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Quake Swarm
February 1, 2010 8:05 AM   Subscribe

In the last two weeks, [NYT] more than 100 mostly tiny earthquakes a day, on average, have rattled a remote area of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, putting scientists who monitor the park’s strange and volatile geology on alert. The quake zone, about 10 miles northwest of the Old Faithful geyser, has shown little indication of building toward a larger event, like a volcanic eruption of the type that last ravaged the Yellowstone region tens of thousands of years ago. Don't rest too easily, though: new studies of the plumbing that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano shows the plume and the magma chamber under the volcano are larger than first thought and contradicts claims that only shallow hot rock exists. For more info, check out this exhaustive site that tracks Yellowstone tectonic activity and details a possible supervolcano event. [previously]
posted by billysumday (109 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember reading about Yellowstone in "A Brief History of Nearly Everything." That, by the way, is not a good book to use for bedtime reading. It's basically just a list of all the various ways that life on Earth could end instantaneously and how there's nothing we can do to stop it or even know when it's coming. I had some impressive nightmares all that week.
posted by Scattercat at 8:08 AM on February 1, 2010


The major features of the caldera measure about 34 miles (55 km) by 45 miles (72 km)...

That's a really good feeling I have right now in the pit of my stomach.
posted by DU at 8:14 AM on February 1, 2010


The three super eruptions occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago...

And the fact that these eruptions are about 650 kyears apart, putting us due for one now, is likewise very sleep-inducing.
posted by DU at 8:16 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


wait...isn't this the plot of '2012'? You know, just because it's in a movie doesn't mean it's real.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:17 AM on February 1, 2010


That "this exhaustive site" is a whole lot of nutcase psychic visions and bible prophecies.
posted by yesster at 8:19 AM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I have no idea what a super volcano is or it's connection to Yellowstone Park, and now I'm too nervous to click the link.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2010


This is amazing.
posted by yesster at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


That "this exhaustive site" is a whole lot of nutcase psychic visions and bible prophecies.

True, but of sites combining maps, articles, and links of the caldera with religious prophecies regarding the caldera, you must admit it is quite thorough.
posted by billysumday at 8:22 AM on February 1, 2010


FYI, I wouldn't take an "Exhaustive Site" that talks about 'Bible Codes' and 'Prophetic Dreams' too seriously.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:22 AM on February 1, 2010


Apparently drilling to release pressure would be pointless. That's...not so great.
posted by jedicus at 8:26 AM on February 1, 2010


Everybody do the Apocalypso!
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on February 1, 2010


Looking at the immediate fallout map, I'm 'safe' in that I'm not going to get burnt, or buried under a foot of ash, but what would generally happen world-wide if this fate befell us?

I'd assume the global winter would be the real killer, a mass population migration from the poles to as close to the equator as possible would have to happen, tens (hundreds?) of millions of deaths via starvation/cold. But are we talking two years, or decades before the skies shine again?

Window cleaners would rule the world...
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:27 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that exhaustive site has a lot of malarky on bible code.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:29 AM on February 1, 2010


I'd assume the global winter would be the real killer, a mass population migration from the poles to as close to the equator as possible would have to happen, tens (hundreds?) of millions of deaths via starvation/cold. But are we talking two years, or decades before the skies shine again?

At least we wouldn't have to worry about global warming any more.
posted by JDHarper at 8:29 AM on February 1, 2010


Yeah, I really didn't need to sleep at all this week.













Or ever again.
posted by sperose at 8:33 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


True, but of sites combining maps, articles, and links of the caldera with religious prophecies regarding the caldera, you must admit it is quite thorough.

When the latter are offered as incontrovertible proof of anything, then that takes the site beyond "thorough" to non-credible. And to be clear, we're not simply talking about references to "religious prophecies." We're being told that testimony from "proven" psychics and the author's own "prophetic visions" are evidence of an impending apocalypse.
posted by zarq at 8:34 AM on February 1, 2010


When the latter are offered as incontrovertible proof of anything, then that takes the site beyond "thorough" to non-credible.

Well, they do seem to do a good job of tracking the tectonic activity of the park. And they do provide lots of non-crazy links. But yes, there is some crazy on there.
posted by billysumday at 8:39 AM on February 1, 2010


When this happens I don't have to pay off my credit cards anymore, right?
posted by InfidelZombie at 8:41 AM on February 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


From the earthmountainview.com link:

I found your great dreams website a few days ago while researching visions & prophetic dreams. I first became clairaudient in 1992 and have experienced visions and prophetic dreams since that time. My oldest child is an intuitive tarot reader. My second child can see & read auras. My third child appears to be gifted with precognition, & my youngest child has begun experiencing prophetic dreams and visions during the past few months.

After reading about the Yellowstone volcano...


There are much scarier things than an actual eruption.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:42 AM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Looking at the immediate fallout map, I'm 'safe' in that I'm not going to get burnt, or buried under a foot of ash, but what would generally happen world-wide if this fate befell us?

It would be bad.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:43 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I first became clairaudient in 1992

No, you first started experiencing schizophrenic episodes in 1992.

Those poor, poor kids.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:44 AM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


When this happens I don't have to pay off my credit cards anymore, right?

Every raging hundred-miles-wide sunlight-killing pyroclastic cloud has a silver lining.
posted by The Whelk at 8:44 AM on February 1, 2010 [25 favorites]


I wouldn't trust anyone who thinks North Carolina and Tennessee are one state. I mean, they would've had to have erased that border, right? Could that possibly be accidental?
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:48 AM on February 1, 2010


When this happens I don't have to pay off my credit cards anymore, right?

Fear not! Those banks all have redundant server clusters scattered around the country. If one gets destroyed by Fire and Brimstone, there will still be another to send you your automated bills.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:49 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC dropped Yellowstone lava science in the August 2009 issue.
posted by Hammond Rye at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


I just finished the book Cold by Bill Streever and made a note to myself to look into catastrophic conditions post volcanic activity, particularly The Year Without a Summer.

Time to start hoarding canned goods? Or become close personal friends with Mormons and other assorted apocalyptics?
posted by readery at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


don't miss the interactive part of the National Geographic site. way more fun than the big fold out maps from the magazine.
posted by Hammond Rye at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, they do seem to do a good job of tracking the tectonic activity of the park.

Speaking purely for myself here: because there's so much on that page that's completely batshit insane, I don't trust their analyses or their tally. Between the breathless exhortations: "THIS MAY BE IT!!! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED BEFORE!!!!" and the weird combination of a 12-part fictional documentary and psychic visions presented as "evidence," they certainly seem to have a vested interest in convincing to their readers that a Yellowstone apocalypse is imminent.

And they do provide lots of non-crazy links. But yes, there is some crazy on there.

It seems mostly crazy to me.
posted by zarq at 9:01 AM on February 1, 2010


Metafilter:And they do provide lots of non-crazy links. But yes, there is some crazy on there.
posted by wheelieman at 9:03 AM on February 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


That site exhausted me. Wait, that's not what "exhaustive" means?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:07 AM on February 1, 2010


I saw an interesting comment here a couple years ago that posited that global warming would lead to increased volcanic activity.

As you might imagine, I was... skeptical. But then the poster came up with a link that explained it pretty well. The upshot is this: CO2 rises, so temperature increases, so ice starts to melt. Ice is really heavy, so as it melts, weight disappears from the crust. This causes "isostatic rebound" -- kind of like putting your finger into a soft rubber ball and taking it back out. Gradually, the rubber resumes its original shape.

As the rock slowly returns to a more natural form, the release of pressure allows new magma flows and slippage along faults, causing tons of earthquakes and volcanoes. The atmospheric particulates from the volcanoes ultimately set off an Ice Age, and the new ice weighs the rock back down and we settle into a long, much colder equilibrium.

I don't know if it applies in this case, though. It seems rather soon to me. They weren't real clear on timelines in that original article.
posted by Malor at 9:08 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let me guess what's going to be on the Discovery Channel now, every night for the next...well, forever.
posted by gimonca at 9:10 AM on February 1, 2010


I grew up 90 miles from Yellowstone and went there every chance I got in high school. I have seen the view from the top of Mt. Washburn. I stood there trying to imagine an eruption that would leave a 30-mile crater and totally failed. I have no idea how bad that would be, but it would be bad.
posted by RussHy at 9:12 AM on February 1, 2010


yesster: "That "this exhaustive site" is a whole lot of nutcase psychic visions and bible prophecies."

To be fair, it is pretty exhausting.
posted by brundlefly at 9:13 AM on February 1, 2010


"...become close personal friends with Mormons..."

Good luck with that.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:13 AM on February 1, 2010


Fair enough. I shouldn't have presented that link the way I did. But I don't think it's that strange that a crazy person obsessed with the apocalypse would become fascinated by the Yellowstone caldera and spend all waking hours assembling information regarding this particular catastrophic event. But yes, there probably should have a disclaimer attached to that link. Can I do that retroactively? [caution: lots of crazy here] For what it's worth. Thanks to everyone for the additional cool links.
posted by billysumday at 9:15 AM on February 1, 2010


As you might imagine, I was... skeptical. But then the poster came up with a link that explained it pretty well. The upshot is this: CO2 rises, so temperature increases, so ice starts to melt. Ice is really heavy, so as it melts, weight disappears from the crust.

So when ice melts, it becomes weightless water? What article was this, anyway?
posted by reformedjerk at 9:18 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So when ice melts, it becomes weightless water? What article was this, anyway?

No, but when ice melts from the Antarctic and Greenland land masses, the water runs into the ocean and, and significant weight does, indeed, disappear from the crust.
posted by beagle at 9:25 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So when ice melts, it becomes weightless water? What article was this, anyway?

No, but the water does redistribute itself in the world's oceans. See the Wikipedia article on post-glacial isostatic rebound, for starters.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:26 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this will make Haiti look like as picnic.

Oh, and when it cools off there will be diamonds, amirite?
posted by Drasher at 9:26 AM on February 1, 2010


On the global warming causing more volcanoes... Yes I guess in theory it could work that way. The idea being that the ice melts and since it is now water, flows to the ocean (no longer putting a burden on the crust where the glacier or ice sheet once was. The crust then begins to flex back outward possibly causing some volcanic activity.

This would really only apply to areas that have large ice sheets that would now be gone. Thus Wyoming does not apply. However, Antarctica might experience something like this if it lost a large amount of ice.

Thing is, it would take a really long time to come about, and I'm not sure it would be all that significant compared to the huge sea level increase that would result from melting all that ice.

So like many things associated with global warming, I wouldn't worry about it.

As for Yellowstone, I suspect that it's eruption is going to take hundreds of years. We'll know it is coming. Quake swarms happen all the time around Long Valley (the other big caldera in the US). This sort of thing is so big, it's going to make a lot of noise seismically before it goes off.
posted by spaceviking at 9:32 AM on February 1, 2010


Sounds like old faithful might be way too faithful one of these days.
posted by Skygazer at 9:32 AM on February 1, 2010


it's going to make a lot of noise seismically before it goes off.

Good, I'll need advance notice for the running through the street naked and screaming thing.
posted by The Whelk at 9:34 AM on February 1, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well, before we all invest in lava-proof clothing, here's a detailed analysis on the Eruptions blog on Scienceblogs. The money quote: "This earthquake swarm is clearly fascinating and well worth our time and attention. However, delving into conspiracy theories and fear is definitely not the way to go."
posted by cisko at 9:34 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC dropped Yellowstone lava science in the August 2009 issue.

did they drop it like it was red hot?
posted by sexyrobot at 9:36 AM on February 1, 2010


Ice is really heavy, so as it melts, weight disappears from the crust.

It's the "disappears" part that is hanging people up. The weight has moved off of one area and onto another, allowing the original area to rebound.
posted by Big_B at 9:38 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember reading something a few years ago, can't find the link now, about people in Britain who grew apples in a field fertilized by volcanic dust and the apples had some order of magnitude greater nutritional value than standard apples. Remineralize.org describes the general idea behind it.

I wonder if a huge eruption would serve to recreate the breadbasket there in that part of the country. Isn't that essentially what happened in the first place there?
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:40 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


This has been going on for 17 million years.

The Columbia Basalt Floods pretty much wiped out every living thing in a huge area of Oregon and Washington. The North American Plate then moved west, and there as been volcanism along that track that is not at Yellowstone.

It's scary. Something could happen today after lunch, or in another 1000 years, or somewhere in between. How do you plan for that>
posted by Danf at 9:45 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The apples from Washington were huge and sweet the years after Mt St. Helens erupted.
posted by RussHy at 9:46 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I sometimes avoid reading Metafilter on Monday mornings because it seems like there's almost always at least one doom-and-gloom post that puts my nerves on edge all day. Today didn't disappoint. Thanks a lot, MondayMorningPanicFilter.
posted by treepour at 9:47 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I read about this last year, and when I went to Yellowstone that summer, I couldn't help but think that the things all of us tourists were oogling were caused by a giant volcano that yeah, was one day going to destroy human life on Earth. It was kind of amusing, actually.

Anyway, if I still live in Wyoming when this thing goes off, at least I'll die quickly from lava or ash or whatever. Have fun freezing or starving to death, suckers!
posted by elder18 at 9:51 AM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Can we get Morgan Freeman as president for this one? Seriously, President Obama, I think you can hand this one off.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:00 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


Speaking as someone who would be under a largish ash plume if this happened, here's the quick checklist:

Do I still have face filters/respirators from the last overreaction (SARS, Swine Flu, anthrax, whatever)? Might not do a lot of good, but better than nothing.

Make sure I know where the snow rake is, so I can at least try to get powdered rock off the roof before it collapses. Would it work? Maybe, maybe not. Don't know until it happens.

Try to store water in anything water could be stored in, in case water goes off.

Hope it's not winter, because it could get cold if gas goes off.

Hope it's not raining, because ashfall plus rain equals deadly misery (lots more roof collapses, much more difficult to move muck than ash).

Hope my normal, non-survivalist stash of supplies lasts (probably not). Eat fridge/freezer stuff first before it goes bad, then concentrate on stuff that might need gas or electricitiy to cook, before they go out. Assume that there would already have been a run on local grocery/warehouse type stores, so further looting is unlikely to be profitable, but still likely to be dangerous. Assume that once the ashfall gets going, motor vehicle transportation will be mostly impossible for a longish, unknown time, so further supplies are limited to those within hiking distance. That's assuming that you can hike without breathing in too much rock dust. And further supplies, if there are any left at Rainbow Foods, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, might be in buildings with large, flat roofs that are even more likely to collapse than my house is.

Nearest hope for help: active rail line two blocks away might be easiest means of bringing in disaster supplies. Beyond that, who knows.

Hunker down and try not to look conspicuous. Prepare to start walking if supplies run out totally and ashfall permits. Roof collapse means doing this much earlier, and maybe without the chance to pack properly.
posted by gimonca at 10:06 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the "disappears" part that is hanging people up. The weight has moved off of one area and onto another, allowing the original area to rebound.

GloomAndDoomFilter: this is also problematic as fresh water (from melting glaciers and whatnot) is lighter than seawater, tends to float on top of the oceans and can rather quickly cool the entire planet. The theory is that this is why historically (prehistorically?) periods of global warming are immediatly followed by ice ages with rather rapid onsets (how rapid is still a matter of debate, but ranging from as fast as one season to decades.) Enjoy!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:09 AM on February 1, 2010


The Whelk : Good, I'll need advance notice for the running through the street naked and screaming thing.

I've been practicing this for years. When the time comes, I'll be out there, performing like it was the Olympics of crazy and I am going for the gold.
posted by quin at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2010 [14 favorites]


Luckily I live in the instantly vaporized zone. No lingering death here.

I haven't felt any tremors here. There haven't been any significant ones that you can feel in years.
posted by agent of bad karma at 10:30 AM on February 1, 2010


Can't we just nuke it into submission?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:34 AM on February 1, 2010


If Yellowstone goes up, the resultant effects will extinguish human life on Earth. Which is why I don't spend much time worrying about what I'd do if it happened.

What would I do if it happened? Very short list, same entry as for every other human on the planet:

1. Die.
posted by scrump at 10:41 AM on February 1, 2010


1. Die.

I think that if I'm not guaranteed instant death, or even death within a week, I'm going to maybe look at ways to keep on livin'.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 AM on February 1, 2010


What would I do if it happened? Very short list, same entry as for every other human on the planet:

1. Die.


To be fair, that's what eventually happens to everyone on the planet right now.

Well, the non-vampire ones at least.
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


the problem is since we stopped throwing people into the fire the volcano god is angry
posted by Hammond Rye at 10:46 AM on February 1, 2010 [13 favorites]


-cringes- This sort of fear lingers in the back of my mind all the time. I know these things exist, I know they could happen. But since there's not much I could do about it, I file it under the same category as "mass plague" or "meteor impact" in terms of fear level. That is, fucking frightening, but not panic inducing on a daily basis.
posted by strixus at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2010


I wonder if it'd be possible to harness this for geothermal power (not the volcanic explosion, but the lava flow underneath).
posted by boo_radley at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2010


Short version: The United States has an aneurysm that could blow at anytime.
Shorter version: I live in Puerto Rico. Come on down for a visit.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


>1. Die.

To be fair, that's what eventually happens to everyone on the planet right now.

Well, the non-vampire ones at least.


Yeah, but unless you can reach Golconda, you'll eventually succumb to the Beast and go blood-crazed anyway...
posted by Scattercat at 11:07 AM on February 1, 2010


Hammond Rye: "the problem is since we stopped throwing people into the fire the volcano god is angry"

you hush now pat robertson.
posted by boo_radley at 11:09 AM on February 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


> I think that if I'm not guaranteed instant death, or even death within a week, I'm going to maybe look at ways to keep on livin'.

Cormac McCarthy totally beat you to that. And it was the bleakest fucking thing I've ever read. My advice to to move closer to the caldera -- try to die in Act I, not Act III.
posted by mosk at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was in that Yellowstone crater a few years ago. I have a geography degree with a minor in earth sciences, and all I can say is that it looked fuckin' dodgy. Bubbly water all over the place! Hot as fuck!

FYI! I'm not gonna say I told you so, but...
posted by jimmythefish at 11:16 AM on February 1, 2010


Oh, and does anyone have the latest on what Glad wrap can do now? That microwave shit? We should spread a bunch of that over the caldera. They have some pretty good shit these days.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:17 AM on February 1, 2010


As with nuke strikes and meteor hits, this is one of those where I am much more afraid of surviving than of being the first to go. Shudder.

On the upside, whatever lifeforms do pull through till the sun comes back may inherit a well-fertilized world that grows good food. So yay for them.
posted by emjaybee at 11:29 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And it was the bleakest fucking thing I've ever read.

You ain't lying. I've seriously considered taking the copy I keep at work and putting a bolt through it and locking it with a nut and a cotter pin. That way, if anyone every asks, I can explain that it's so that no one ever reads it by accident; if you really want it, you can have it, but you have to make an effort to get to those words.

It's that good.

And horrible.
posted by quin at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2010


IA IA! YELLOWSTONE FHTAGN!
posted by echo target at 11:31 AM on February 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


> But since there's not much I could do about it, I file it under the same category as "mass plague" or "meteor impact" in terms of fear level.

I was talking with the mother of a young child the other day. She'd read something about the Yellowstone situation and was fretting about it. I told her that IMHO worrying about things that you absolutely, positively can't do anything about was a waste of time and energy. I mean, I suppose you could build a fallout volcanic ash shelter or something if you really want to make sure you're Prepared In Case Of Emergency, but losing sleep over it isn't going to do you or your kids any good.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2010


What would the best early warning be? Which seismographs to I need to track, and at what level do I start notifying my friends and family?

Seriously, I'm going to write up a ruby script that does this 24x7x365
posted by Freen at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2010


> Cormac McCarthy totally beat you to that. And it was the bleakest fucking thing I've ever read.

But it had a "happy" ending!
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2010


Ugh. Yes. Just finished The Road yesterday. As if I needed more reasons to fear and deride primitivists and their ilk.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:43 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am not crazy about dying, but maybe for the earth it would be best to start with a cleaner slate of whatever lower organisms that would survive this and have them start evolving all over again.
posted by Danf at 11:44 AM on February 1, 2010


c/o Damn Interesting:
Despite the very limited statistics, one could say that we may be due soon for another eruption, considering that it has been 640,000 years since the last. If one were so inclined, one could calculate the odds of such an eruption occurring each year: approximately 1 in 700,000. But, since it has been quite a while since the last eruption, it would seem that the odds are something more like 1 in 100,000 or so. Given that an average American lives to be about 70 years old, that would put each of our odds of witnessing another giant Yellowstone eruption at about 1 in 13,000. That folks, means you are far more likely witness such an eruption than you are to die in a plane crash.

In other words, if your plane breaks apart at 35,000 feet, pray that you're flying over Yellowstone at the moment that the caldera unleashes it's fury.
posted by prinado at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2010


" I told her that IMHO worrying about things that you absolutely, positively can't do anything about was a waste of time and energy."

It's true. The trick, tho, is determining which things you can do something about, and which you can't. (Anthropogenic climate change, for instance, we can do something about, but volcanoes are out of our collective league.) There's a fine balance between the despair that comes from feeling powerless, and the false bravado of feeling invincible.

Imo, it makes more sense to worry about getting hit by a car, since that's far more likely to occur than death by supervolcanic eruption.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2010


Jesus Christ. Kirk Johnson needs some new material.

KJ, 02/01/2010: "In the last two weeks, more than 100 mostly tiny earthquakes a day, on average, have rattled a remote area of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, putting scientists who monitor the park’s strange and volatile geology on alert."

KJ, 02/03/2009: "But scientists said Monday that one of the biggest earthquake swarms ever recorded in the park took place in the last week of 2008 into early 2009, with 813 quakes in 11 days, most of them deep under Yellowstone Lake and felt by almost no one...A sign of looming geological upheaval? Probably not, said Jacob B. Lowenstern, the scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, a partnership between the park, the United States Geological Survey and the University of Utah."
posted by one_bean at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2010


Argh! Scooped by prinado.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:23 PM on February 1, 2010


I am not crazy about dying, but maybe for the earth it would be best to start with a cleaner slate of whatever lower organisms that would survive this and have them start evolving all over again.

I hate this kind of thing with an intense, furious passion.

Look, if your life is miserable enough to make you think that wiping out six billion other people, most of whom are pretty generally content with their lot, is somehow acceptable, then you really need to change your life. Seek therapy. Join Up With People. Go volunteer someplace.

We've only been at this game ten thousand years or so, and we're still just learning the rules. That being said, we're doing pretty freaking amazing. We're exploring our world, learning about the universe, trying our best to keep six billion people alive.

I happen to like human beings, and I don't want to see them wiped out. The destruction of humanity is not a desirable outcome, and I boggle at what horrific experiences one must have undergone to make them think that somehow a 'blank slate' at the cost of six billion deaths is acceptable.

It strikes me also as the ultimate laziness; let's not try to perfect what we've begun here, but instead let's all die and hope that something better happens after we've croaked.
posted by MrVisible at 12:28 PM on February 1, 2010 [18 favorites]


Argh! Scooped by prinado.

Actually, I think you were making the opposite point.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:36 PM on February 1, 2010


In other cheery news! Now, where is that silly gulf-stream these days?
posted by From Bklyn at 12:39 PM on February 1, 2010


reformedjerk: So when ice melts, it becomes weightless water? What article was this, anyway?

Oh, silly me, I should have realized that when ice melts, it stays suspended on the mountaintops, and the weight distribution doesn't change at all.

Clearly, I'm an idiot, and should have kept my mouth shut.
posted by Malor at 12:50 PM on February 1, 2010


1. Die. Grow a mohawk and invest in black football pads.

Fixed that for...well, me.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


True, jimmythefish. But even the extremely rough calulations of Damn Interesting give us a hazy kind of idea how much we should worry about this, and it's not too much. (At least compared to other dangers.) One in thirteen thousand is a lot better than the odds of dying from heart disease (something like one in five, I think) or burning in a fire (one in a thousand or so). And I think the real probability of Yellowstone erupting in our lifetimes is probably a lot higher than one in thirteen thousand, maybe one in a million or more.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:00 PM on February 1, 2010


Yellowstone has enough geothermal energy to meet our needs for millions of years. Yet rather than exploit this awesome power we'd rather stare at a few gysers while being tromped by a few buffalo and risk beig eaten by bears and wolves. Seriously WTF america. At least try to deplete the vast pool of boiling hot magma before it kills us all. I mean can you at least try to consume your way out of this. When some chef from Paris said we couldn't eat a 96 oz steak and all the fixings. We loosened our belts and downed that sob with an extra helping of potatoes and a bud thrown in. I am not going to let some geologist harp on about how we can't possibly handle a few hundred sq miles of molten rock. That guys is probably afraid some bears gonna eat im up on account of his failure to exercise his second amendment rights. Also could we Get Tommy Lee Jones and some K-rails over here just in case we need to build a dam to stop the lava from swallowing Twin Falls.
posted by humanfont at 1:02 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh for crying out loud, people! An eruption at Yellowstone, even on the largest scale wouldn't cause the extinction of humanity. We know that from the evidence of the past eruptions- all three of which happened while humans or our primate ancestors existed. Sure, a supervolcano going off in Yosemite would have catastrophic effects, and possibly be a long-term setback fro civilization, but it wouldn't be a world ender.

Frankly, what annoys me about the whole "humanity will go extinct" nonsense isn't that it's just wrong, but that it's obviously wistful thinking from people who want humanity to go extinct. And for those I'm not as nice as MrVisible is; probably they need therapy, but humanity may be as well served is those misanthropes simply spent some quality time in a bathtub with a straight razor.
posted by happyroach at 1:09 PM on February 1, 2010


happyroach seems to suffer from Yellowstone / Yosemite confusion.
posted by hippybear at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2010


but humanity may be as well served is those misanthropes simply spent some quality time in a bathtub with a straight razor.

Yes, manscaping is definitely an altruistic undertaking.

Oh, you weren't talking about that. Never mind.

But yeah, homo sapiens are the current result of billions of years of struggle. As sentient beings go, we're still in our toddler phase at most. So, advocating extinction of the race because we have a lot of growing pains is kind of like advocating gassing toddlers because they drew on the walls or something. Nihilism is just a lazy form of narcissism.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:38 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


The supervolcano eruption scene from 2012 (with all vapid dialogue re-dubbed in Tamil for your viewing comfort)
posted by Rhaomi at 1:42 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Cusack can outrun that sucker then there's hope for the rest of us.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:43 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a geology teacher that would talk about stuff like this--supervolcanoes, shield volcanoes, meteors and asteriods the size of Europe smashing into our planet, and then--without fail--would say, "It'll probably happen tomorrow!" "Likely by the weekend!" and stuff like that. Always with a smile. I bet it was fun to go to the track with him.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:52 PM on February 1, 2010


So you always hear that humanity has a max shelf life ending whenever the earth falls into the sun, sometimes you hear we'll exist until an asteroid wipes us out, does this mean neither of those things are likely and we're really only going to make it through to this eruption? I mean this is guaranteed to happen at some point, no?

I'm not worried overly much about it happening while I'm alive (or when my children are alive, or their children, etc.), but it is a little vexing to think all of our civilization is only going to last until Yellowstone goes off.
posted by imabanana at 2:30 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, it's not guaranteed to happen at some point. It may or may not erupt. Any eruption could come now or not for another 100,000 years. An eruption may or may not be cataclysmic. And there's probably little chance that our civilization will be extinguished.

Yeah, it's fun to play OMGWTFBBQ! But any serious worry about this should be somewhere way below your worries about blood pressure and auto accidents, below your worries about nuclear war, below about being eaten by bears or sharks or a horde of rabid squirrels. Maybe about where your worries are about having a stroke that causes you to wreck your car, whereupon you fall into the zoo and are eaten by a bear, which angers the Russians and starts WWIII.

But if you just want to spend some time freaking out, yet you're bored with the old standbys like stroke-auto-bear-nukes, try out methane clathrates.
posted by cisko at 2:52 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want real uncomfortable try installing the eQuake Alert in your Firefox browser. A 6.5 just hit Papua New Guinea and I felt it (well my shaking browser certainly did). Good way to remind yourself of stuff going on in the rest of the world away from the keyboard.
posted by Duug at 2:53 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


As far as my metric fear meter (metre?) goes, my 'bang to buck ratio' currency goes to an out of control self sustaining natural nuclear fission reaction seeming to be a pretty spectacular potentiality (ok, it just sounds scary)... 'specially when you map out a large source of our Uranium...
Just nuke it, indeed.


sixteen sites have been discovered at which self-sustaining nuclear fission reactions took place approximately 2 billion years ago, and ran for a few hundred thousand years, averaging 100 kW of power output during that time.

posted by infinite intimation at 2:55 PM on February 1, 2010


1. MrVisible, you are 110% right in your criticism of Danf's idiotic comment. I'm with you!

2. From the ANSS site: earthquakes around the world last week Not to minimize what's going on in Yellowstone (hey, I live in Colorado, not too far away) , but this is what the earth does... pretty much 24/7. Heck there was a 6.5 magnitude quake in New Guinea 32 minutes ago!
posted by ecorrocio at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2010


It would make a trillion $ deficit seem small beer
posted by A189Nut at 3:05 PM on February 1, 2010


Natural nuclear reactors can't work anymore because there isn't enough U235 for a reaction to be moderated by ordinary water anymore (2 billion years ago there was, but U235 decays faster than U238 so uranium ore has all depleted now).

I'm not particularly worried about supervolcanos, but in the event of one, I'm going cannibal right away. But I'll be a good guy, because I'll only eat other cannibals. I figure times might be tough for a couple weeks, but then there will be food everywhere.
posted by Humanzee at 4:14 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


happyroach seems to suffer from Yellowstone / Yosemite confusion.

Right, mea culpa. I meant to write "Jellystone".
posted by happyroach at 5:24 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a geologist, having spent a few years looking into these kind of things, I still find the magnitude incomprehensible. I mean, these things can eject THOUSANDS OF CUBIC KILOMETRES of material onto the surface of the planet. Imagine how much a single cubic kilometre of rock and ash would change the landscape, then multiply it by one thousand.

These old bastards are the single most violent things on the planet. Giant clouds of boiling, exploding toxic gasses that speed down a mountain faster than you can drive? Check. Complete, instantaneous destruction of a mountain? Check. Monumental impact on the climate of the rest of the world? Check. It's terrifying, and more than a little humbling, to think what kind of an effect it would have if it were to go off.
posted by twirlypen at 7:10 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't know whether or not a supervolcano will erupt in my lifetime, or if we'll ever suffer a major asteroid or comet impact, or if nuclear winter (still a possibility) will ever occur.

But this I swear: if any of those do occur in my life time, by God and all that is holy I will find out what long pork tastes like before I die.

My next door neighbor, the one who repeatedly blasts his music late on weeknights? I bet he'd fry up real good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


We are so fragile, and the universe is so hostile. That's one of the things that I console myself with when I grieve over the brevity of our individual lives.
posted by treepour at 8:23 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Yellowstone goes up, the resultant effects will extinguish human life on Earth.

Given that it didn't extinguish human life on Earth the last couple times it erupted, why would you believe this to be the case?
posted by Justinian at 8:55 PM on February 1, 2010


If Yellowstone goes up, the resultant effects will extinguish human life on Earth.

Given that it didn't extinguish human life on Earth the last couple times it erupted, why would you believe this to be the case?


'Cause kids today, they just don't got no grit.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:06 AM on February 2, 2010


The destruction of humanity is not a desirable outcome, and I boggle at what horrific experiences one must have undergone to make them think that somehow a 'blank slate' at the cost of six billion deaths is acceptable.

And insofar as progress can be said to exist and that we evolve both biologically and culturally, we are only the result of so many people toiling and dying and spending lives. Sure it'll happen again, maybe, but that's a lot of fucking work and what makes anyone think a "blank slate" would somehow circumvent all the bullshit we appear inevitably to mire ourselves in? Fuckin' nihilists is right.
posted by kaspen at 2:27 AM on February 2, 2010


“Clearly, I'm an idiot, and should have kept my mouth shut.”

You keep talkin’ science. If you’d had a clairaudient dream vision involving a “Scottie dog” shaped glacier and some blessed candles, we’d be on a roll here.

“happyroach seems to suffer from Yellowstone / Yosemite confusion.”

Which confirms my theory that happyroach is not only Bugs Bunny, and therefore concerned with Yosimite going off, but should also have taken that left at Albuquerque.

What strikes me in these kinds of discussions is that the nihilism and “survival” and what have you are essentially dismissals of reality.
That is, most people’s knee jerk reaction is: ‘how can I survive?’ and of course, the answer is either you can’t, or you only can with help from others.
And viscerally most people know that. The number of people who cooperate or help in emergencies is surprising to the cynical minded (look at Haiti, the long slow emergency, not so good. Earthquake – everyone jumps to help). So most people will be thinking how can ‘we’ survive. And they’ll be doing the most work and pretty much maximizing their survival. While the go-it-alone barricade or predatory type folks get a short term gain and then, as usual, die nastily.
One problem I had with McCarthy’s book was the cannibalism and catamites. (Yeah, ok, it’s a counter theme, that aside). Infection is unforgiving. Lots of nasty things can happen with fecal matter when you can’t get clean (parasitic infection, hepatitis, e coli, salmonella, giardia, colitis, etc) much less the prion and other diseases it’s possible to get through cannibalism. Much less walking all day where you’re likely to get bloody genitalia as it is.
So the ‘bad guys’ would have a very short shelf life even if they’re using forced sex for cohesion and recruitment. More than likely they’d only be the type who took occasional pot shots at you. Even then, likely it’s just another cooperating group.
Evil in desperate times is only a matter of small degrees. And the risk is being deprived the resources of the group which is lethal.
So if Yellowstone went off, ash, smoke, death, all that. But we’d have cell phone reps backpacking in supplies with insurance salesmen on snowshoes over the ash helping the search and rescue teams, regular people coming out to help each other.

It’s when gigantic supervolcanoes and massive disasters fail in spectacle that we tend to let people die.

And too, how much engagement of science would there be without this "AHH WERE GONNA 'SPLODE!' kind of thing. On the other hand I was trying to get an educational program on t.v. the other day to watch with my kids and damn if there isn't anything like that on. It's all 'splosions. As though the best part of Mythbusters is stuff blowing up. Hey, frosting is good. Why don't we make the whole cake out of that!?
*sigh*
posted by Smedleyman at 2:00 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


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