Supervolcano Study Yields Unnerving News

    January 6, 2014

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