The next major volcanic super-eruption could be so destructive that it might potentially send humanity back to the harsh and primitive days of pre-civilization. And while a new study has warned that this cataclysmic event could take place much sooner than what was once forecasted, the new projections discussed in the paper still have the possible super-eruption taking place several thousand years into the future.
Prior to the release of the new study, volcanic experts suggested that super-eruptions are likely to take place once every 45,000 to 714,000 years. As the Daily Mail noted, this prediction was made in 2004, but researchers from the University of Bristol in England now say that these events are more likely to happen once every 17,000 years. And while it’s possible that the next volcanic super-eruption might happen a mere 5,200 years after the last such event, there’s also a chance that it could take place 48,000 years later, according to the International Business Times.
Based on data taken from a database of eruptions known as the LaMEVE database, the researchers estimated that the most recent super-eruptions happened between 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. Using statistical analysis, the team found that volcanic events defined as large eruptions, or those that emitted about 100 gigatons of material, were not as frequent as originally believed, but super-eruptions, or those that spewed at least 1,000 gigatons, were “much more frequent.”
According to the researchers, a super-eruption could be so destructive that it could lead to entire continents being enveloped by volcanic ash, with global weather patterns getting altered “for decades.” They also cited previous research that suggested these volcanic events could “[return] humanity to a pre-civilization state.”
Despite the lack of volcanic super-eruptions in the last 20,000 to 30,000 years, University of Bristol statistical science professor Jonathan Rougier said that that doesn’t necessarily mean our planet will be witnessing one in the immediate foreseeable future.
“It is important to appreciate that the absence of super-eruptions in the last 20,000 years does not imply that one is overdue. [But] what we can say is that volcanoes are more threatening to our civilization than previously thought.”
The new research was published at a time when concern over volcanic super-eruptions has been on the rise. In October, researchers from Arizona State University theorized that the processes driving super-eruptions beneath Yellowstone National Park happened much faster than once thought. According to Newsweek, this led to various “hyperbolic” interpretations of the research that suggested the next Yellowstone super-eruption might indeed happen within our lifetimes, even if the ASU paper did not specifically make such predictions.
The International Business Times also mentioned the recent eruption of Mount Agung in Indonesia, and separate warnings from scientists that ice melt caused by climate change could drive volcanic eruptions in Iceland by changing the pressure on the surrounding terrain. While seismic activity at Mount Agung continues as of this writing, the publication noted that the volcano was downgraded from red alert to orange alert by the Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation (VONA) as of Tuesday.
University of Leicester geochemist Dr. Marc Reichow, who did not take part in the new study, praised the University of Bristol paper, as he was quoted by the Independent as saying the research was based on “sound statistical analysis.” And while he believes that the findings could help scientists predict eruptions in the future, he stressed that volcanic super-eruptions still cannot be predicted with definitive accuracy.