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Supervolcano Study Yields Unnerving News

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[ Science]

What’s ashen, dark, and dead all over? Earth, potentially – if a supervolcano ever explodes!

The truth is, if a supervolcano were to actually erupt, it could indeed be an extended winter for us – a volcanic winter, that is. Forget about frostbite and mittens; it might pretty much be curtains for civilization. That’s not really news, though. So, why all of the sudden brouhaha over the Yellowstone supervolcano?

Well, a recent extraction of lava from there did actually reveal some rather daunting news about the nature and causes of volcanic eruptions. Up until recently, it had been a commonly held belief that volcanoes required some sort of external force in order to burst. In other words, most people thought it would take an earthquake or something similarly strong to rouse these lava laden leviathans.

Not so, says science.

The experiment performed on the lava in an x-ray laboratory reproduced conditions inside the magma chamber of a supervolcano.

Geoscientists Wim Malfait and Carmen Sanchez-Valle, of ETH Zurich in Switzerland measured the density of molten rock similar to that found in many volcanoes. The ultimate results conveyed that supervolcano eruptions can spontaneously transpire –with or without an external force acting on it – if the magma pressure becomes great enough.

“Until now, nobody had measured the density of the magma that is present in the magma chambers of super-volcanoes,” EZH’s Wim Malfait said in an AFP exchange.

The magma study revealed the nature of these cataclysmic lava explosions as scientists analyzed how it behaves under variances of temperature and pressure. It was subsequently determined that the magma’s density decreased a significant amount under high pressure and density conditions like those it would experience underground. This density disparity means the supervolcano doesn’t need an earthquake or anything else to explode. With just the perfect set of conditions, it can independently produce enough strength to burst through the earth, shooting off molten ash and other fatal goodies as it goes.

But there’s no need to fret. Sure, we might be about due for an eruption, according to how frequently they tend to happen. And, yes, the Yellowstone volcano is 2.5 times bigger than we thought. However, scientists have said for years now that there’s no reason to believe that any of them are in imminent danger of erupting. Also, while preventing a supervolcanic eruption simply isn’t possible, they are currently trying their hardest to generate underground monitoring methods of magma pressure. That way, they can at least inform us when it’s coming.

The question is: Uh… what do you do with news like that?

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Supervolcano Study Yields Unnerving News
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  • Harrison

    “The question is: Uh… what do you do with news like that?”

    You tuck your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye. Right after several hours(or days…or weeks…) of running around in circles wildly flailing your arms, that is.

  • Timothy Swartz

    Does anyone know if it is theoretically possible to relieve the pressure for a supervolcano like this? I know I’m probably sounding naïve in writing this, but I was wondering if it is in the realm of possibility for geologists to one day, in the future, artificially cause the magma in Yellowstone to start “seeping out” such that, over many, many years, it could reduce, minimize, or possibly prevent a supervolcano from occurring?

    • cyn

      I think the major problem is that opening up the caldera might trigger the explosion – it’s my understanding that it’s like a brain aneurysm – all this internal pressure throbbing against the earth trying to hold it in. The earth has a natural checks & balance system with water cooling the magma but it’s the gases created that build up creating the most problem.

      *Unfortunately* the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts like clockwork once every 600,000 years (give or take a few thousand years) & it’s *well* overdue. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago.

    • Sho

      You mean a controlled vent.

      It is possible in theory, but we don’t have technology capable of doing so at the moment. Heck, we were barely able to handle the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

      Another problem with a controlled vent is the risk. It is risky because the pressure helps to hold the dome up. If we vent the magma chamber too much, the whole thing could collapse and erupt anyway.

      Still, it’s better than doing nothing. I sure do hope someone is working on this impending problem.

  • Bernard C.

    Harrison has the right idea there. If there were only someway to bleed off the pressure, we might stop it. But that is total sci-fi and I doubt it can be done.

  • Sig Turner

    I think it might be a good idea to tap into the heat surrounding the Yellowstone magma chamber and use it to generate electricity. This way, we would be getting terawatts of free energy while taking the pressure off the magma chamber and averting a potential extinction event in our time.

    Who’s with me?

  • BS

    When it is your time to go, it is your time to go. There isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Just try to be right with God and those you love and even those you hate. In the end, we all need mercy.

    Nothing is random on this earth. There isn’t single thing random about it. All of life is a test and we are all judged on every moment we live. I know saints that died early, sinners who are still alive, terrible people who are viewed as great, and wonderful souls who are viewed as bad. Cops who are criminals and criminals who are innocent. Hookers with hearts of gold and prudes with hearts of ice. There are Christians who are not Christian at all and non-Christians who are more Christian than they know. Much of this world is an illusion and few things are as it seems.

    Be good to each other. Don’t cause harm. Seek peace. Give mercy. Seek Christ and you will see that all he said is right. Even if you don’t believe in Christ, you will know that he is right about it all. That is really all you can do in this world. Then when death comes for you, smile because it is the end of earthly suffering. This is not the end people. In fact, I have a sneaky suspicion that this is just the beginning. Love as much as you can before the end though. Cherish it. That really is all life is about. The rest is bullshit.