Scientists Warn Yellowstone Supervolcano Explosion Could Kill 90,000, Cause ‘Volcanic Winter’ Across US

The Yellowstone National Park sits on top of a supervolcano with the potential to wipe out two-thirds of the United States if a full eruption ever took place. Scientists warn that should the Yellowstone supervolcano erupt, 90,000 people could be killed instantly, with molten ash being spewed 1,000 miles from the park itself.

In addition to the instant deaths, the eruption could send the majority of United States into a “volcanic winter” as a thick layer of ash could cover the U.S. blocking the sun and causing temperatures to drop drastically. Though the doomsday scenario is frightening, how likely is it that the Yellowstone supervolcano will erupt in the near future?

How Stuff Works recently investigated what could be expected if the Yellowstone supervolcano were to explode. The publication notes that a full explosion is expected to instantly kill 90,000 as a 10-foot molten layer would blanket the earth up to 1,000 miles from the explosion site. In addition to the immediate deaths, molten ash would prevent search and rescue teams from entering the area to provide help to survivors. Air travel would be suspended due to ash in the air, and a “volcanic winter” could blanket much of the United States and other countries.

“Sulfuric gases released from the volcano would spring into the atmosphere and mix with the planet’s water vapor. The haze of gas that could drape the country wouldn’t just dim the sunlight — it also would cool temperatures.”

Though the scenario sounds frightening, scientists note that there only one in 700,000 chance of an eruption each year. Therefore, chances are slim a full eruption will take place in any given year. National Geographic notes that the last three supervolcano eruptions on earth actually took place at Yellowstone.

“The last three supervolcano eruptions have been in Yellowstone itself. The most recent, 640,000 years ago, was a thousand times the size of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980, which killed 57 people in Washington.”

Though the most recent eruption was extremely powerful, it wasn’t the most powerful eruption in the Yellowstone supervolcano’s history. In fact, 2.1 million years ago, the supervolcano erupted in an explosion that was two times more powerful than the eruption 640,000 years ago, making it two thousand times more powerful than the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

Prior to research published in 1979, geologists had assumed that Yellowstone was dead or at least in its dying phase. However, researcher Bob Smith would turn that theory upside down with the discovery that the ground was doming and that the supervolcano was a “living, breathing, shaking caldera.” As a result, large amounts of research began pouring into the region, and it was discovered that the supervolcano is cycling in a bid to finally get enough magma to erupt. Though the supervolcano is cycling up to erupt, scientists claim the volcano’s cycles are making it impossible to predict the next eruption.

Smith notes that the Yellowstone volcano appears to have found a balance and equilibrium for the time being, but Smith quickly noted that those findings “wouldn’t hold up in court.” So when is the next big Yellowstone supervolcano explosion slated to happen? Scientists simply don’t know, claiming that it could happen in our lifetime or possibly never again. What do you think of the one in 700,000 chance of a Yellowstone supervolcano explosion?

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