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Yellowstone fallout

  1. Apr 8, 2009 #1
    I live in the midwest, but have always drooled westward. The only thing that keeps me from moving out there is the hazard map I once saw if the caldera explodes. Even the midwest might be too close. My question isn't about where to live, I'm just emphasizing the enormous potential this volcano has. Has any one seen the videos on SpaceWeather com of Redoubt's ash cloud? I never really considered global wind patterns, 'doh. Would Yellowstone's fallout move more eastward than in a circular pattern as the hazard map suggests? Obviously, no one can run from a catastrophe that large, so it doesn't matter where you live...not my point.
    I'm also curious about the equal and opposite reaction. What effect would the force of the explosion have on the planet as an orbiting body?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2009 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    Historic ashfall patterns from large volcanic eruptions in N.A:
    http://dma.mt.gov/des/Library/PDM/PDM-Final%20Draft/Volcanic%20Eruptions%20Hazard%20Profile.pdf [Broken]

    I don't know how you define midwest, but places like Nebraska got substantial ashfall - see fig 3.3.6-2.

    Also note the historic eruption intervals - 2 Million ya & 630000 ya, about 1.4 M years apart. This doesn't preclude Yellowstone from erupting 5 days from now, but the odds of an eruption are not worth worrying about.

    More importantly, if there were an eruption it would affect the economics and climate of NA and Europe - the Northern Hemisphere really. So living in Maine or Florida would not help you that much. Try Antarctica.

    google for 'pinatubo' - Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and effects on the atmosphere were noted globally -

    McCormick, M. Patrick et al. (1995). "Atmospheric effects of the Mt Pinatubo eruption". Nature 373: 399–404

    Pinatubo is not a supervolcano, Yellowstone is considered one in newspaper-speak anyway. I believe any eruption with a VEI >= 8 is called a super eruption by Volcanologists. Pinatubo was VEI = 6. The last Yellowstone eruption was orders of magnitude larger, in terms of volume of ejecta.

    see - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanic_Explosivity_Index
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Apr 8, 2009 #3


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    At one time, I would have recommended New Zealand as the best place to avoid the fall out of super eruption at Yellowstone. However, then I found out that the latest super eruption actually occured in New Zealand. The Oruanui eruption occurred 26,000 years ago.


    There was also the Lake Tobo eruption 73,000 years ago:


    Also, keep in mind that Yellowstone has lots of smaller eruptions as well. So, the next eruption at Yellowstone won't necessarily be the end of civilization. However, I'm sure that the press will make it sound that way.
  5. Apr 8, 2009 #4


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    This omits the huge eruption about 1.3 Mya ago, which formed the Henry's Fork caldera. That eruption involved an estimated 280 cubic kilometers! It was slightly larger than the most recent super-eruption about 0.63 Mya BP.

    If you assume a nice regular cycle, the super eruptions are at 2Mya, 1.3Mya and 0.63 Mya. We are due for the next big eruption now. However, on the time scales used, this is now plus or minus 50 to 100 thousand years. So I'm not panicking. If it blows, it will be very bad; but even assuming it's on the way in geological terms, it's still not something we are particularly likely to see first hand.

    Cheers -- Sylas
  6. Apr 8, 2009 #5


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    This is a bit Hollywood but I can't resist: has anyone studied the feasibility of preventing or mitigating a VEI 8 eruption? At first thought it would be about the energy: either disrupt the engine generating the energy, or discharge the energy in some low(er) power form. Seems like this would rate as much discussion as early warning on large meteorites.
  7. Apr 12, 2009 #6
    What you could do is change the orbit of a small asteroid so that it will impact exactly at Yellowstone. An asteroid of about a kilometer in diameter would probably be enough to trigger a premature eruption.

    A few decades before this planned event, we start to evacuate the US and we store enough food to deal with the effects on the climate that will disrupt agriculture for some years.
  8. May 3, 2009 #7
    Directing an asteroid safely to a spot on the map sounds like a tall order. I'd hope that within just a few thousand years we'll have a technology to pacify volcanoes altogether. It didn't take long for us to put someone on the moon.

    So, it's largely the ash fallout that would be the killer. How about coming up with something to direct or collect the ash? (Yes, I understand how much ash that can be. I'm looking to the distant future.)
  9. May 13, 2009 #8
    An explosion of that magnitude will shift the orbit of the planet slightly, just as you suspect. The length of day was altered by the Christmas day Sumatra earthquake (by about 5 microseconds...) as measured by the GRACE satellites. It also shifted the position of the pole slightly, but I don't know that value. There is enough movement of mass in these scenarios to slightly shift the moment of Earth. Of course it's tiny, but it is measurable.

    Also, earthquakes of that magnitude act like an impulse. Thus earthquakes like that cause the Earth to "ring" like a bell--not in our acoustic range but on a period of roughly one hour for days and sometimes weeks.
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