Tag Archives: volcano

Death from above…or below?

I have been following the geothermal activity at Yellowstone National Park with some interest. It is one of those problems that has experts talking – as although it is an old problem. It is one that is quite unique – and funnily enough, we have no modern data on globally catastrophic earthquakes and volcanoes.

Potentially it could wipe out life as we know it – but it could also just dribble. We sit on a World that is in constant danger from meteor showers, we are at the beck and call of global climate anomalies and every day is riddled with dangers that we just don’t know about (which is often good!).

There was an interesting fact on “QI” with Stephen Fry:-

What is most likely to kill you? Being struck by lightning, or being hit by a meteor?

Oddly enough the meteor was the answer, as when you work out the odds, being hit by lightning  is less likely to happen than a total global destroying meteor strike.

This is based on the fact that a catastrophic meteor collision would wipe out everyone,  where as a lightning strike may be a more frequent event Рbut it generally only hits a single person at a time. Total population wipe out by meteor is 1 in several million, where as one lightning strike hitting (not killing) someone is around 1 in half a million.

So you see, we live continuously, but obliviously in dangerous times, so why worry?

I digress again though, as the main purpose of this blog entry is to present this fascinating article by Richard Brill, who is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. I found the article in the “Star Bulletin” online, and have been given kind permission by Richard to publish it on my blog – so many thanks to Richard Brill.

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Quake swarm at Yellowstone may signal blast

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 04, 2009

More than 250 small earthquakes occurred in Yellowstone Park between Dec. 26 and Monday.

Scientists wonder if last month’s swarm of tremors, the most numerous and intense in this area in many years, might be a harbinger of a larger event.

Yellowstone National Park sits atop a supervolcano. The entire park is the depression of a caldera more than twice the size of Oahu that is the result of an unimaginably large eruption some 600,000 years ago.

By comparison, the caldera left by the explosion of Mount Saint Helens in 1980 is about the size of downtown Honolulu.

Saint Helens ejected 1.4 billion cubic years of ash that was detectable over an area of 22,000 square miles.

The last Yellowstone eruption, which was not even the largest in Yellowstone’s history, ejected 2,500 times the ash of the Saint Helens explosion.

Should we be alarmed by this uptick in activity?

Scientists studying Yellowstone from the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Utah and National Park Service at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory say that recurrences of cataclysmic eruptions are not regular or predictable.

A supervolcano eruption at sometime in the future is inevitable with 100 percent probability. Eight supervolcano eruptions are known from the geologic record and there may be even more.

Although nothing, including the recent earthquake swarm, points conclusively to an imminent eruption, the researchers note that Yellowstone erupts about every 600,000 years.

Geologists continuously monitor the inflation and deflation of the Yellowstone Plateau, which indicates pressure changes in the magma chamber that lies as close as 5 miles below the surface in some places.

The elevation of the caldera is 35 inches higher than when measurement began in 1923, and it has been moving upward since mid-2004 at a rate of up to three inches a year – more than three times faster than has ever been measured previously.

An explosion matching the last Yellowstone eruption, which released 60 million times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb, would most certainly result in millions or even billions of deaths worldwide, both directly and indirectly.

One study predicts that half the U.S. could be covered in ash up to 3 feet deep. Earth could experience a “volcanic winter” with ash in the atmosphere keeping sunlight from reaching Earth’s surface for several years.

The largest supervolcano eruption within the last 25 million years occurred at Lake Toba in Sumatra 73,000 years ago. The energy released was at least 15 percent greater than Yellowstone and 20,000 times greater than the largest human-made nuclear explosion.

It plunged the Earth into a volcanic winter, and might have eradicated 60 percent of the human population, leaving as few as a thousand breeding pairs to propagate our species.

We cannot predict, prevent or prepare for such cataclysms, but we must be humbled by the knowledge that such events have been and will continue to be an important part of the history of our planet on geological time scales.

Without them we would most likely not be here at all, and they might someday render us extinct like the dinosaurs.

Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. E-mail questions and comments to rickb@hcc.hawaii.edu.

More interesting articles can be found HERE – or just click on his photo.

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One thing that never crossed my mind is the effect even a lesser eruption could have. I read somewhere that a smaller eruption could still send clouds of ash up into the local area, and as such it would fall and settle on reservoirs etc.

Local Nuclear power stations rely of this water to cool the reactors, and if it is that water is to badly contaminated, they will not be able to clean and filter it quick enough to supply the reactors. On top of this, there would not be time to shut down the reactors safely. As such there would be scattered nuclear disasters similar to Chernobyl.

This is all theory and off of the web mind you – but it does make you think about the potential knock on effects of a large eruption.



She’s late – and that could be trouble for all of us

The Yellowstone National Park Caldera (super volcano) goes boom every 600,000 years or so…. and she’s a few thousand years over due… For your information, here is a link to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory that has constant updates on activity in the area.

I’m not going to get technical – there is plenty of information available on the net – but I will try to give a simple blog entry on a very potent source for the end of life on Earth. The following is pretty accurate, although I haven’t re-read my old research, so I may have messed up a few parts, BUT the general gist of this blog entry is correct (I am open to corrections though).

Very basically: Yellowstone sits on a huge volcano (about 2o miles side to side). It wasn’t discovered for a while, simply because it was so big…. so much bigger than anything like it before.

So what is the big concern? Well, Archaeologists found thick layers of ash from thousands of years ago whilst on various dinosaur hunting digs around the world. The odd thing is, this layer was made up of the same ash, from the same place – and has been found in thick layers world wide.

It goes back about 600,000 years since the last explosion (and about 600,000 before that) – and it caused a volcanic winter. If I remember from my readings (books by proper scientists… not Wikipedia…), it is the possible cause of the lack of diversity in horses and humans. There are many types of birds, fish etc… but only one type of human, and very few horse variations. This is because the world wide darkening of the skies due to ash after the last eruption pretty much wiped out the species.

Is it any concern now though? Yes… more so in the last few days if you watch the news. The swarm earthquakes that surround the Yellowstone Caldera have picked up in intensity – a lot. Now this could just die down, or it could be the prologue to a bigger eruption. Maybe not a full blown eruption – maybe nothing – but also maybe the cease of existence as we know it – much as it was 60,000 years ago.

What would happen? Well, America would go pretty quickly, and then the volcanic ashen cloud would plunge the World into a volcanic winter – which is a bit colder than you’d want it to be… a deathly cold. The earth, in a worse case scenario, would not recover for many, many thousands of years. No life at all.

The knock on effects of a huge volcanic eruption could cause the already fractured¬† island of La Palma (in the Canaries) to collapse into the sea. The scientists believe that this would cause a huge tidal wave unlike any we have seen before. Let’s face it, dropping an island into the sea is going to cause a bit of a splash – but the Islands are a bit special. When they fracture, the huge land mass will slide, rather than fall.

Imagine making a flat hand, then pushing it down and forward into a bath of water. The result is a push of water and huge displacement causing a wave. La Palma will cause a wave that would reach all the way over to, and wipe out the East coast of America (and a few hundred miles in shore).

Regardless of the Yellowstone Volcano, La Palma is a worry anyway and already being monitored. The fracture is being recorded all the time, but even as it grows bigger there will be no defence against a wave that will hit multiple continents and that would make the Phuket Tsunami seem like a light April shower.

Should we worry? “Is there much point in worrying?” is the real question. These events are out of our hands any way and there is nothing we can do to stop or defend against them.

Food for thought on top of this is another thing I read (A Bill Bryson book about a brief history of time for the layman)…. It talked about the possible causes for the end of the World – including the Yellowstone volcano, the La Palma tidal wave and finally, a meteorite strike….

Surely a meteor strike is the least of our worries with the volcanic winter and giant floods? Apparently not! Earth has been likened to a blind man crossing a hundred lane motorway at rush hour over and over again. Earth is the blind man, the motorway is the meteorite storms we are currently missing at the moment….

We really are lucky to have evolved this far!!! You’ve been surfing on this huge globe, through deadly space rocks, fractured ground masses, and an environment on the brink of killing us all….and you never knew it – AND you have survived it – so why worry now!?

Here’s to tomorrow and life on this time bomb.

This could very much be a reason to embrace stupidity though.

I’m a little concerned as to the future as I have read the facts on these things – and verified them against other sources. In this case my knowledge makes me worried – so maybe blissful ignorance would be a better option – and if that is the case, I recommend that you don’t read what I have just written!!!

If this did interest you, then I recommend you take a look around and do some reading yourself.

A good start is this Bill Bryson book. Easy to read and take in – not too heavy going, but very informative.


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