The Eruption That Could Change The World
Yellowstone National Park is an 8,983 km² wilderness park located in Wyoming, USA. Yellowstone features amazing canyons, magnificent mountains and gushing geysers whilst it is also home to hundreds of animal species, including bears, wolves, elk and antelope. However, beneath this natural beauty lies a huge supervolcano which, if it were to erupt, would do so with the power of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. The eruption would result in 90,000 immediate deaths, generate a fast travelling ash cloud, and create a volcanic winter which would cause global temperatures to drop. How will our world be affected if the super volcano erupted?
The temperature of the ground around the supervolcano would rise to boiling point and the geyser would start spitting out boiling volcanic gases more frequently but at a very high temperature. The trees and greenery around the supervolcano would consequently start to die whilst the steam would start condensing around the atmosphere. The local wildlife would then slowly start to diminish and within a short period of time, the eruption would take place.
Short Term effects
For several days, ash would hang in the air, making it difficult to breathe. The blanket of ash covering the country would smother vegetation and pollute the water supply, quickly leading to a nationwide food crisis. As for the rest of the world, it would face a few years of mild climate change caused by the super eruption’s ash cloud, which would wrap around the globe, casting Earth in shadow for several days and altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere for about a decade.
Long Term effects
If Yellowstone were to erupt, no tourist could ever visit the park again and would lead to severe unemployment. Businesses would be affected, homes lost and the survivors would have to move away.
North America's highest population density lies along its coastlines. Ash deposit thicknesses on the coasts, according to nearly all simulations, would be between a few millimetres to a few centimetres. The thicknesses of this scale seem small but their effects are far from negligible. A few millimetres of ash can reduce traction on roads and runways, short out electrical transformers and cause respiratory problems. Ash-fall of even a few centimetres throughout the American Midwest would disrupt livestock and crop production, especially during critical times in the growing season whilst thicker deposits could threaten building integrity and obstruct sewer and water lines. It is also likely that electronic communications and air transportation would be shut down throughout North America.
The Ash Cloud Moving
If Yellowstone were to erupt, a huge ash cloud would cover North America and rise up into the atmosphere. The ash cloud would be very energetic, as evidenced in the Mount St Helens eruption of 1980 in Washington State, where the force was equivalent to one Hiroshima bomb. The Yellowstone eruption however would be 1,000 times more powerful. Anyone caught within 1,000 km of the volcano would experience the ash cloud at its thickest as it started to destroy homes. The ash cloud could get into computers, affect transport, stop power lines, contaminate water, damage crops and change the weather. It would also have toxic gases, such as sulphur which would be ejected high into the atmosphere. This could remain for years and years causing temperatures to drop worldwide. Approximately half a million people globally would die due to the ash cloud. Yellowstone is currently 80km long, 40km wide and 8km deep so if and when an eruption were to occur, the caldera that is left will cover roughly the same area as London. A caldera is a large volcanic crater, caused by a major eruption.
We interviewed a Year 9 student who has been studying Yellowstone in their geography class to see what they thought about the possible eruption.
Do you think it is likely that Yellowstone will erupt in the next 50 years?
We have learnt in Geography that the supervolcano is long overdue, so I think that it is very possible that it could erupt anytime soon. Whether it will be in the next 50 years, I am not sure. It could be tomorrow, or in a thousand years!
How do you think we should be preparing?
I think the American government should be preparing the most since they will need to evacuate thousands of people away from the areas around Yellowstone. In England, we will be mainly affected by the ash and I do not think there is much we can do to prepare for that. I think the government should create an app that is automatically on all smartphones; this can alert people of the volcano’s eruption and make sure they evacuate to their chosen safe area as quickly as possible. We could also be building ash shelters in countries where the ash will be very heavy.
How will our lives be changed in England if it erupts?
In the first few weeks we will be affected by the ash from the volcano, which will affect transport, communications, as well as our health. However, soon enough the global temperatures will drop and we will be plunged into a volcanic winter which will not just affect England, but the whole world. This will also affect our global food sources, as no crops will grow and animals cannot be bred outside.
How long do you think the volcanic winter will last?
Most recently, the 1991 explosion of Mount Pinatubo caused global temperatures to drop for 2-3 years, but the Yellowstone eruption will be a lot more catastrophic, so it could last 10-15 years.
Where do you think the victims in America should evacuate to? Do you think it would be wise for them to go to Mexico?
I think Mexico would be a good choice as an evacuation point for the people surrounding Yellowstone in Utah, Colorado, Idaho and other neighbouring states. However, Mexico would soon become overpopulated, so they may need to move some of the evacuees to different countries where they can build a more permanent home.
To summarise, if Yellowstone were to erupt, the world would be affected for many years after the initial eruption. Aside from the thousands of immediate deaths, many people would suffer serious health issues caused by the ash. Economies would collapse due to a shortage of jobs around the world, the environment would be affected dramatically and people’s lives as they know it would be destroyed. Although the eruption is not certain to happen, we should still be prepared for this catastrophic event.