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The Super Volcano

 article about The Super Volcano
2004-05-23


The eruption of a super volcano would plunge the Earth into an ecological nightmare that is almost past understanding.

I have to admit something right off the bat. I love natural disasters. Dont get me wrong - I dont love them for the numbers of humans who are killed, homes and businesses lost, or other animals and plants killed. Nope, I dont like that at all. But I love volcanoes, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunami, and all the other things our planet happily throws our way. Our world is a dynamic planet, changing under our very feet, and she doesnt care if what she does is inconvenient for us. She does what she does. And we have to accept and deal with it.

Volcanoes are especially neat. To me, volcanoes are a way of reaching into the bowels of the Earth. It seems to be her way of saying that no matter how quiet things seem, theres fire beneath the crust we live on, and she can make that painfully clear to us with very little warning. When I was about 11 years old and my family and I were living in Italy, we took a vacation to see Pompeii. We got to do the unparalleled adventure - we climbed Mt. Vesuvius. Its not that hard of a climb - theres actually a path all the way to the cone, or at least there was when I was there in the early 1970's. It was stunning to stand at the top of an active volcano, to feel the soil, hot in my hand, to see pots of mud boiling at the bottom of the cone. Its an experience Ill never forget.





Now, although due to illness I am beyond my volcano climbing days, I have cable, and thanks to my television, I see a world of discovery and adventure, research and exploration. Ive seen shows on volcanoes, tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes, and everything in between. And then, I saw something incredible.

Now, please note that I am not going to go into the entire path of this discovery. That will be another day, and hopefully written by someone more knowledgeable than I. There is an incredible story behind the one Im going to tell, and it should be told.

Anyway, this show comes on and its called Super Volcanoes. Super Volcanoes!!! Ive heard of regular volcanoes. Ive seen what Mt. Vesuvius is capable of, and the world saw Mt. St. Helens blow, in addition to other volcanoes all over the world. But a super volcano? What the heck is that?

Well, it seems that there are volcanoes so big, so massive, that when they erupt it effects the climate of the entire Earth. You would have over nine inches of ash over 1,000 miles away. The area effected by the blast would be more than 2,000 square miles. And when this one blows, it will be 2500 times bigger than Mt. St. Helens. And where is it? Some of you might have actually walked through it. Its Yellowstone National Park, in the north-western region of the United States.



Map of Primary Ash Zone


Map of Primary Ash Zone

It is estimated that volcanic activity began in the Yellowstone region around 2 million years ago. Its been erupting on an average of every 600,000 years. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago. Far be it from me to say that we are a tad overdue, but there it is.

Now, please dont think that Im saying that it is going to blow. Right now they have noticed some elevation of the caldera, that is 53 by 28 miles in size - thats sort of where the "super" must come in. There has been an increase in thermic activity and seismic activity in the park.

Now, you must be asking yourself what will happen when Yellowstone does blow. Well, it wont be pretty. There will be significant ash deposits over two-thirds of the country. The massive amounts of ash, dust, and gases will cause seriously reduced amounts of sunlight to reach the Earths surface for an extended amount of time. There will be massive loss of life, loss of animals and plants and possible extinctions, crops would fail all over the planet, and we would find ourselves living in a mini-Ice Age for at least several years.



Primary Blast Zone


Fortunately, we have the USGS (United States Geological Service) and the University of Utah keeping an eye on it, and there have actually been advances in predicting volcano eruptions. Of course, there is no way of knowing when it will erupt, but I wouldnt move just yet. There are several other super volcanoes throughout the world, all of which would have an equally devastating effect on our planet and our lives. We all owe it to ourselves to know what is around us, and to be aware that our dear Mother Earth is not always predictable, not always kind, and is completely capable of threatening our survival as a species.



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