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Yellowstone Restless?Eruption Overdue

We recently wrote about a huge underwater bulge in a lake in Yellowstone National Park that's getting ready to blow. Three years ago, the BBC ran a story about supervolcanoes in Yellowstone. Only a few of these exist, hidden deep beneath the Earth's surface. If one erupts, the explosion will be heard around the world, creating dark skies with the effect of a nuclear winter. A past eruption may be the reason the North American continent was relatively empty when Europeans arrived.

Most volcanoes are formed by a column of molten rock (magma) rising from deep within the Earth that erupts on the surface. But Supervolcanoes are created when magma rises from inside the Earth and creates a boiling reservoir in the Earth's crust that can become enormous. When it finally builds up enough pressure, it erupts, but because it doesn't form the traditional cone shape, no one knows it's there until too late. The last supervolcano erupted 74,000 years ago in Sumatra and almost destroyed life on Earth.

Scientists don't know when another one will blow, but they do know that one of the largest in the world is under Yellowstone Park. It's been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years, and the last eruption was 640,000 years ago, so we?re overdue for a big blow.

What does the U.S. Geological Survey have to say about this? A USGS statement says, "The fact that two eruptive intervals (2.1 million to 1.3 million and 1 .3 million to 640,000 years ago) are of similar length does not mean that the next eruption will necessarily occur after another similar interval. On the other hand, we cannot discount the possibility of such an event occurring some time in the future, given Yellowstone's volcanic history and the continued presence of magma beneath the Yellowstone caldera."

Now there's evidence the supervolcano is waking up. Volcanologists have been tracking the movement of magma in the area and have calculated that the ground has risen in parts of Yellowstone, which could indicate a buildup in pressure. The bulge in the lake may be an example of this.

What would happen to us if it blew? Huge areas of the U.S. would be destroyed, thousands of people would die, and the U.S. economy could collapse. Climatologists now know that the earlier supervolcano shot so much ash and sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere that it blocked out the sun, causing the Earth's temperature to plummet. Geneticists think this may have reduced the population on Earth to just a few thousand people, pushing us close to extinction.

It's about time we paid attention to this omen, or we'll once again be speaking the language of the birds.

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