Everything's Fine; Yellowstone Supervolcano Not Wiping Out Humanity Anytime Soon

Oct 17, 2017

The geothermal heat that warms the waters of Yellowstone's Solitary Geyser is caused by the volcanic hot spot under the park. The national park sits atop the largest supervolcano on the continent.
Credit Ken Lane / Flickr

A study out from a group of Arizona State University grad students is stoking fears that an eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone could happen a lot faster than scientists previously thought.

Despite the hype, everybody can take a deep breath and relax. When it comes to supervolcanoes, we’re safe.

The last time the giant caldera that gives the park its geothermal attractions blew on a monumental scale was 630,000 years ago. That was one of just three eruptions over the last 2.1 million years.

Now, what the grad students found were crystals in the rock dating back to that last big eruption. They indicated fresh magma streamed into the area under what is now the national park in a matter of decades and triggered an eruption. Before, scientists thought the inflow of magma took thousands of years.

When it comes to geologic time, decades barely register as a flash. The grad students concluded that an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano could come with little notice – say 50 years instead of a few thousand.

Boise State volcanologist Jeffrey Johnson tells the Statesman people can calm down; humanity is not facing an imminent threat from underneath Wyoming. He says dozens of small and survivable eruptions have taken place over the millennia in the park and emphasizes there's nothing to worry about.

Since the last major eruption in Yellowstone occurred more than 600,000 years ago, Johnson thinks it's much more likely volcanic activity would visit Idaho's Craters of the Moon which sees eruptions about every 10,000 years.

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