Popular legend has it that when Krakatoa, a volcano located between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia erupted in 1883, the explosion was heard across half the world. Of course history is replete with infamous volcanic eruptions from Vesuvius in Pompeii to Krakatoa proving that volcanoes pose a very considerable danger and while once assumed to be localized to a specific area, scientists are increasingly discovering the threat of ‘supervolcanoes’ that could end civilizations.
Supervolcanoes are in orders of magnitude, far, far greater than anything witnessed by humanity so far and recent studies have shown that the possibility of one erupting could happen sooner than previously expected.
Scientists have identified a potential supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park in the US and according to their estimates if it were to erupt, it would render nearly ‘two thirds’ of the country uninhabitable. The sheer potency of supervolcano eruption is alarming enough because it, much like an asteroid impact has the potential to wipe out species, as the latter did with the dinosaurs. When supervolcanoes erupt they spew enough ash and debris to not only obliterate their surroundings but also, because of the ash in the atmosphere, cause a ‘global cooling’; something that is said to have happened 70,000 years ago when a supervolcano in Lake Toba, Indonesia erupted.
And now according to the new study, researchers have found that though previously assumed that supervolcanoes erupt after a buildup of magma for 100,000 to 200,000 years, this timescale may now just be a handful of centuries. Researchers from the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, publishing their work in the journal, Plos One, sampled rock from a former supervolcano site in Long Valley, California and according to their study discovered that instead of the thousands of years it took for the supervolcano to erupt, it happened within a couple of centuries.
Speaking about this, Dr Guilherme Gualda who worked on the study said, "Our study suggests that when these exceptionally large magma pools form they are ephemeral and cannot exist very long without erupting. The fact that the process of magma body formation occurs in historical time, instead of geological time, completely changes the nature of the problem."
In order to obtain their findings, the researchers have been studying Zircons and quartz, found in volcanic effusions, that contain trace radioactive materials that help scientists ‘date’ the mineral. It was found from the dating that it took these minerals between 500 to 3,000 years to form, far different than the previously assumed timescale.
But the researchers do add that at present there are no known significant magma buildups around the world however more research had to be done to better understand supervolcanoes.