Yellowstone's Supervolcano Could Blow Sooner Than We Thought

Credit: Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

There is a massive volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park and it's feeling frisky.

The "supervolcano" could erupt much sooner than scientists initially predicted. And it has the power to wipe out life on earth, according to a National Geographic report. Researchers from Arizona State University, who have been analyzing minerals in the fossilzed ash in the region, predicted certain changes in the landscape's composition (that signify a forthcoming eruption) would take centuries. Instead, the changes have taken decades.

Nearly 630,000 years ago a massive volcanic eruption occurred in the region and created a 40-mile wide bowl that makes up most of what we know now as Yellowstone. The New York Times reports that the big volcano "has the ability to spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash — 2,500 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980 — an event that could blanket most of the United States in ash and possibly plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter."

ASU graduate student Hannah Shamloo developed the rapid supervolcano timeline after analyzing the change in temperature, water content, and pressure in crystals from her team's dig at the site. 

“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” she told the Times

Researchers do say that it is difficult to predict an exact timeline for the eruption but according to the Times, "scientists are just now starting to realize that the conditions that lead to supereruptions might emerge within a human lifetime."

Read the full National Geographic report here.