Just What Is the Yellowstone Super-Volcano?
A super-volcano, aside from the fact that it can bring with it more death and destruction than a regular volcano, has a caldera instead of a volcanic crater. The structure is actually very hard to notice from ground level. You will need to take a plane or a helicopter to see its full size.
Yellowstone’s caldera is HUGE, measuring 34 x 45 miles (or 55 x 75 kilometers). It was formed during the last eruption which took place 640,000 years ago.
Underneath the earth there’s this huge place where molten lava accumulates. It’s called the Yellowstone hot-spot and it is carefully monitored by measuring the temperature via satellite and also at ground level (by checking the water temperature). Since the Earth’s crust is moving, the magma chamber always erupts in a different place (unlike a normal volcano that erupts through the same crater over and over again).
What Happens If a Yellowstone Volcano Eruption Occurs?
In short, most of the United States would be covered with a few feet of ash, nothing will live, and everything will be destroyed. At least that’s what happened the last time. And, if geology taught us anything it is that if something happened once, it can happen again.
Anything within a 1000 mile range would probably not survive. Even if you can still breathe the air, your lungs would get clogged with ash and small particles of glass. And keep in mind that the last eruption spewed over 240 cubic miles of debris into the air (that’s 1000 square kilometers)!
One other thing you can expect is some sort of global cooling that might even cause snow even if it’s summer!
Expect earthquakes, flash floods, and even wildfires. These have always come hand in hand with volcanic eruptions.
Just like during the volcano eruption in Iceland, air traffic will be stopped. In fact, you can expect the entire transportation system to be seriously affected during a Yellowstone volcano eruption.
What’s the Situation Right Now?
Well, there’s always activity at Yellowstone. There are around 1000 earthquakes each year. The satellites detect every year either an rise or a fall of the earth’s crust under the pressure of the hot-spot. There are geysers that are constantly discharging themselves.
From a “political” point of view, there are those who believe it will happen and those who think it’s unlikely. However, not preparing for it is more than foolish considering there’s absolutely no way to guarantee that such a disastrous event won’t occur within our lifetime.
Here’s an interesting news report from Fox in 2009 telling us that “Yellowstone Lava Dome Filling Up Quickly”. While the article tells us that there’s no reason to panic, theory states that when that dome is full, it IS going to erupt. Any documentary on super-volcanoes will tell us that.
In fact, the documentary I just finished watching tonight was pretty clear that the levels of earth right underneath the hot-spot are either rising or falling, meaning there IS something going on. Frankly, the only argument non-believers have is of statistical/probabilistic nature:
Well, if it happened 640,000 years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 2.1 million years ago, what are the odds of this happening again in the future?
Any math teacher will tell you that these 3 numbers don’t give you an arithmetic progression. You need a lot more of them. Plus, this is mother nature we’re talking about! You think that hot-spot is going to develop a brain and think: “Oh, I’m almost full with magma but I can’t erupt because I’ll break the pattern!”
Of course not! They why not do the right thing and prepare?
An article on National Geographic (also from 2009) tells us that the magma volume is 20% larger than previously thought while another one in 2011 warned of a sudden rise of this magma pocket. They tried to make it sound cute by stating that “the super-volcano took a deep breath”.
Look, I’m not asking you to turn your life upside down and listen to the news 24/7 for a possible Yellowstone volcano eruption. There are simple things you can do in order to get ready. Plus, scientists tell us we have days, maybe even weeks ahead before it happens. Modern technology can read the signs and give us a head start. At least as far as a Yellowstone volcano eruption prediction is concerned.
But there’s a bigger problem that I want to discuss. It’s the thing I warned you about in the beginning of this article.
A Super-Volcanic Eruption With Global Effects
Here’s a fact: Yellowstone is not the only super-volcano out there. We’ve got one in Mexico, one in Japan, one in Colombia and so on. Each of them is capable of throwing at least 240 cubic miles of volcanic ash, glass, and debris.
Here’s another fact: it’s likely that such an eruption can be so powerful that it can have GLOBAL consequences. That means you now not only have a Yellowstone volcano eruption to worry about but also, say, the Lake Toba super-volcano, whose last eruption 70,0000 years ago is said to have caused “a bottleneck in human civilization”.
In addition, the U.S. has another, “smaller” caldera that no one talks about, the Long Valley Caldera. It would not be considered “small” if it were to erupt. This one was formed 760,000 years ago but strong “recent’ activity was reported in the 1980’s. Could this be a signal that it’s about to blow?
And let’s not forget the other, smaller volcanoes. In fact, scientists believe that the west coast volcanoes are more likely to erupt than Yellowstone’s caldera. It now seems like there’s a volcano threat everywhere you go, right?
Bottom line is, wherever you travel, if you’re remotely close to such an eruption, you’re facing a potential risk. As always, better safe than sorry.
Ok, enough said about that. Let’s talk about some specific ways to prepare, shall we?
Preparing for a Volcanic Eruption
Preparing for a volcanic eruption is not that complicated. Minimally, you need a gas mask for each of your family members. A bug-out bag for each person is also a must.
Another thing you can do is get one of those N95 respirators. You can get 10 of them for less than 20 bucks off Amazon. (As a side note, the N95 mask is also good protection against the AH1N1 virus as well as a multitude of other contaminants.)
Next, you need to carefully consider bugging out. Your decision will depend on how close you are to the caldera and the potential magnitude of the eruption (which is impossible to determine with certainty), you’re going to either bug in or out. Probably out.
Just in case you can afford the luxury to bug in (let’s assume for a moment that things aren’t that bad), you’re probably still going to have to spend between a few days and a few weeks inside the house. This is an event where a large stockpile of food, water, and everything else could be the difference between life and death.
You can prepare even further and start growing indoor plants. You can also prepare your home for the ash that is about to cover it. The last thing you want is for any of that ash to make its way inside your home.
Even, if you’re not directly affected by massive amounts of ash and debris, the air will most likely still be contaminated to a certain degree for some time. Staying indoors is the best option.
Another thing you might want to do is prepare your pets. Unfortunately, there are no gas masks for them that I know of, but you might consider a PET SAFE enclosure such as this one?
What to Do When a Volcano Eruption Actually Happens
Depending on how much time you have and the distance between you and the eruption, the most likely scenario is to get moving. There will be no time to waste. You may only have time to get into your car and drive. This is why it’s important to make sure you have a bug out bag and as many supplies as possible already packed inside it.
If you decide to bug in, make sure you get everything you need within the four walls of your house. Also make sure that you tightly close all doors windows and that you seal any other places through which any ash or debris might come in. Pay specific attention to gaps around doors and windows. Turn off your air conditioning system and seal up any vents to the outside.
Wanna Keep An Eye On Activity for U.S. Volcanoes?
There’s a website which monitors all of the volcanoes in the United States right here. This is particularly useful if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii (in which case I strongly suggest you pack AT LEAST those N95 respirators).