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article imageYellowstone supervolcano may erupt sooner than expected

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 31, 2012 in Science
Yellowstone National Park - Supervolcano eruptions are potentially the most catastrophic natural disasters beside asteroid impact. Scientists say supervolcanoes may buildup toward eruption faster than previously thought, and that the Yellowstone supervolcano may be due for eruption.
According to Vanderblit News, super volcano eruptions have "potential to end civilization." New studies show they have "surprisingly short fuses."
According to Vanderbilt News, the eruptions are known as super-eruptions because "they are more than 100 times the size of ordinary volcanic eruptions... They spew out tremendous flows of super-heated gas, ash and rock capable of blanketing entire continents and inject enough particulate into the stratosphere to throw the global climate into decade-long volcanic winters."
According to scientists, instead of a buildup to eruption lasting thousands of years, the buildup could take only a few hundred years. Our Amazing Planet reports that Guilherme Gualda, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, said, "Our study suggests that when these exceptionally large magma pools form, they are ephemeral and cannot exist very long without erupting."
Scientists are concerned about the supervolcano simmering beneath Yellowstone National Park. According to the scientists, if the volcano erupts, two thirds of the entire country may became uninhabitable.
Geologists say supervolcanoes consist of massive pools of hot magma that form deep below the Earth's crust. Previous scientific studies had concluded that it takes between 100,000 to 200,000 years for supervolcano magma pool to build up pressure for an eruption. Latest studies have, however, raised the possibility that the massive supervolcano magma pools build up pressure to eruption for only a few thousands, or even only a few hundred years.
According to latest measurements, a huge magma reservoir six miles below Yellowstone has been rising since 2004, faster than previously thought. Daily Mail reports that Wyoming sits on a huge reservoir of hot molten magma that goes down 400 miles below the Earth's crust, and at about 30 miles underground, it spreads out into a huge magma pool 300 miles across.
Our Amazing Planet reports that Gualda and his colleagues studied the remnants of Bishop Tuff, the Long Valley super-eruption that occurred in east-central California 760,000 years ago. They used the latest technique that measures the rate of quartz crystallization to date the magma pool and found that it may have formed only 10,000 years ago and very possible only 500 to 3,000 years ago.
The dates of 100,000 year-plus obtained from previous measurements was because zircon crystals, common in volcanic rocks and containing small amounts of radioactive uranium and thorium, whose decay into lead at a set rate allows scientists to accurately determine when the crystals formed, are not suitable for determining the age of magma bodies.
The Bishop Tuff volcanic event is believed to have occurred in a series of eruptions a few thousand years or even hundreds of years apart and covered half of the North American continent in smouldering ash.
The Yellowstone caldera in Wyoming, is a massive bubbling seething cauldron that formed after the last super-eruption that happened about 600,000 years ago. Daily Mail reports that the supervolcano has erupted about three times in the last 2.1 million years, and scientist say it could be due for a new eruption.
Our Amazing Planet reports that the most recent super-eruption occurred in Tauo, New Zealand, about 26,000 years ago. A super-eruption that occurred in Indonesia's Mount Toba, 76,000 years ago, rained ash all over South Asia and filled the atmosphere with so much ash and particles that the global weather was altered for about a decade. There are indications that the event took a heavy toll on the world's human population and probably came close to wiping out the entire human species.
The study to be published in the May 30 edition of the the online journal Public Library of Science One (PLos ONE), concludes that the world's supervolcano regions such as Yellowstone, should be monitored regularly to provide advance warning of a catastrophic super-eruption. Gualda said: "The fact that the process of magma body formation occurs in historical time, instead of geological time, completely changes the nature of the problem."
According to Daily Mail, an eruption at Yellowstone would be about 1,000 times more powerful than the volcanic eruption that occurred in Mount St Helens in 1980.
Gualda suggested that regions such as Yellowstone should be monitored regularly to provide advance warning of a catastrophic super-eruption. Sciencemag.org reports that despite the "short fuse" of supervolcanoes, scientists are confident they would notice the warning signs of an impending super-eruption by observing upward migration and accumulation of large quantities of molten rock just below the Earth's surface.
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