Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruption

In the oldest National Park in the world there is one of the most interesting geological objects known to mankind. Yellowstone Supervolcano sits between three states: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho in Western US. Its last serious activity happened about 64,000 years ago, however it is constantly monitored by United States Geological Survey. The term “supervolcano” was used by Helen Bridgeman in the travelogue "Conquering the World" and quickly gained popularity, later becoming most used name for the phenomena.


Yellowstone Supervolcano Credit: NatGeo

The origin of yellowstone hotspot

Despite years of research the origin of Yellowstone hotspot remains controversial and unproved. One of the most popular hypothesis suggest that the hotspot is the result of interactions between lithosphere and upper mantle convection. The other one tells that the deep mantle is responsible for it. Controversy about the volcano involve its sudden appearance in the records. There were also observations suggesting common origin of Yellowstone Supervolcano and Columbia Basalt Flows. They appeared at the same time and when Yellowstone hotspot moved to the north-east, Columbian disturbance moved within the same directions. Due to the newest theory, that was created by Ying Zhou, suggest that the anomalies were created by seismic wave-speed gap in the subducting Farallon slab, that caused the upwelling in lower mantle.

Yellowstone Supervolcano
Inside Yellowstone volcano. Credit: NatGeo

Volcanic activity

Over the last two million years Yellowstone showed its power a couple times. So far, we talk about three gigantic eruptions. Two of them are VEI 8 super-eruptions, the first one about 2.1 million years ago, the second 64,000 years ago. VEI 7 eruption happened 1.3 million years ago and produced over 67 tons of cubic material.

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So, what would happen if the volcano erupted again? Assuming that the magnitude is the same as it was 2.1 million years ago, it would produce 588 tons of cubic material. That kind of eruption would destroy the whole park and will be extremely dangerous for the whole three states. However USGS assures that the risk of it happening in the next thousand years is “exceedingly low”. More likely disaster is a lava flow- a spurt of slowly oozing molten rock. It is way easier to predict and avoid that eruption It also causes less damage.

Impact of Yellowstone Supervolcano eruption
Damage caused by hypothetical eruption. Credit: Sciencenews

impact on ecosystem

Geologically speaking, volcanic activity in Yellowstone is quite  recent phenomenon. Over the last 2 million years, three gigantic caldera eruptions have left their mark on the landscape and have influenced the Yellowstone ecosystem. Volcanic soils are one of the most fertile in the world, so after every eruption life exploded again. This created an unique ecosystem of Yellowstone we know today. The Greater Ecosystem of Yellowstone is one of the world's leading natural laboratories in ecology and geology, and is also home to the diverse native plants and animals of Yellowstone.

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