What will happen if the volcano under Yellowstone erupts? Geothermal activity at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. (Thinkstock)
What will happen if the volcano under Yellowstone erupts?
Lexile

You asked us, "What will happen if the volcano under Yellowstone erupts?"
 
Bubbling just a few miles below the surface of Yellowstone National Park is one of the world's largest active volcanic systems and over the last 2 million years or so, it has erupted 3 times in catastrophic explosions, spewing lava and hurtling ash and gases thousands of miles away. So what's the likelihood of that kind of super eruption happening again anytime soon?
 
Um, not high. Estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey put it at about 1 in 730,000.
 
What's much more likely is a smaller, less explosive event.
 
Sure, the lava would still destroy everything in its path, but it'd be relatively slow moving...nothing you couldn't outrun.
 
Oh, no - lava!
 
But if Yellowstone super erupted, well, the full impact is hard to predict, but it's pretty safe to say anything or anyone nearby would be done for, in a fiery, doomsday kind of way.
 
Don't count yourself lucky if you're farther out, though, because that ash cloud could travel huge distances, killing crops along the way, disrupting transportation systems, contaminating water supplies...you name it.
 
And if ash and sulfuric gases make it into the atmosphere, a global volcanic winter could be triggered, causing cooler temperatures and all kinds of horrible snowball effects.
 
But don't worry, because as I said, it's much more likely we'll be outrunning lava.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is it difficult to know for sure what would happen if there was a super eruption?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (65)
  • austinw-day
    11/12/2015 - 11:51 a.m.

    Through out history, there have been very little recordings about super volcanoes having their SUPER eruption. There are thousands, if not millions, of recordings about small eruptions, or the regular eruptions. Can you name a super volcano that erupted and got recorded. When it comes to volcanoes, a lot about it being active and dangerous (as well as the effects) are practically customized. Mainly due to the shape of the volcano, how far down the magma is located and much more.

  • briannec-ste
    11/12/2015 - 03:27 p.m.

    It would be really scary to be living near there and have to outrun lava. Even if it was going slow. Everything would be destroyed. And its a good thing nothing like this will happen anytime soon.

    • petersd1-gau
      11/23/2015 - 01:24 p.m.

      How do you know this won't happen soon? Huh

    • petersd1-gau
      11/23/2015 - 01:31 p.m.

      For the question above I think it is difficult, because there is nothing to see the future. And it would be hard to tell the future by just looking in the ground.

  • holdeno-3-bar
    11/12/2015 - 11:41 p.m.

    It is difficult to know what would eventuate in the case of a super-eruption because it has not been observed. When talking about the frequency of super-eruptions, the author states that "over the last two million years or so, it has erupted three times..." (par. 2) Three times per two million years is a very small frequency. In comparison, modern human life has been in existence for two hundred thousand years. These eruptions happened long before anyone was around to observe it, thus creating a dearth of evidence from which to speculate.
    I liked this article because it deals with vulcanology and massive explosions, both of which are very exciting to me.

  • nikolasm-day
    11/13/2015 - 09:57 p.m.

    This is scary. Thinking about how this one little place can destroy the entire world pretty much. I hope this doesn't happen anytime soon because if it does, I am going to Mars! But like they said, it probably won't happen anytime soon and that is a good thing.

  • ianc-day
    11/16/2015 - 10:46 a.m.

    The likelihood that the volcano will erupt is low so people who live there have little to worry about like the article said. If it did erupt, most people would be out of there before it even happened. I know I would have been out of there. All you have to do to out run it is start walking away from it or just get in a car and leave. If it gets into the water though, that will be a problem. I don't know if they know how to clean the water if that happens.

  • benjaminc-day
    11/16/2015 - 11:39 a.m.

    The probability of a super eruption in Yellowstone is not very high. There is a higher probability of a smaller eruption though, which are much more common. The scary thing about this is that even if this one doesn't have a huge eruption, there could be thousands like this across the world. I would like to think that the probability of at least one super erupting is a lot higher and we could be in trouble. It just goes to show the unpredictability of the world and how humans can't control everything. It would be scary if we had a Pompey like explosion somewhere that destroyed a whole city and would have no signs of it coming. Hopefully this never happens but I guess you never know.

  • jordynd-day
    11/16/2015 - 01:05 p.m.

    I think it would be difficult to know for sure what would happen if there was a super eruption because we haven't had a lot of them. It's a very scary thing to think about and if I was living close to Yellowstone I would be so nervous. But, if the scientists are right the chances of an eruption are very slim. They can't always be certain though.

  • tylerl-day
    11/16/2015 - 02:52 p.m.

    What if instead of a meteor wiping out the dinosaurs, it was a volcano? Think about it, the effects of each are very similar and I'm sure a volcano is much more likely than a rock flying through space colliding with Earth. Maybe we've had it wrong this whole time. Who knows what really happened that day...

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