Considering that the last large volcanic eruption at Yellowstone took place over 2 million years ago, we assume it safe to bet you wouldn’t recall the ramifications from that event. Let us fill you in. Believe it or not, researches found ashes from the explosion throughout tens of thousands of kilometers, tracing as far as Canada and even the Gulf of Mexico. There have only been a total of 3 massive eruptions from Yellowstone throughout time including this one, another 1.3 million years ago and the most recent at 664,000 years ago. So why the big fuss in the press lately? Well, of course anything is possible but there is no indication that a large event like this will happen anytime soon, within this lifetime or even ever again.
But some buzz has been buzzing due to a trending article in Geophysicists that was published back in 2014 about what a mass eruption could possibly look like based off of a computer supermodel of a Yellowstone super eruption. This model spread ash from the eruption over 330 kilometers into the sky which resulted in a dusting of this volcanic ash over the ENTIRE United States. Different areas of the country suffered different levels of effect, leaving some areas of Montana buried in 70 inches of ash while some other highly populated areas like Washington, D.C. and New York City were only covered in minimal dusting, less than ¼ inch deep. These approximates are based on various factors but can’t predict some of the main factors that would actually make a mass impact on different cities such as the direction and speed of wind during an eruption and days to follow. But according to this model, other states like Colorado and Montana could also suffer feet of ash, glass and debris, wreaking havoc on crops, animals, housing, and tons of different electrically powered equipment.
Despite these threats, we can all calm down and rest assured that even the researchers involved in this model report that the likelihood of this happening at this magnitude is extremely low and there are no concerns of it happening anytime soon if so. More likely are smaller and more frequent eruptions with far less ramifications. So why is it that people are so fascinated with Yellowstone? Well, sitting below the national park is a massive reservoir of hot magma. This runs around 5 miles deep and gets resourced by a huge reservoir that holds molten rock hundreds of miles deep. The ground above rises and falls based on the rising of the magma and the chamber cooling which HAS caused the magma chamber to erupt in the past, although the typical eruption is much, much smaller than the predicted model. The potential for mass disruption and catastrophic effects has had people honing in on Yellowstone for years. The magnitude of a super eruption threat is high, while the possibility is very low. The super eruptions are massive compared to even the largest explosions that we have ever seen, and have the ability to bury entire states.
If we haven’t said it enough already, the possibility of this type of eruption is insanely low but for the fun of it, let’s walk through what a super-eruption would look like if it were to occur. Typically speaking, it could take weeks or even months for the earthquake activity to break up the rocks that would make room for the eruption. Lava would spew out but likely only about ⅓ of it would actually spew out of the volcano. Even at that, the vast majority of lava would stay within the state park. The bigger issue altogether would be from the ash. Ash is a combination of broken up rock and glass. This would certainly be the largest cause for concern as it would eject miles and miles into the air and make its descent all across the nation, leaving some states much more vulnerable than others. Again, the season and current weather patterns during the explosion could make a massive difference in how things actually pan out but our midwest could be left in a pretty dramatic state of soot, enough to bury some areas in several feet of ash.
To the uneducated eye, a couple inches or even feet of ash may not seem very concerning. A little clean up and good as new, right? Well, not exactly. This amount of ash can have cause mass devastation to crops and animals. More concerning than that, the ash would certainly be problematic for respiratory health, causing health issues all over and shutting down air travel due to unsafe conditions. The ash could short out power transformers, block roadways and sewer lines. The secondary effects from this could result in poor and unsanitary living conditions creating even more concerning health issues. The economy would certainly be impacted by the devastation and there would be halted ability to resume typical economical patterns. On top of all of that, climate could certainly be impacted. How? Well, these types of volcanic eruptions emit sulfur aerosols that in turn reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere. The end result, a cooler climate. Although this is a temporary issue, it is drastic and has a domino effect on many things.
Again, research indicates that the chances are almost none to see this type of super eruption in Yellowstone. In fact, as sad as it may be to negate the fascination, there might never be a big eruption in Yellowstone again. However, this does not stop some from following, watching and researching the possibilities. As we know, no amount of research can predict the exact promises of mother nature.