Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States. More than 3 million visitors per year visit the park to camp out, hike the many trails, marvel at the scenic attractions, and to view Old Faithful, the steam driven hot water geyser that is the iconic symbol of the park. Probably few visitors are aware that they have entered a potentially catastrophic super volcano eruption zone that whenever it happens to once again erupt will totally devastate about one third of the United States and threaten life the world over.
Welcome to Yellowstone Park and to One of the Largest Active Volcanoes in the World
Yellowstone National Park is located above a chamber of molten rock and gases that makes it one of the largest active volcanoes in the world. Yellowstone may not look like a typical volcano as it is not cone shaped and does not protude from the earth. The Yellowstone Park volcano features a “caldera” – a depression in the Earth equivalent to a crater top and which is some 1,500 square miles in size. However, it would be a huge mistake to underestimate the eruptive power of the Yellowstone volcano based upon its deceptive appearance. The crater above Mount Saint Helens, which erupted in 1980, was only 2 square miles.
The last major eruption at Yellowstone occurred about 640,000 years ago. That eruption ejected 8,000 times the ash and lava of the Mount St. Helens event. The most violent eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano occurred about 2.1 million years ago. That eruption was so powerful that it caused a global event by placing so much ash and debris into the atmosphere . So much sunlight was blocked from reaching the earth that over a period of years there was only one season – Winter. Without enough sunlight most plant and animal life died. The explosion was a near extinction event for life on earth.
Disturbing Signs of Increased Activity at Yellowstone Caldera
A huge question for the United States and for the world is when will the Yellowstone super volcano once again erupt? Over the past few years there has been an alarming bulge in the caldera, indicating that the volcanoes dome is pushing upwards at the rate of about 3 inches per year. In addition, since 2007 there have been swarms of minor earthquakes at Yellowstone.
However, volcanologists with the U.S. Geological Survey state that they believe that super volcanoes are likely to give decades, even centuries, of warnings before a full scale eruption would occur. It is somewhat alarming that a few of the events that volcanologists cite as warning events, such as bulging of the caldera and a high-level of earthquakes swarms, are now occurring.
A Full Scale Yellowstone Volcano Eruption Would Totally Destroy About 1/3 of the US
There is one thing that volcanologists agree on. A full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone volcano would cause immediate widespread death and destruction not only over Wyoming, the state where Yellowstone is located, but over roughly 1/3 of the United States. In addition, life over the entire world would be threatened as volcanic ash blown high into the atmosphere blocked out the sun.
A full-scale eruption of the Yellowstone volcano is not the type of natural disaster that one can really prepare for. The destruction would be so great and widespread that there would be few, if any, places to seek safety. Then the next fullbore eruption may be 100,000 years from now. But then again, it could be tomorrow, no one really knows.
Probably, the best way to prepare is to lead your life as if the eruption were forecast to occur tomorrow. Hopefully, tomorrow will never come, but if it does you would have few if any “I wish I had done that” regrets.
Discovery Channel, “America’s Explosive Park” By Larry O’Hanlon