In A Nutshell
Many mainstream publications recently posited that Yellowstone National Park, which is effectively situated on top of a supervolcano, might soon erupt in a manner which would destroy America and civilization as we know it. The story was widely covered (because fear is easy to sell), but the real story hasn’t received the same coverage. Analysis of the seismic activity around the area indicates that there will not be any supervolcanic eruptions for hundreds of millennia.
The Whole Bushel
If you’re a doomsayer, Yellowstone National Park was a perfect potential cause for the apocalypse. There was the irony that a place considered such an American touchstone would cover America in dozens of feet of ash and the irony that such a tranquil place (geysers aside) would bring about so much destruction. There was also what seemed to be an unusual degree of scientific credibility to it as far as doomsday scenarios go.
Every 600,000 years, the Yellowstone National Park caldera had a super eruption. These eruptions were extraordinarily huge: They ranged in size from 1,000 to 6,000 times the size of the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption. The Yellowstone super eruptions generated so much ash that Denver, Colorado would be buried in several feet of it, with piles of the stuff drifting to an estimated 19 states. Due to being superheated, this ash would not merely pile up but has been shown to actually fuse together. So it would not only asphyxiate countless people, make travel over a vast region impossible, and disrupt the climate, but it would essentially put a layer of asphalt over 19 states of the US. Crops would be destroyed, and great tracts of land would be unusable for farming for generations. The last time something like this happened was 630,000 years ago, supposedly indicating that if anything, another one is overdue.
At worst, however, that won’t happen for a period of time longer than human civilization has existed. At best, it won’t happen at all. The National Park Service, US Geological Survey, and National Science Foundation are all in agreement that there is not evidence that an eruption is imminent.
The cycle of eruptions based on past supervolcanic activity indicates that Yellowstone is actually becoming less seismically active over time. The National Park Service states that at most there will be increased lava flow activity in the near future, which would be a manageable threat—even people in Yellowstone could be safely evacuated. The Geological Survey states that it will be at least one million years before such an eruption would be likely, possibly as many as two million.
Of course, some will offer that it’s possible that the people monitoring the seismic activity around Yellowstone Park are horribly wrong. After all, the aforementioned Mt. St. Helens eruption caught experts by surprise. But if it turns out Yellowstone ever does erupt, presumably the embarrassment will be the least of our concerns.
Show Me The Proof
CBS Denver: The Risk Of Yellowstone’s Mighty Volcano
National Geographic: When Yellowstone Explodes
National Science Foundation: Will the Yellowstone Supervolcano Erupt in Our Lifetime?
National Park Service: Volcano Questions & Answers
USGS: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory
Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Mount St. Helens Still Shrouded in Secrets