Volcanologists can predict when volcanoes will erupt if they have full detail of the eruptions.
For supervolcanoes, like those beneath Yellowstone National Park, it’s nearly impossible, given how varied they’ve been, according to a new study.
Cardiff University researchers noted that there is no “single model” that can help scientists understand how supervolcano eruptions take place, making it difficult to understand when they might occur in the future.
The researchers looked at geochemical and petrological evidence of 13 super eruptions that have occurred over the past 2 million years, including New Zealand’s most recent, Taupō volcano, which occurred more than 24,000 years ago.
Experts said there is no ‘single model’ that can help them understand how supervolcano eruptions happen
There was no “single, unified mode” showing how each of the 13 played out, with some starting softly over a period of weeks to months, while others taking place immediately.
The researchers also found that the eruptions lasted for different times, some as short as a period of days or weeks, while others lasted for decades.
For example, the researchers found that the youngest Toba Tuff, which erupted 74,000 years ago, erupted almost immediately.
Conversely, Oruanui’s eruption, which occurred more than 25,000 years ago, started slowly before experiencing a Caldera collapse and progressing over a period of several months.
They looked at evidence of 13 super eruptions over the past 2 million years. All 13 were vastly different, some started off mild, while others happened immediately. The eruptions also lasted for different times, some as short as a few days, while others lasted for decades
Yellowstone Caldera and Long Valley Caldera are two of the most prominent supervolcanoes, having last erupted 600,000 and 760,000 years ago, respectively.
A previous study found that Yellowstone erupts on average once every 1.5 million years, indicating that it could be another 900,000 years before an eruption occurs.
The Yellowstone supervolcano has erupted at least 10 times in the past 16 million years. Live Science has previously reported.
A 2017 study suggested the Yellowstone supervolcano could be erupting faster than experts previously thought, though it would most likely be a smaller eruption.
The Yellowstone supervolcano (pictured) last erupted 600,000 years ago. It has erupted at least 10 times in the last 16 million years
When supervolcanoes explode, there is a devastating after-effect, with ash fall covering the ground and ash clouds that can be hundreds of meters thick.
The explosion also leaves a huge hole in the Earth, known as a Caldera, due to the removal of magma.
“Super eruptions can begin literally with a bang and collapse of the roof of the chamber or start gradually, with hesitation before escalating into catastrophic activity,” said study co-author Dr. George Cooper, of Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, in a pronunciation.
In general, the eruption can be rapid, uninterrupted events over a few days or an episodic series lasting decades.
“The uncertainty associated with these events therefore makes it very challenging to determine when and how these volcanoes may erupt in the future.”
A supervolcano is defined as a volcano that has had an explosion of at least 8 on the Volcanic Explosion Index, with an erupted tephra volume of more than 1,000 cubic kilometers, as measured by the American Geological Survey.
Supervolcano eruptions are considered “extremely rare” and occur once every 100,000 years.
The researchers said they will try to use more sophisticated software, including machine learning algorithms, to help interpret signals from stored magma and its movement in the hours and days leading up to the eruption.
They also added that there needs to be more education about how often supervolcanoes erupt.
“Yellowstone is an example where misinformation has led to the public perception that a catastrophic eruption is imminent, when in reality it is extremely unlikely,” continued Dr. cooper.
“That’s why we need to improve our understanding and communication about the difference between normal non-eruptive turmoil versus indicators that an eruption may occur.”
The study was published Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment.
CAN AN ERASE AT THE YELLOWSTONE SUPERVOLCANO BE PREVED?
Recent research found a small magma chamber, known as the upper crustal magma reservoir, below the surface of the
NASA believes drilling ten kilometers deep into the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park to pump in high-pressure water could cool it.
Despite the fact that the mission would cost $3.46 billion (£2.63 billion), NASA considers it “the most viable solution.”
Using heat as a resource also provides an opportunity to pay for the plan – it could be used to create a geothermal plant, generating electrical power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10 (£0.08 ) per kWh.
But this method of subduing a supervolcano has the potential to backfire and trigger the supervolcano eruption that NASA is trying to prevent.
Drilling into the top of the magma chamber ‘would be very risky;’ careful drilling from the bottom might work though.
This USGS image shows how a ‘super-eruption’ of the molten lava beneath Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States
Even the potential devastating risks aside, the plan to cool Yellowstone with drilling isn’t an easy one.
This would be an excruciatingly slow process occurring at the rate of one meter per year, meaning it would take tens of thousands of years to cool completely.
And yet there would be no guarantee that it would be successful for at least hundreds or possibly thousands of years.