Experts Raise Fresh Alarm: Catastrophic Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruption Could Be Only Decades Away

JohnThomas Didymus

Researchers at the Arizona State University have warned that the build-up to a catastrophic eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano that devastates the global ecosystem and threatens humanity could be only a few decades away or even less. The latest warning contradicts previous estimates that the geological process that leads to a major eruption of the supervolcano takes thousands of years.

The disturbing conclusion comes from a new research study by experts at Arizona State University (ASU). The new study was conducted to help volcanologists improve their ability to predict the next major eruption of the threatening supervolcano.

The last Yellowstone supereruption happened about 631,000 years ago, according to experts.

The ASU study involved analysis of trace crystals obtained from Yellowstone's Lava Creek Tuff, which consists of deposits of fossilized ash from the last major eruption 631,000 years ago. Results of the analysis indicated that the last major eruption of Yellowstone was triggered by a rapid rise in temperature that occurred over a shorter time frame than previously suspected.

Dr. Christy Till, a member of the team of researchers at ASU, told the New York Times that their study found that the geological process that led to the last major eruption did not take several thousand of years to build up as scientists previously thought. They found that the rise in temperature and pressure that led to the eruption, after injection of fresh magma, took place over a much shorter time frame of only a few decades.

Although the latest finding raises concerns, it makes it possible for scientists to accurately predict when Yellowstone's next massive eruption would occur.

"We expected that there might be processes happening over thousands of years preceding the eruption."

This could lead to what is termed a volcanic winter.

A volcanic winter is characterized by a reduction in global temperatures due to volcanic ash, sulfuric acid droplets, and water blocking solar radiation. The decreased solar radiation and drop in global temperatures could lead to a catastrophic failure of agricultural production, global famine, and mass extinction of species due to the toxic effects of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

Based on the assumption that the geological process that builds up magma in preparation for an eruption takes thousands of years, scientists had estimated that the next major eruption of the volcano will not occur earlier than thousands of years from now. However, the latest study indicates that the buildup to a massive eruption could occur in only a few decades.

This means a massive Yellowstone eruption that devastates the Earth could occur in a few years to a few decades from now.

There has been concern about the risk of a major eruption in recent years, following an uptick in earthquake swarms around Yellowstone. Experts from the University of Utah's Seismograph Stations (UUSS) have been monitoring seismic activity at Yellowstone since June 12, following a change in the pattern of seismic activity.

A change in seismic activity around Yellowstone could be the first signal of an impending catastrophic eruption of the supervolcano. Experts reported only a week ago that they recorded one of the biggest ever earthquake swarms -- about 2,475 tremors -- at Yellowstone since June.

Ms. Hannah Shamloo, lead author of the study by the team from the Arizona State University, told the New York Times that they were shocked when analysis of trace crystals showed evidence that the process that could lead to a major eruption does not happen over thousands of years.

"It's shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption."

[Featured Image by Lane V. Erickson/Shutterstock]