Yellowstone is big. No, really. Big.
April 13, 2011 9:32 AM   Subscribe

New electrical conductivity measurements show the subterranean extent of the Yellowstone supervolcano to be a lot larger than previously known.
posted by jjray (40 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks, this is a great article.

But if you're looking for your daily dose of related gloom and imminent doom, presented in a rambling, Sam Sloane-esque format, complete with cool color imagery and prophetic proclamations of widespread death and destruction, look no further.
posted by VicNebulous at 9:51 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


That link by Vic had me worried until they started citing psychics and soothsayers as part of the empirical evidence.
posted by coachfortner at 10:01 AM on April 13, 2011


Who would be dumb enough to build a country there?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:18 AM on April 13, 2011


> That link by Vic had me worried until they started citing psychics and soothsayers as part of the empirical evidence.

"David Booth - proven psychic- had a vision in March of 2003. He saw himself in space, looking down on the earth. He saw a dark, planetary object coming from the south end of earth - out of the southern Hemisphere. As this planetary object came past earth, the size of which would fit between the earth and the moon - he saw the western end of the U.S. blow up with fire and blasts of smoke and ash. From there, the whole earth rippled. Yellowstone had blown up."

Well, I'm convinced. He's a proven psychic.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:21 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is what happened last time a supervolcano erupted
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2011


Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything* has a cheery section on the Yellowstone super volcano.

* missing subtitle: That Can Will Kill You
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:32 AM on April 13, 2011


Shocking news.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:35 AM on April 13, 2011


This could reverse global warming.
posted by caddis at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's gonna make a big noise, fer sure.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:45 AM on April 13, 2011


That link by Vic had me worried until they started citing psychics and soothsayers as part of the empirical evidence.
posted by coachfortner


You gotta love that they left all the failed predictions from '04, '05 up there.

"THE BIBLE CODE PREDICTS THAT YELLOWSTONE WILL BLOW MARCH 31 OR APRIL 1, 2004"

Bible code? Specific to Yellowstone?

"And I will strike down upon Yogi and Boo-Boo with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when my Montana caldera lays its vengeance upon you."

Oh, wait, that's Jellystone.
posted by VicNebulous at 10:54 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of the only disaster scenarios that make me want to move closer to the source to increase the chances that I'm incinerated in a few seconds instead of buried over a few hours.
posted by odinsdream at 10:56 AM on April 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm perverse, but I look at this and I wonder why "supervolcano" isn't one of the random events in Civ IV, and whether or not I could mod it in.
posted by AugieAugustus at 10:59 AM on April 13, 2011


I, for one, welcome our new supervolcano overlords.

Yes, I went there.
posted by sutt at 11:05 AM on April 13, 2011


You might want to cross those yellowstone related earthquake and ash maps with the nuclear reactor map from a recent post too. Just say'n. ;)

In fact, I'm betting the next nuclear catastrophe happens in Bulgaria's mafia controlled nuclear power industry, meaning bad news for Europe and the Middle East, especially Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:07 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This will not end well.

Also, T S Elliot, YOU WERE WRONG. IT WILL END WITH A REALLY BIG BANG.
posted by GuyZero at 11:07 AM on April 13, 2011


This is what happened last time a supervolcano erupted

When yellowstone lets go the effects will be two to three orders of magnitude worse than Tambora.
posted by Mitheral at 11:33 AM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's true that Yellowstone is about due for an eruption. 'Due' on a geological time scale, though, is roughly "This afternoon, give or take twenty times the duration of all of recorded history." So don't max out your credit cards yet.
posted by echo target at 11:33 AM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


max out your credit cards yet

Too late. I'll be the guy digging a hole a few miles deep out Montana way.
posted by maxwelton at 11:41 AM on April 13, 2011


echo target: "'Due' on a geological time scale, though, is roughly "This afternoon, give or take twenty times the duration of all of recorded history.""

I love it when my fiance brings this up to the geology classes she teaches. "If Yellowstone erupts, we're all dead. Nothing we can do. Not even Bruce Willis can save us," she says with a cheery smile on her face. "Sweet dreams!"
posted by charred husk at 11:45 AM on April 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


"If Yellowstone erupts, we're all dead. Nothing we can do. Not even Bruce Willis can save us," she says with a cheery smile on her face. "Sweet dreams!"
posted by charred husk at 1:45 PM on April 13 [+] [!]


Spouse-assisted eponysterical.
posted by AugieAugustus at 11:48 AM on April 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's some more information about how geoelectric imaging works. Very cool idea.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:03 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize Vegas was taking bets on the next meltdown. What is the over/under on Bulgaria versus Russian reactors?
posted by coachfortner at 1:02 PM on April 13, 2011


You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space Yellowstone.
posted by Reverend John at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think I must have first heard about the Yellowstone volcano when I was at a vulnerable part of my childhood, because every time I read about this it just gives me the kid creeps. You know that vaguely scared feeling of unease, but fascination at the same time. I remember visiting the boiling mud pools, walking across the boardwalks that HAD NO HAND RAILS thinking I was just going to fall in or trip, or just toss myself in to get it over with. Now I find the subject very interesting, but my inner kid is rocking just a little going, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, with big eyes and bitten lip.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 2:08 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


On sure you see a giant volcano that will seriously kill everyone sometime in the next 10k years. I see an unlimited source of geothermal power that is close to the surface and easy to tap. For the 10 billion dollar cost of one small nuke plan we could run the high voltage lines down to Salt Lake and then onto an emerging smart national power grid.
posted by humanfont at 2:20 PM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I see an unlimited source of geothermal power that is close to the surface and easy to tap.

YELLOWSTONE: I'D TAP THAT
posted by GuyZero at 2:25 PM on April 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


What could go wrong?
posted by Zed at 2:36 PM on April 13, 2011


Honest question: Why are these measurements of any particular import? The phrasing of the post would imply that somehow these more precise measurements change our understanding of the Yellowstone caldera and its possible effects on humanity or the earth. But as the article itself notes,
The new study says nothing about the chances of another cataclysmic caldera (giant crater) eruption at Yellowstone
So the new images indicate the plume slopes at 40 degrees rather than 60 degrees. Did we have a lot of emotional energy wrapped up in the whole 60 degree theory? Were there roving gangs of geologists beating up people who disagreed about the precise angle of the plume? SIXTY DEGREE SLOPE 4 LIFE? FORTY SLOPE REPRESENT?

I guess in the context of a post like this I expected this new data to have some sort of relevance to... um... anything. It doesn't change the chances of an eruption. It doesn't change the theoretical scale of an eruption. It doesn't really do anything except change a few words in geology textbooks. Not that expanding human knowledge isn't a good thing, but clearly the implication of this post and the reality of the measurements are very different. They are important in the same way that discovering, say, an ocean trench is 50 miles long instead of 48 miles long is important. Yes it's great that we know it now, we should be glad people are doing science, but the post (by the nature of actually appearing as a FPP) is misrepresenting the import of these new measurements.
posted by Justinian at 3:51 PM on April 13, 2011


To be slightly less elliptical: A lot of people (for good or ill) don't actually read the links, so I thought it was important to note that they are probably going to draw erroneous conclusions if they try to read much into the post without reading the article itself.
posted by Justinian at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2011


humanfont writes "I see an unlimited source of geothermal power that is close to the surface and easy to tap. "

Reducing the temperature of the system is potentially dangerous because it will reduce the pressure of the system which will allow dissolved gases to expand which will further reduce pressures releasing more gas rinse lather repeat until *Boom* and 1000 cubic kilometres of ash are spread over the ground east of the park.
posted by Mitheral at 4:16 PM on April 13, 2011


Damn. Geophysics: what a great way to make a living.

TIL: Magnetotelluric measurements record very low frequencies of electromagnetic radiation -- about 0.0001 to 0.0664 Hertz

I bet they'd be really mad if someone started running a pirate reggae station in that band.
posted by Twang at 4:50 PM on April 13, 2011


This is one of the only disaster scenarios that make me want to move closer to the source to increase the chances that I'm incinerated in a few seconds instead of buried over a few hours.

Yes, though I think even being buried in ash would be better than the long, slow starvation that those who are many hundreds (or even thousands) of miles will surely suffer.
posted by rain at 4:56 PM on April 13, 2011


P.S. Lake Toba, believed to be the largest explosive eruption anywhere on Earth in the last 25 million years is believed to have carved the size of humanity down to as small as 1000 breeding pairs.

Calling Dr. Cameron ...
posted by Twang at 5:02 PM on April 13, 2011


Yellowstone experiences earthquakes everyday. Geothermal causing earthquakes would kind of make sense as the whole yellowstone caldera is already a geothermal system with unregulated water inputs from snow and runoff.
posted by humanfont at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2011


Twang, you forgot "This theory however, has been largely debated as there is no evidence for any other animal decline or extinction, even in environmentally sensitive species."
posted by zardoz at 6:05 PM on April 13, 2011


I see an unlimited source of geothermal power that is close to the surface and easy to tap.
Let's take this one cautiously, okay? I believe it was only in the last few years that we figured out "oops - if we're not careful geothermal drilling can cause small earthquakes". I'd like for us to get a better handle on that before we take a shot at "oops - if we're not careful geothermal drilling can bury North America in ash and blot out the sun".
posted by roystgnr at 9:00 PM on April 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honest question: Why are these measurements of any particular import? The phrasing of the post would imply that somehow these more precise measurements change our understanding of the Yellowstone caldera and its possible effects on humanity or the earth.

With all due respect, some people have enough imagination to find the study interesting without your need to make it "relevant" to "humanity".
posted by jjray at 10:47 PM on April 13, 2011


And now that I re-read my comment allow my to offer my apologies, Justinian. That phrasing was insulting.


To be more diplomatic, let me put it this way: Just because a discovery does not have direct practical implications does not mean it is not interesting.
posted by jjray at 11:00 PM on April 13, 2011


Okay, what specifically makes this discovery particularly interesting?
posted by Justinian at 1:36 AM on April 14, 2011


Okay, what specifically makes this discovery particularly interesting?

There is a lot packed into this paragraph from the link:
In the new study, images of the Yellowstone plume's electrical conductivity -- generated by molten silicate rocks and hot briny water mixed in partly molten rock -- shows the conductive part of the plume dipping more gently, at an angle of perhaps 40 degrees to the west, and extending perhaps 400 miles from east to west. The geoelectric image can "see" only 200 miles deep.
An electrical signature is generated by the plume. From a methodological viewpoint, it is fascinating how we (i.e. human beings) have learned to exploit underlying physical properties of a system to gain entry to its observation and understanding. The comparison between different pictures generated by different methodologies also illustrates how so much of what we know, about anything, depends on the tools we use to understand it.

Buried at the heart of this seemingly pedestrian study of underground lava plume angle differences is a hint of how little we know about the very ground on which we walk. Yellowstone is well known, long studied in geophysics, and yet what we knew about the plume before this came from an indirect seismic measure, and now we have an indirect electrical measure. The result shows that we still really do not have a good idea about what all is going on down there. Will we ever? What else could we learn about it by yet more direct, precise, or subtler studies? Could we learn something fundamental about terrestrial geophysics? Could the Yellowstone plume overlap with or be interacting with other dynamic geological phenomena, such as those on the west coast?

I don't even know if these are intelligent questions. But it seems to me that this study could at least inspire some greater interest in geology. I personally know more about it now than I did before.
posted by jjray at 9:58 PM on April 14, 2011


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