Geology researchers recently uncovered new details about Yellowstone’s super-volcano timeline.
The Yellowstone supervolcano, located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, is one of the most dangerous in the world. In August, volcanologist Janine Krippner, PhD, joined Neil deGrasse Tyson on his show “Star Talk,” to discuss it.
“A supervolcano is basically a made-up term for a volcano that, in the past, has produced the largest style of eruption,” Krippner said. “That does not mean it’s going to happen again, and it doesn’t mean that most eruptions are that big. In fact, most eruptions are much, much smaller.”
In the video, Krippner labels most of the doomsday articles about a Yellowstone eruption exaggerations.
“It’s not just the USGS that are monitoring this volcano, it’s a group of many different organizations,” she continued. “If this volcano was going to produce something big, you could not hide the signs even if you wanted to.”
Krippner’s explanation lines up with a recent study led by researchers at the University of Illinois. The study showed there would be “clear geological signs” to provide a warning in the event of an eruption. Models developed by the researchers could help inform authorities of what to expect in such an event.
Professor Patricia Gregg is one of the study’s co-authors. “Traditionally, it’s thought that eruptions occur when the pressure caused by hot magma overtakes the strength of a volcano’s roof rock. But supervolcanoes occur in areas of significant tectonic stress, where plates are moving forward, past or away from each other.”
Furthermore, research suggests the timing of an eruption depends on both tectonic stress and whether magma is in active supply to the volcano. The team’s findings show that Yellowstone’s magma chamber can remain stable for hundreds to thousands of years while new magma fills the reservoir.
“We were initially surprised by this very short timeframe of hundreds to thousands of years,” Gregg said. “But it is important to realize that supervolcanoes can lay dormant for a very long time, sometimes a million years or more.”
In other words, Gregg says that supervolcanoes can remain stable doing nothing for 999,000 years. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, start a rejuvenation period leading to a large-scale eruption.
The short rejuvenation period has been a little alarming to scientists. However, the study shows that geological evidence of an impending eruption will show itself and it will be “unmistakable.”
On the bright side, the USGS says that Yellowstone is not overdue for an eruption anytime soon.
“Fortunately, the chances of this sort of eruption at Yellowstone are exceedingly small in the next few thousands of years,” the agency said.