for a long long time is how they put it.
And this, folks, is why we’re beating RedState.
That and we like BJ’s
It’s not magma filling the chamber(s). It’s oil.
Oh boy are we set FOR LIFE! Gas for 50 cents a gallon.
I thought it was because we fucking cuss a lot.
brilliant. all we need is some drunken yokel to go “a-shootin’ for some food” and we’ll be set forever.
So I live in Hawaii. Do I have a chance at survival?
no, you live in oregon, liar.
Can we pump the magma and have it power our cars? Some Montana politician is sitting on a corn ethanol-like goldmine.
Finally I know what happened to the world in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. Seems obvious now.
Goddamit, this is going to give me nightmares for the rest of my life.
It’s quite cold now, so it’s making me feel warm and fuzzy.
Oh yeah: fucking fuckity fuck fuck fuckers. Fuck.
So the caldera already blew?
Fox News just informed me that back in 2003, they uncovered a plot by terrorists to blow up the Yellowstone Caldera using gasoline, fertilizer, and sparklers.
Close the Park IMMEDIATELY. Arrest all Brownies in Wyoming. Get Drudge to issue a siren.
As I understand the article and the comments upthread, your life expectancy would be much higher than that of someone living in the continental United States if this caldera erupts. (I’m not so sure about that, though; it’s one thing to say that wind across America tends to flow west to east, but around the globe?) But in Hawaii or Illinois, if this erupts, life expectancies would be measured in days.
I’ve read that if this blows, only cockroaches and Malkin survives. Subtle difference, natch.
We got the same caldera situation in Mammoth, CA, the Long Valley Caldera (http://lvo.wr.usgs.gov/History.html). A number of giant vents on the ski slopes vent gases. Coupla skiers fell in one last year and died, not the fall but of the vapors. There are a number of maga volcanos.
that’s what i was thinking.
You got pedantic.
same goes for those of us living in Southern California. Sure the Midwest becomes one giant hole (an improvement f you ask me) but we get to watch the end before it gets to us.
Wasn’t Mount St. Helens an example of the same kind of event (though a couple of orders of magnitude less catastrophic)?
I think I read something around those lines a while back, but I can’t place the source.
Together, I bet they could repopulate the earth. Sulfuric acid clouds to blot out the sun for mood lighting, pillowy soft piles of thick black ash, and Malkin in a cheerleader outfit. Put on a little “Let the Eagles Soar” by John Ashcroft, and its practically a porno.
Ypu might survive Yellowstone, but when the Big Crack breaks off, you are toast..and quite possibly me, from the resulting tsunami…
We’re all DOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEDDDDDD!
From a geological standpoint, the Yellowstone Hot Spot has created some of the beautiful scenery on my coast…the great headlands were an island arc created as the North American plate passed over what is now Yellowstone. The Snake River Basalts (when I was in college..we didn’t even know what was under the incredibly thick layer that is under eastern Oregon. Someday in the distant future Nebraska will have a volcano, too. Of course we won’t be around to see that unless Dr. Who picks us up in the Tardis for a little spin. So, an interest in geology aside…we are doomed… :)
My favorite caldera: Crater lake. Photos just don’t capture the intense cyan blue of the water.
The caldera is much smaller than Yellowstone’s, but because it’s small enough it can be easily understand as a collapsed volcano, even on the ground.
As the Wiki notes, “Some hydrothermal activity remains along the lake floor, suggesting that at sometime in the future Mazama may erupt once again.”
This is because God is displeased with America. Proof that God hates teh Gay.
Any of the Cascade peaks or calderas could erupt.
The PNW, from Cape Mendicino up into B.C. is a heady brew of potential disaster.
The volcanoes, the earthquakes, the tsunamis…the plates that are subducting under us to create the Cascades is actually spreading at the same just offshore.
I figure it is just the price to pay for living in such a beautiful and bountiful spot.
Besides we all die of something.
Same goes for Mammoth and a lot of the places here in so cal. It’s only a matter of time.
Well, that depends your definition of civilization. I’m no scholar, but even I have heard of Santorini aka Thera aka Atlantis(maybe). So the last time it happened, history and civilzation sort of came to an end for a while.
Ha. The next volcano to probably go will be Mt. Fuji (it’s making ominous rumbles already) which means a huge ash plume for 200 miles around. Tokyo will be toast.
On the bright side, we’ll finally get the decentralization of the gov’t we in Japan have been yowling about for years.
(Here’s how you know you’ve been in Japan too long: during an earthquake, you don’t even really wake up. Your mind does an automatic calculation that this isn’t the Big One and you zonk out again.)
Now now, let’s have a little consideration for those of us who chose tornadoes, blizzards and tractor pulls over earthquakes, fires and mudslides.
This is like the choice between peeing standing up or multiple orgasms. You chose the peeing standing up…suckers.
Why choose when you can do both, like me?
we gladly give up multiple orgasms because it means we don’t have to physically give birth
I hope that people who camp in Yellowstone are really careful about where they hammer in their tent pegs.
The Other Andrew
Speaking as someone who lives in Montana, let me say this: eep.
If I somehow survive, and I crawl up on my roof and wave a sign at the CNN helicopters, please do call your local representative and ask them to send me water.
Look on the bright side: maybe it’s the cure for global warming?
Actually Mt. St. Helens is experiencing the same sort of “interesting” (geo-geek speak for “you’re all gonna dieeeee!!!!”) thermal activity recently. The crater was expanding at some here-to-fore unexperienced rate and scientists weren’t sure what it meant (still aren’t).
I keep waiting for Powerline to say “these events clearly prove global warming is false, we’ll all be fine and Bush is a Genius” (a la they’re brilliant scientific claim that it’s all the sun’s fault for global warming and we’ll be fine too).
Spoken like a true wussy liberal. It’s the pussification of the human species, I tell you.
24 should be on 24 hours a day on all the channels. Then we’d all be properly amped up to survive terrorist attacks on our geology like this.
No. In the case of Saint Helen’s, it’s geo-geek speak for “It’s gonna be a blast! 2500 ft in a could of dust!”
For what it’s worth, I’ve been hearing about the bubble beneath Yellowstone for at least five years.
OMG! FIVE YEARS CLOSER TO DOOMSDAY! RUN! RUUUUUUN!!!
with the measured size of the magma chamber it took a long time to fill…
Due to particulate dimming effects, or by getting rid of a lot of the life forms that keep digging up old carbon and setting it on fire?
If it’s the latter, I don’t see it as much of an upside! (Except, perhaps, for the handful of people who survive–and even they, I suspect, would have preferred to just work out new crops for a new climate zone.)
Doesn’t Cheney live somewhere near the park?
Re: Mt. St. Helens. As someone who actually watched it with his own, terrified, 12-year-old eyes (okay, from Olympia, but still, we had to drive home through the ash mess), let me just say that volcanoes can focus the mind wonderfully.
But most importantly, the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption was piddling on the global volcano scale, even in the years since then. When Mazama blew (Crater Lake), about 7500 years ago, it made a huge freaking mess out of the whole Pacific Northwest. We know that the Indian story of the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia was based on geologic reality: a big earthquake, a big landslide, and the damming of the freaking Columbia River.
And St. Helens has never achieved the damage that Mt. Rainier has. If that mountain burps, at least a half million people are going to die. Oh, and Puget Sound is prone to earthquakes, too.
And all of this is child’s play compared to the disaster that might be the big caldera in Wyoming.
Which is why I’m now going to mix another Martini.
I wouldn’t overestimate the threat the Rainier poses — and I live within the lahar zone. My office has a glorious view of the mountain on clear days. One of my kids lives at the foot of the mountain. When it goes — and it will go long before the Yellowstone volcano pops — it’s going to ruin my day, something serious.
That said — well, it’s like capelza says. This is God’s country — lovely even in the rain — and, for those of you in California, we get *lots* of rain. You shouldn’t come any further north that Oregon. Seriously. I’ll trade the occasional big quake and the vulcanism for the scenery.
Technically, not true,
From http://history-nz.org/plateau.html :
“The Taupo Volcanic Zone contains two of the most productive caldera volcanoes in the world, Taupo and Okataina. A caldera volcano is of the type generally so huge that the ground surface falls in, or collapses into the crater which it leaves behind. Lake Taupo fills an enormous hole created by a volcanic explosion in two parts, estimated at approximately 1.800 and 26.000 years ago, and which was seen in the skies as far away as China.”
The Romans wrote about that more recent one when the ash filled the sky over what would become Italy. But on the bright side, Rome went on…
A friend of mine told me about this more than a year ago: all of Yellowstone’s a supercaldera, and it’s still active.
But she said she’d heard the ground temperature had risen to, like, 400 degrees. That sounded fishy, since it was just the sort of thing the news would be coveringt nonstop. I mean, trees and elk and wolves would be spontaneously combusting, and freaking out the tourists.
So I googled, and although the basic facts were right – supercaldera; still active – the apocalyptic stuff was all on religious nutbar sites heralding the End Times. I told my friend to ignore anything those sites said.
Now I wonder if I should apologize to her.
I also wonder if I should still try to quit smoking :)
> Just check out Super Volcano or Mega Volcano or whatever it was on Mega Disasters.
I’m unsure if this is the same programme, but the BBC science unit produced a terrific two-part factual drama premised on a massive eruption of Yellowstone. It was first shown on March 2005 on BBC One. The amount of ash expected to be expelled in such an eruption would have pretty devastating consequences for a large swathe of the USA, especially the mid-west.
Perhaps we can convince the Christianists in the government that we need to start sacrificing virgins to the angry volcano gods again. I know that old chestnut isn’t technically Christian, but neither is Guiliani and Pat Robertson just endorsed him, so it could be worth the attempt. Watching the WND pundits demand that Congress come out in favor of a multi-billion-dollar program to identify the best quality virgins and figure out the most proprituous method of sacrifice would be a hoot, especially since Everybody Knows there are no virgin moonbats…
wingnut zifnab in number one is a total idiot–well, that goes without saying for wingnuts.
More on the Yellowstone Caldera, and others.
There is an interesting program by the BBC: Supervolcano, as mentioned above.
Another thing that cannot be completely discounted is a remake of the Permian Extinction.
Even without the volcanic part nowadays, it makes some good points about temperature rises of 5 and 10 degrees.
The Mount St. Helens eruption was mickey mouse compared to a caldera eruption.
yeah, the santorini eruption left a caldera as well.
i think tim means that no supervolcano has gone off during civilzation.
On the question of scale.
The girlfried and I were holidaying in Italy last year and went on a daytrip up to Mount Vesuvius. You get up there and, though the crater is impressive, you only really feel a shiver when the Guide points out that the current Vesuvius is a pimple compared to the one that smoked Pompeii, and the caldera of that surrounds the current volcano like a town wall.
Wow, you think. I wonder how big these things can get. Then you turn around to admire the scenery of the Gulf of Naples.
The really, really big, suspiciously caldera-like Gulf of Naples.
It’s funny because it’s true.
Meanwhile, there are all the Daughters of Wingnuts who have taken purity vows and their daddies who have pledged to defend their daughters’ hymens. (Gah, what the fuck is wrong with these people?)
Come on sir, what better way to show your patriotism and keep your girl-child pure than to dress her in purest samite and toss her in a volcano?
Cheney’s ranch or human race?
Now we’re just getting silly. What with our comlete fragmentation of the world’s ecosystems I can imagine another K-T event happening because species can no longer chase their ideal climate range by migration. But the Permian extinction? Killing off something like 90% of life on Earth and the sea? Yeesh.
Bob In Pacifica
For years I lived right above the San Andreas Fault. It actually cut across my front yard and into a small canyon across the street on its way under the Pacific Ocean.
It was an eerie feeling, knowing that at any minute your weekly lawn mowing work could be cut in half.
Person of Choler
Amazing. This character can interpolate a swipe at George Bush into any subject.
BDS in its purest manifestation.
yes, he did blame the volcano on george bush.