Yellowstone’s supervolcano – worse than we thought

Yellowstone’s supervolcano – worse than we thought“. This is how Anthony Watts smears a paper-thin crust of science on his blog: he pastes in a random general science press release. In this case, a University of Utah study has provided a more detailed geophysical image of the volcanic hotspot beneath Yellowstone National Park, which seems bigger and potentially more deadly than previously thought.

Quoth the press release:

University of Utah geophysicists made the first large-scale picture of the electrical conductivity of the gigantic underground plume of hot and partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano. The image suggests the plume is even bigger than it appears in earlier images made with earthquake waves.

The Yellowstone volcanic plume. New image on the left. Photo Credit: The University of Utah.

Hey, science! At the moment it’s effectively quiescent, but the theoretical consequences are no further away than a Discovery Channel dramatization. To further quote the University of Utah:

The hotspot finally reached Yellowstone about 2 million years ago, yielding three huge caldera eruptions about 2 million, 1.3 million and 642,000 years ago. Two of the eruptions blanketed half of North America with volcanic ash, producing 2,500 times and 1,000 times more ash, respectively, than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Smaller eruptions occurred at Yellowstone in between the big blasts and as recently as 70,000 years ago.

This particular copy-and-paste implicitly stokes the denialist meme that humans are too puny to have any impact on our climate. If that volcano goes off then switching to wind power will have been a meaningless effort. All that fussing would seem pretty foolish if something like that happened, so why bother?

Just don’t consider the curious fact that the regular and ongoing impact humanity is having on our environment is probably on the same scale as these kinds of improbable freak catastrophes denialists tell us we should really be worrying about.

1 thought on “Yellowstone’s supervolcano – worse than we thought

  1. I think you’re being a tad unfair to the University of Utah press release, which I read earlier today and which seemed pretty calm and level-headed to me. It’s not the UoU’s fault (despite its history of press releases about cold fusion, ahem) if the denialists want to pervert the press release’s meaning to their own ends.

    [I intended no slight to the U of U here, I agree it’s pretty level-headed. It was Anthony’s weak spin that drew my eye. – Ben]

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