Will Yellowstone become the next Pompeii? Predicting when the next volcanic eruption will occur is currently impossible. But Yellowstone certainly has a destructive history. According to the USGS, “Over the past 2.1 million years Yellowstone volcano has had three immense explosive volcanic eruptions that blanketed parts of the North American continent with ash and debris. Each of these eruptions created sizable calderas: basins formed by the collapse of the ground after the evacuation of subsurface magma reservoirs. The Yellowstone Caldera, which comprises nearly one-third of the land area in the park, formed 0.64 million years ago and was followed by dozens of less explosive but large lava flows, the last of which erupted 70,000 years ago.”
Swiss scientist Wim Malfait, of research group ETH Zurich, claims that Yellowstone is a ticking time bomb, saying that”We knew the clock was ticking but we didn’t know how fast: what would it take to trigger a super-eruption? This is something that, as a species, we will eventually have to deal with.”
However, since the USGS puts the probability of a large eruption at Yellowstone in the next year at one in 730,000, we’ve got some time to plan.
While the worst-case scenario of a Yellowstone eruption would result in a volcano-induced Ice Age, with much of North American blanketed in ash up to three feet deep, scientists say this isn’t likely to occur. “Yellowstone hasn’t erupted for 70,000 years, so it’s going to take some impressive earthquakes and ground uplift to get things started,” the scientists said in a press release.
But they agree that an eventual eruption is a certainty—and one that would come with warning signs: “Besides intense earthquake swarms (with many earthquakes above M4 or M5), we expect rapid and notable uplift around the caldera (possibly tens of inches per year). Finally, rising magma will cause explosions from the boiling-temperature geothermal reservoirs. Even with explosions, earthquakes and notable ground uplift, the most likely volcanic eruptions would be the type that would have the minimal effect outside the park itself.”
North America’s future seems safe from volcanic annihilation—for now—but what about the rest of the world? A catastrophic supervolcano explosion would send so much ash into the atmosphere it would block the sun for up to eight years, creating a volcanic “winter” that could lead to the mass extinction of humans, animals, and plants on our planet.
While the chances of these supervolcanoes bringing about a volcapocalypse in our lifetime are even less than that of Yellowstone, the Number 1 supervolcano, it’s up to you to decide whether to make the remaining top four supervolcano sites your next vacation destination.
Number 2 on the list is Italy’s Mount Vesuvius.
Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and has made its presence known in the past century through moderate seismic activity and eruptions.
Number 3, Mexico’s Popocatepetl, has a legacy that can be traced back to the Aztecs.
In recent history, Popocatepetl has exhibited a great deal of activity and poses a risk to Mexico City.
Number 4, Japans’s Sukurjima, which once erupted with an explosion so voluminous its lava flows nearly connected the island of Kyushu to Japan’s mainland, has been quite active over the last 60 years. The Japanese government has even taken steps to protect citizens from an eruption, erecting special volcano shelters in its vicinity.
Last but not least, Colombia’s Galeras volcano comes in at Number 5.
Galeras had been inactive for more than a million years until it began showing signs of activity in the 1990s. It erupted, killing several people in the area because it gave no warning. Since that time, the volcano has erupted annually for a decade, growing more violent each time.
Source: Newsweek, USGS