What a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption would actually mean for humanity

It's kind of a "That's no moon" moment in real life — a series of discoveries in the 1960s and 1970s led geologists to realize that most of Yellowstone National Park was one giant volcanic caldera. If you've seen the cable TV specials, you've probably come to the conclusion that an eruption of this supervolcano could doom humanity and that said eruption is bound to happen at any time. But the reality is more nuanced than that, write Annalee Newitz at iO9.com. Not only is a Yellowstone eruption not imminent, but there's also more than one way it could erupt — and the most likely scenarios don't equate to worldwide horror.


  1. While I love Newitz and iO9, I wish someone would instead write an article on how that damn commenting system over there works. 

    1. Here’s how it works in my experience: They change they commenting system five times in the space of a year, I stopped leaving comments, I no longer read the comments, I comment on BoingBoing. Works for me.

  2. Even at the low end, a Yellowstone eruption would be fairly horrible, since it would dump a layer of ash over some of the world’s most productive farmland. Plenty of horror there, but it won’t be cinematically impressive. Instead, it will just involve poor people starving, which we are well used to ignoring.

    1. I hate to mess up the horror, but a layer of ash didn’t destroy Seattle in 1980. I hear it was a pain in the ass, they had to shovel it like snow, and nobody in Seattle has a snow shovel.

    2.  Yeah, and while we’d lose a year or two’s crops, we’d then have phosphate rich soil.

      Don’t discount the importance of volcanic phosphates. The natural trend of soil is to become a phosphate desert. The oldest soils on the Earth are phosphate deserts. Parts of Australia are phosphate deserts even though (and  because) they have reliable rainfall. This is why the Aborigines lost the farming technology they brought from New Guinea.

      Dense forests would become phosphate poor deserts in a thousand years if there weren’t a million critters recycling the phosphate.

      1. Mmmmm.  Rich soil.

        An estimated 20–25% of the population died in the famine and fluorine poisoning after the fissure eruptions ceased. Around 80% of sheep, 50% of cattle and 50% of horses died because of dental and skeletal fluorosis from the 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride that were released.


  3. I know from movies that such an eruption would really be no problem… just suit up Bruce Willis and his crew, and send them in to the volcano to blow it up before all the nasty stuff happens.  Go Bruce!

      1. Barry White:  Yippie ki-yay, mother-….
        background singers: Shut yo mouth!
        Barry:  I’m just talkin’ about Bruce!

  4. Yet, that didn’t stop her from going all “endtimes” today … but yes, Yellowstone is not an automatic deathblow: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/05/volcanic-sensationalism-cant-we-all-just-leave-yellowstone-alone/

  5. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The Young-Earth Creationists have assured me that plate tectonics aren’t real. Ergo, volcanoes must be a hoax too. Ask yourself: have you ever actually seen a volcano in person?

    1.  Self, have you ever actually seen a volcano?

      Why yes, self. Yes we have. Remember that time we took an air tour around the big island of Hawaii and we got to peer into the glowing maw of Kilauea?

    2.  I thought I saw one once, but then it was explained to me that I was viewing an area where intense homosexual activity had allowed hell to breach the material plane. I think we could weaponize this effect.

    3. I flew by Stromboli once. I suppose that it could have been a very warm and well-lit portal through which God sends his faithful angels to bury “dinosaur bones” and “fossils” to confuse the heathen.

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