A supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is much bigger than geologists had previously thought and could wipe out most animal, human and plant life on the planet, the Raw Story reported on Friday.
It sounds like science fiction, but scientists say the giant volcano under Yellowstone could wipe out human life in North America and possibly the planet.
A new study released in San Francisco shows that the Yellowstone volcano has a magma chamber more than twice as large as previous estimates. The so-called supervolcano stretches for more than 55 miles and contains between 200 to 600 cubic kilometers of lava.
Underground cavern of molten rock
A cavern containing the red-hot lava is 20 miles wide and almost two miles deep.
“We’ve been working there for a long time, and we’ve always thought it would be bigger,” said Bob Smith, University of Utah professor. “But this finding is astounding.”
The study results were presented last week at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.
“We record earthquakes in and around Yellowstone, and we measure the seismic waves as they travel through the ground,” said Dr. Jamie Farrell, of the University of Utah. “The waves travel slower through hot and partially molten material (and) with this, we can measure what’s beneath.”
Last volcano disaster in North America
It’s been a while since we had a disastrous volcano in North America. The last major eruption happened 640,000 years ago and covered the continent with ash causing dramatic global cooling. Scientists agree that an eruption now could possibly wipe out human life on the planet.
Geologists say the cavern of molten rock is much further east than was previously thought.
“To our knowledge there has been nothing mapped of that size before,” Farrell said.
But just because it is bigger, doesn’t necessarily make it a greater risk, geologists say.
When could the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone erupt?
Geologists say they can’t predict when it will erupt but they expect then can give us an early warning by monitoring seismic activity.
"There is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption or hydrothermal explosion. That's the bottom line," says seismologist Robert B. Smith, lead author of the study and professor of geophysics at the University of Utah in a press release six years ago. "A lot of calderas [giant volcanic craters] worldwide go up and down over decades without erupting."
Are we overdue for a volcanic eruption on Yellowstone? Yes, some scientists say we are overdue because the Yellowstone super volcano erupts every 700,000 years or so.
Geologists believe the previous Yellowstone supervolcano eruptions occurred about 2 million years ago and 1.3 million years ago.