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Supervolcano trigger: Study finds trigger for Armageddon supervolcano eruption

The supervolcano trigger for a supervolcano like Yellowstone Caldera would be the end of the Earth as we know it today. By researching supervolcano triggers, scientists are trying to understand the force that would have the power to change life on Earth and humanity forever. In a study published by Nature Geosciene on Jan. 5, 2014, researchers at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), in Grenoble, France, describe that the immense volume of a supervolcano's magma and its pressure would be enough to trigger an Armageddon-like supervolcano eruption.

Supervolcano trigger: Study finds trigger for Armageddon supervolcano eruption
National Geographic

“Scientists have reproduced the conditions inside the magma chamber of a supervolcano to understand what it takes to trigger its explosion. These rare events represent the biggest natural catastrophes on Earth except for the impact of giant meteorites,” reports ESRF.

Since the mechanisms that trigger supervolcano eruptions had been elusive until now, scientists simulated the intense pressure and heat in the caldera of a supervolcano by loading synthetic magma into a diamond capsule and firing high-energy X-rays inside - to probe for changes as the mixture reached critically high pressures.

The experiment showed that the transition from solid to liquid magma created a pressure which could crack more than 10 kilometers of Earth's crust above the volcano chamber. "Magma penetrating into the cracks will eventually reach the Earth's surface. And as it rises, it will expand violently - causing an explosion.”

"If we measure the density difference from solid to liquid magma we can calculate the pressure needed to provoke a spontaneous eruption," Mohamed Mezouar, an ESRF scientist, told BBC News.

"The effect is comparable to holding a football under water. When you release it, the air-filled ball is forced upwards by the denser water around it," said lead author Dr. Wim Malfait.

"We think Yellowstone currently has 10-30% partial melt, and for the overpressure to be high enough to erupt would take about 50%."

Besides the supervolcano in Yellowstone, there are about 20 other known supervolcanoes on Earth, including Lake Toba in Indonesia, Lake Taupo in New Zealand, and the somewhat smaller Phlegraean Fields near Naples in Italy.

According to Dr. Wim Malfait, in the event that the magma pressure would be about to trigger a supervolcano eruption, there would be warning signs like the ground rising hundreds of meters.

Even though supervolcano eruptions are triggered only once every 100,000 years on average, when they do occur, they cover countries in lava, and its ash causes catastrophic damages to Earth’s climate and ecology. Or as lead author Wim Malfait expressed it, "we knew the clock was ticking but we didn't know how fast: what would it take to trigger a super-eruption? This is something that, as a species, we will eventually have to deal with. Now we know you don't need any extra factor - a supervolcano can erupt due to its enormous size alone. Once you get enough melt, you can start an eruption just like that."