A supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park could destroy civilization on earth as we know it, the UK's Independent reported on Sunday. Scientists say the supervolcano could erupt without an external trigger.
Scientists had believed that an earthquake would be needed to trigger the quake, but now geologists say that a build up of pressure would be enough to trigger the quake.
Supervolcano's size surprises geologists
The volcano under Yellowstone is much bigger than geologists had previously thought and could wipe out most animal, human and plant life on the planet.
The Independent subheadline warned: "Scientists have analysed the molten rock within the dormant supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park and found that eruption is possible without any external trigger."
The scientific study showed 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 molten rock.
A lava cave 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.”
“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.”
The last major eruption happened on North Ameriac 640,000 years ago and covered the continent with ash causing dramatic global cooling. Geologists agree that an eruption now could possibly wipe out human life on the planet.
Scientists 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."
Geologists believe the previous Yellowstone supervolcano eruptions occurred about 2 million and 1.3 million years ago.