“Supervolcanoes:” A Potential Global Catastrophe

March 11, 2005

As if the world’s increasingly violent weather weren’t enough (See previous article), the BBC is set to air a two part documentary on the potential threat of mass destruction posed by “Supervolcanoes.”

The program, which will be aired in the U.K. March 13 and 14, describes the phenomenon as the accumulation of massive amounts of magma beneath the earth’s crust. Unlike garden-variety volcanoes, such as Mt. St. Helens, Supervolcanoes “begin life when magma rises from the mantle to create a boiling reservoir in the Earth’s crust. This chamber increases to an enormous size, building up colossal pressure until it finally erupts.”

The program focuses on a region that Americans know well – Yellowstone National Park. Under all those geysers and hot springs lies a pool of molten rock, which could become a supervolcano. Even though, as the BBC points out, “Only a handful exist in the world, when one erupts it will be unlike any volcano we have ever witnessed. The explosion will be heard around the world. The sky will darken, black rain will fall, and the Earth will be plunged into the equivalent of a nuclear winter.” The potential death and destruction caused by such an eruption is virtually incalculable.

According to studies cited in the program the last such eruption occurred “74,000 years ago in Sumatra. Ten thousand times bigger than Mt. St. Helens, it created a global catastrophe dramatically affecting life on Earth. Scientists know that another one is due – they just don’t know when… or where.”

However, those who’ve studied the threat have concluded that the area around Yellowstone has erupted on an average of 600,000-year intervals – not all that long in geologic time. “The last eruption was 640,000 years ago… so the next is overdue,” the BBC indicates – at least that’s one possible conclusion.

The program should eventually be shown in the U.S., and might lead to a number of “Supervolcano Exclusions” in insurance policies. For more information on the peril such events may pose consult the BBC Website at: www.bbc.co.uk.

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