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Supervolcanoes

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Kaboom!
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Kaboom!

 

Credit: Austin Post, scanned photograph by USGS, cleaned by and adjusted by carol
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MSH80_eruption_mount_st_helens_05-18-80-dramatic-edit.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A supervolcano has not erupted in tens of thousands of years. However, volcanologists know enough about those specific eruptions to know that if one did erupt, it would be an incredible catastrophe.

Amazing But True!

The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens (pictured above) released a plume of ash 8 to 10 miles into the sky. The amount of magma erupted was 0.12 cubic miles. Sadly, 57 people died and over $1 billion in property was destroyed. But as volcanic eruptions go, that eruption was pretty small.

On the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI, below), Mt. St. Helens scores a 5. Sounds like a lot until you realize that the VEI is a log scale. The largest eruptions, from supervolcanoes, score an 8. The eruption of Mt. Toba 76,000 years ago and the eruptions of Yellowstone were all 8s. The Toba eruption lasted from 1 to 2 weeks and was 5600 times the magma volume of St. Helens. Fortunately, there is no supervolcano predicted to erupt soon. But what would happen if one did?

VEI

Classification

Ejecta volume

Plume

Frequency

Examples (recent)

0

Hawaiian

< 10,000 m3

< 100 m

Daily

Kilauea, Hawaii

1

Hawaiian/ Strombolian

> 10,000 m3

100-1000 m

Daily

Raoul Island (2006)

2

Strombolian/ Vulcanian

> 1,000,000 m3

1 – 5 km

Weekly

Sinabung (2010)

3

Vulcanian/ Pelean

> 10,000,000 m3

3 – 15 km

Yearly

Nabro (2011)

4

Pelean/ Plinian

> 0.1 km3

10 - 25 km

1 year

Eyjafjallajokull (2010)

5

Plinian

> 1 km3

20 – 35 km

 10 years

St. Helens (1980)

6

Plinian/ Ultra-Plinian

> 10 km3

> 30 km

 100 years

Pinatubo (1991)

7

Ultra-Plinian

> 100 km3

> 40 km

 1,000 years

Tambora (1815)

8

Supervolcanic

> 1,000 km3

> 50 km

10,000 years

Toba (76,000 BP)

Can You Apply It?

With the links below, learn more about supervolcano eruptions. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What creates a pyroclastic flow?
  2. Look at the VEI chart. How much larger is an eruption that is an 8 than one that is a 5?
  3. What is the eruption history of Yellowstone? When will it erupt again?
  4. What does the eruption of a supervolcano do to the climate and why?
  5. What do you think would happen if Yellowstone had a massive eruption today? Be as specific as possible.

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Austin Post, scanned photograph by USGS, cleaned by and adjusted by carol; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MSH80_eruption_mount_st_helens_05-18-80-dramatic-edit.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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