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.

Killer bears, and the humans who track them down

Freelance journalist Jessica Grose has a fascinating "long read" in Slate this week (and I'm not kidding about the long part, 8,000 words!) about Bear True Crimes: wild bears in and around Yellowstone National Park who, for one reason or another, attack humans.

Why does this happen? What's it like for the humans who survive? Who investigates the attacks, all CSI-style with DNA analysis and whatnot, and figures out what to do with the problem bears? Is it right to kill them?

Grose's report begins with the story of a mother bear who attacked campers in late 2011. Snip:

The euthanization of the bear known as “the Wapiti sow” was the culmination of a series of horrifying events that had gripped Yellowstone for months, and alarmed rangers, visitors, and the conservation biologists tasked with keeping grizzly bears safe. In separate incidents in July and August, grizzlies had killed hikers in Yellowstone, prompting a months-long investigation replete with crime scene reconstructions and DNA analysis, and a furious race to capture the prime suspect. The execution of the Wapiti sow opens a window on a special criminal justice system designed to protect endangered bears and the humans who share their land. It also demonstrates the difficulty of judging animals for crimes against us. The government bear biologists who enforce grizzly law and order grapple with the impossibility of the task every day. In the most painful cases, the people who protect these sublime, endangered animals must also put them to death.

Read Grose's "A Death in Yellowstone: On the trail of a killer grizzly bear," then read her interview with a woman who was attacked by a grizzly and lived to tell the tale. There's an interview with Grose about the reporting project at The Awl.

When I traveled to this area with Miles O'Brien for a PBS NewsHour piece about wolves last year (watch the video!), we visited the very room where some elements of the Wapiti Sow case would be managed just months later. It's the Office of Bear Management.

(Photo: "Growling Grizzly Bear with Snow," by Dennis Donohue, via Shutterstock)