Yellowstone super eruption would cause a ‘climate shift’

We’d be talking instantaneous ice age.

Yellowstone is “under strain” according to a group of seismologists monitoring the volcano.

Seismologists from UNAVCO, a nonprofit university-governed consortium, are using “Global Positioning System, borehole tiltmeters, and borehole strainmeters” to measure minute changes in deformation at Yellowstone.

These strainmeters are extremely sensitive, so sensitive that they can record surface waves on Yellowstone Lake.

In an article for the Billings Gazette, David Mencin and Glen Mattioli, geodesists with UNAVCO, say “the strain signal is larger than would be expected if the crust under Yellowstone were completely solid”.

However, they add “these findings are no cause for alarm.”

A Yellowstone supervolcanic eruption “could could be a staggering 6,000 times as powerful as the one from Washington’s Mount St Helens in 1980,” says

If such an eruption should occur, “a climate shift would ensue as the volcano would spew massive amounts of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which can form a sulphur aerosol that reflects and absorbs sunlight.”



4 thoughts on “Yellowstone super eruption would cause a ‘climate shift’

    Most volcanic activity in Yellowstone would not qualify as “super eruptions,” in which 1,000 km3 or more material is ejected from a volcano. Lowenstern told io9 that supervolcanoes are “very large, single eruptions” that usually last for about a week. But, unlike what you’ll see in certain television specials and Hollywood films, even a super eruption at Yellowstone wouldn’t endanger the whole United States. It also wouldn’t cause the kind catastrophe you might expect.

    Damage from the Super Eruption

    A super eruption might come fast and the Yellowstone magma source is enormous. But don’t expect walls of lava pouring across the continent. Lava flows would be likely be “within the vicinity of the park,” Lowenstern said, limited to a 30-40 mile radius. When a volcano erupts, he added, at least a third of the liquid rock that’s ejected falls right back into the volcano’s maw. The rest lands nearby, or goes up into the atmosphere.
    Most of the real damage comes from ejecta that’s airborne. But it’s not fiery death from above. Instead, most damage would come from “cold ash” and pumice borne on the wind. Lowenstern and his colleagues consider it “disastrous” when enough ash rains down that it creates a layer of 10 or more centimeters on the ground — and that would happen in a radius of about 500 miles or so. This ash might reach so far that you’d see a fine dusting of it on your car in New York.

    Air traffic would be grounded, of course, as we saw after the 2010 eruption in Iceland. But mostly this ash would pollute farms in the midwest, as well as the Mississippi River. In a sense, it would be like an industrial accident, clogging waterways and agricultural areas with toxic sludge. The worst outcome of this event would be the destruction of our food supplies and waterways.
    After the vents released their gasses and the ground collapsed, it’s likely that we’d see a global effect on temperatures. “Any big eruption causes a cooling of the atmoshpere, especially especially with that much ash,” said Lowenstern. In 1812, the Mount Tambora super volcano eruption in Indonesia lowered global temperatures. A caldera-forming eruption in Yellowstone would be bigger than the one in Tambora, so climate change would almost certainly follow. The cooling, however, would only last for a few years.

    Lowenstern said there’s no reason to expect that we’ll have an eruption of this size any time soon, especially because the caldera has gone through many regular eruptions that release pressure. “It may be done, or it may move on to another area,” he said. “In a couple million years, [the volcano] might start in the northeast.” As continental plates shift, so too do volcanoes — so the Yellowstone supervolcano might not go off until it’s far beyond the area we call Yellowstone today. “A more likely eruption is going to be a lava flow, a small event,” Lowenstern said.

  2. I agree Robert. Yellowstone blowing up would force a cooling on the world and it would likely happen during an existing ice age like the Toba eruption and cause a further plunge in temperatures. I am not sure of the duration of the cold snap but it would last a while.

  3. Drilling into the magma chamber or drilling too deep runs the risk of depressurization and could cause an eruption. Imagine something like a hot plastic with many times its volume in volcanic gases dissolved in it. Give it a way of escaping and if it doesn’t plug the bore hole it will explode out the borehole. The last thing you want to do is provide pressure relief to an over pressurized silica rich magma bomb that has a 3 mile rock cap and access to an endless supply of basaltic magma from a mantle plume. The best you can do is to ensure that the ground water supply doesn’t dry up.

  4. Steve,
    What does the ground water do?
    I would have thought that any water reaching the magma would rapidly expand into super heated steam and through pressure would further destabilise the plug and surrounding crust.

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