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Yellowstone National Park: The Active Super Volcano

Caldera, Mt. St. Helens, Yellowstone Caldera

Think of a volcano, and you may imagine soft lava flows on Hawaii, or the giant explosion of Mt. St. Helens. Think of a super volcano and you may come up short. Mankind has never recorded a super volcano eruption, but they have occurred in our history.

Toba erupted roughly 75,000 years ago and almost sent man to the recycling bin. Anthropologists believe Toba whittled the human population to just a few thousand souls, or the size of a small town, and created a genetic bottleneck from which we descend.

It would take a REALLY BIG volcano to do that. Bad news for us, there’s an active one in Yellowstone National Park. In fact, the park itself is a super volcano. The large Yellowstone caldera was formed when the magma chamber underneath the park erupted, then collapsed into the void left behind, annihilating everything nearby and causing mass destruction hundreds of miles away.

Yellowstone has erupted several times in ancient history, and the largest known eruption two million years ago was 6,000 times the size of Mt. St. Helens.

If Yellowstone erupts again, it can end life in the western United States.

If that happens, we won’t have to worry about pollution, terrorism, or healthcare. If that happens, most of us won’t have to worry about much of anything. It’ll be instant death for millions of Americans, and a slow death for tens of millions more from the fallout of hot ash. Just like Mt. St. Helens but reaching as far as the Mississippi River!

The really scary thing about this is that we don’t know when it’ll happen again, but that it will.

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Yellowstone, located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, sits on a cavern of molten rock and hot, crushed gases, and is just five miles from the hot magma waiting to burst free from underground pressure.

The park sits in a vast valley, which at first glance seems to be an oasis of nature, but is in reality the depression left behind by multiple eruptions. The beauty of the trees and the diversity of its animals is a direct result of the fatal destruction it has previously caused. And at some point in time the park will take back what it gave-in an incredible way.

Yellowstone appears to erupt with a caldera forming explosion every 800,000 years. The first recorded eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago, the second 1.3 million years ago, and the last just 640,000 years ago. If there is a trend, it points toward the eruptions growing further apart and weakening significantly. The last eruption was smaller than the second and is dwarfed compared to the oldest.

But even the smallest of these caldera forming eruptions would be enough to set mankind back thousands of years. If Yellowstone went off tomorrow, it would flip off the lights and send mankind into another dark age.

Expect billions of tons of ash as fallout from any super-sized Yellowstone eruption. The strong shaking could trigger earthquakes hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. Yellowstone, and the land close to it, will be destroyed instantly, much as the land directly around Mt. St. Helens was annihilated. But, instead of the destruction being in miles, it’ll be in hundreds of miles.

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Heat from the blast will stoke fires, burning up much of the forest not touched by the initial blast. The climate will be directly affected for decades as the sunlight is blocked by the ash and cloud. Mankind will experience a sudden and sharp ice age, making it hard to grow crops. The degree and severity of what will happen is hard to predict, but it’s obvious the disaster will be much larger than anything else we have experienced.

Even if there isn’t a caldera forming eruption, slow moving lava flows (much like the ones in Hawaii) have been recorded frequently in the past. The most recent eruption of this type occurred 70,000 years ago, about the same time Toba blew its top. But thirty other lava flows swept through the Yellowstone caldera since the last great eruption. Having been quiet for 70,000 years, another flow may very well be imminent, and though it won’t devastate mankind, it can cause serious damage to the park itself, and destroy America’s greatest wildlife refuge.

Hold on! There is good news…

Scientists don’t think Yellowstone will erupt in our lifetime. There are no apparent signs that an eruption is imminent. There are no frequent earthquakes, land bulges, cracks, or minor eruptions that occur in other volcanoes. But the reality remains, no one has ever seen one of these things actually go off, and they are clearly different from every other volcano eruption we have seen. There may be no warning, or we may already have our warning. As far as we know, Old Faithful may not have been so faithful two hundred years ago.

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