The Yellowstone caldera, which gets its nickname as a supervolcano due to its ability to inflict devastation on a global level, lurks below the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It is monitored by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for signs that a supereruption is on its way, something that has only happened three times in history, 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 640,000 years ago, leaving some to claim the massive eruption is overdue. Amid the speculation, Naked Science’s “Supervolcanoes” documentary revealed the warning signs would be seen long before an eruption happened.
The narrator said in 2013: “How would the emergency services know that a supereruption is on the way?
“All volcanoes warn us that they are about to erupt.
“The first sign of a Yellowstone eruption would probably be the ground rising.
“Just before Mount St Helens erupted, the mountain bulged, growing five feet per day, a similar kind of uplift would be likely at Yellowstone.
These warning signs would trigger the mother of all evacuations
“As magma deep below the surface of the Earth rises, it splits the rocks above.”
The series went on to reveal the extent of the evacuation that would ensue.
It added: “In Yellowstone, it would probably lift the whole caldera, an area the size of Houston and Dallas, 10 feet or more into the air.
“Weeks or even months before a Yellowstone supereruption, these warning signs would trigger the mother of all evacuations.
“The area 60 miles around the volcano would become a hazard zone, officials would place on alert the surrounding region up to 200 miles readying people for a violent eruption.
“As people evacuated the area, geologists would lookout for new warning signs that would tell them an eruption is imminent.”
The series detailed what sort of signs scientists would expect to see before a supereruption.
It continued: “Earthquakes produce distinctive waveforms on the seismographs and the cracks of rocks fracturing create a signal that starts with a sharp rise and fades quickly.
“Long before an eruption, swarms of earthquakes would sweep the hazard zone and surrounding areas.
“Just before a volcanic eruption, the signal produced by regular earthquakes would give way to a new signal – a long, continuous vibration.”
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Professor Bill McGuire, from University College London, went into more detail about exactly what would happen during the same series.
He added: “You start to see swarms of earthquakes, as fresh magma moves into the system and breaks the rock above it.
“Once that magma has opened a space for itself, it will start to move through that and as it moves fairly rapidly, it vibrates the walls of cracks.
“That will give you a sort of rumbling signal, it sounds like the vibration of a large organ pipe.”
However, the USGS has previously put minds at ease regarding “overdue” claims.
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory’s Scientists-in-Charge Jacob Lowenstern said in 2014: “When you see people claiming it’s overdue, usually the numbers they come up with say the last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but it erupts every 600,000 years.
“But, in fact, if you average the eruption intervals, there’s 2.1 million to 1.3 million and then another 640,000 years ago.
“If you average those numbers you come up with something that’s over 700,000 years.
So, in reality, even if you tried to make this argument, it wouldn’t be overdue for another 70,000 years.”
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