Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter
Everyone knows how powerful a volcano can be. We have many historical examples such as Mt. Vesuvius, Krakatoa, and most recently the Mt. St. Helens eruption. Each of these devastated miles of land and had global effects that lasted long after the eruption. However these eruptions are a mere pittance when compared to the power of ancient super volcanoes. You might wonder what is a super volcano.
A super volcano is a volcano that is capable of an eruption producing at least 1000 cubic miles of material. However this term is not quite scientific as it can cover a wide selection of volcanic activity. In essence the common understanding will be a volcanic eruption that is several orders of magnitude stronger than most volcanic eruptions. New scientific methods has allowed scientist to identify and monitor potential volcanoes that would fit in this category. One such is the Yellowstone National Park Caldera. If you saw the disaster film 2012 you saw a dramatization of what would happen if the Yellowstone Caldera actually erupted.
Right now most identified super volcanoes are not active. This is a good thing because the eruption of one would have dramatic effects on the surrounding landscape and the global climate. To put it into perspective the power of such an eruption would easily dwarf the energy released by a major western nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Volcanic eruptions such as the Krakatoa eruption could significantly drop the temperature of the Earth. As matter of fact that is what happened with Krakatoa eruption. It ended up creating a year without summer that lead to a famine in the Northern Hemisphere.
Scientists are trying to understand more about super volcanoes for two main reasons. The first is to prepare against them. If monitors are advanced enough they could give people in the affected areas precious time to move to safer areas. When considering how far such an eruption can spread any extra time could be crucial to saving lives. The other reason is to find out the role such volcanic activity played in forming the Earth as we now know it. We know from the geologic record that such activity was more common and lasted for long periods of time. Knowing more will help us learn more about Earth’s history and what super volcanic eruptions could do in our present time.
We’ve also recorded related episodes of Astronomy Cast about Volcanoes. Listen here, Episode 141: Volcanoes, Hot and Cold.