Yellowstone Supervolcano: New Research Takes An In-Depth Look At Likelihood Of Eruption

John Houck

Underneath Yellowstone National Park sits a massive supervolcano. A volcano so big, scientists fear any major eruption would unleash extreme havoc on the environment and the population. While no one can accurately predict when an enormous explosion may occur, a new study is helping scientists better understand the supervolcano's inner workings.

As reported by the Washington Post, scientists first discovered the Yellowstone supervolcano in the 1960s but did not realize its significance until 20 years later. Earth experts evaluating data collected around the caldera detected geological movement underground. Unlike what was previously believed, the supervolcano was alive and active. Molten rock was flowing just below the surface, triggering fears of an imminent massive eruption.

Ever since the 1980s, predictions of a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption came with dire forecasts of environmental damage and human causalities on a global scale. Scientists predict an explosion of the caldera is capable of instantly killing millions of people in the Yellowstone area and much of the U.S. would be buried under several feet of volcanic ash. A cloud of dust and gas would continually circle the Earth, essentially blocking out the sun for years. Without warmth and light from the sun, global temperatures would drop, crops would fail, and many would starve in the aftermath.

With consequences so ominous, scientists incessantly study the Yellowstone supervolcano in an effort to determine when it will erupt next. Recently, a research team led by Dylan Colon, an earth sciences doctoral candidate at the University of Oregon, was able to take a look at the complex and chaotic system that keeps the caldera active.

Using computer models, their study speculates the supervolcano below Yellowstone is made up of two distinct magma chambers, one sitting on top of the other. A layer of non-molten rock separates the two compartments. The lower chamber contains melted rock but not a lot of gas. The upper chamber also holds liquid rock but also contains large amounts of potentially explosive gas.

As long as the two chambers stay separated, an eruption is unlikely, according to the scientists. Fortunately, they do not believe the chambers will combine and trigger an enormous explosion anytime soon. For the time being, a smaller, much less explosive eruption is more probable. The most recent eruption is believed to have happened about 70,000 years ago.

As alarmists warn the next Yellowstone supervolcano eruption is likely to happen very soon, geologists that study and monitor the area are convinced such an event is not very probable in the near future. The most recent study of the Yellowstone caldera was published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters.