Scientists from around the world are banding together to better study and, hopefully, predict a cataclysmic and potentially life-as-we-know-it ending event -- the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano and other massive volcanoes similar to it on the planet. The idea is to gather pertinent information about the emissions of volcanoes located around the globe to better understand and predict a coming eruption, perhaps buying humanity enough time to thwart the eruption itself or its catastrophic effects.
The Express reported this week that a "global network of researchers" was being established to create a worldwide monitoring system for large -- including supervolcanoes like Yellowstone -- and active volcanoes around the world. The monitoring system would not only study emissions but would also act as a possible early warning network against the potentially devastating impact of a super-eruption. Emphasis would be placed on the detection of gaseous emissions, particularly carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, given that the pair's relative volume to each other is a harbinger of volcanic eruptions. At the same time, scientists say the carbon dioxide monitoring will have the added benefit of aiding in the study of greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming.
The DECADE (Deep Earth CArbon DEgassing) initiative comes as an answer to the growing fears of a supervolcano mega-eruption event bringing on a mini-ice age or producing enough smoke, ash, and ejecta to effectively alter weather conditions on the planet. In fact, as the Inquisitr reported in July, the best that experts can do in predicting the impending devastation of a Yellowstone supervolcano -- or any of its sister volcanoes, for that matter -- is roughly a one-year notice prior to said eruption. Given that humanity has no actual methods of thwarting those eruptions, only reacting to them, the time period is tragically small to prepare for what could very well be an end-of-the-world scenario.
Even worse, as the Express noted, studies indicate that there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that a super-eruption will occur during the 21st century. The last time the Yellowstone supervolcano, home to the largest supervolcano on Earth, erupted was 1.3 million years ago, spewing an estimated 22 million kilometers of ejecta.
The head of DECADE, Tobias Fischer, a volcanologist at the University of New Mexico, said of the initiative, "We are deploying automated monitoring stations at volcanoes around the world to measure the gases they emit. We measure carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and water vapour (steam), the major gases emitted by all volcanoes on the planet."
"In the hours before an eruption, we see consistent changes in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted relative to sulphur dioxide. Keeping an eye on the ratios globally via satellites and on-site monitoring helps us learn the precursors of volcanic eruptions."
DECADE is hopeful that it will be able to triple the number of volcano monitoring stations around the planet by 2019. Still, the emissions monitoring is not a definitive predictor.
Maarten de Moor, who works out of the National University in Costa Rica, explained that scientists are "more and more confident that changes in the carbon to sulphur ratio precede eruptions. Potentially, we can now see an eruption coming just by looking at gas emissions."
As it stands, the DECADE monitoring system, if the gas emissions can be used as eruption predictors, would be the only warning humanity would have of a world-altering supervolcano eruption.
According to CNN, researchers at the University of Utah last year discovered that one of the magma chambers — a previously undetected chamber — underneath Yellowstone National Park expanded the supervolcano's size 2.5 times what it was thought to be. The new data indicated that just that single magma chamber, which, oddly enough, was the supervolcano's topmost chamber, held enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon 14 times.
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