What Events Might Make the Yellowstone Supervolcano Erupt
I must confess that I am a volcano nerd. I've been fascinated with them dating back to the Mt St. Helens eruption in 1980. My fascination with this part of geology led me to ask the question what would it really take to make the Yellowstone supervolcano erupt? This is what I found.
I've come up with 4 different scenarios and explored the probability of how each might cause the Yellowstone supervolcano to blow its top in order of likelihood.
Major Earthquake - Eruption Possibility - Not Likely
We spoke with Mike Poland, the lead scientist for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory a couple months ago. I asked him if a major earthquake could cause the supervolcano to explode.
Mike Poland - "It's pretty unlikely. It seems like it should make sense, right? You have this idea that the earth shakes up the magma chamber and that sort of like shakes up a can of soda and kaboom. Right? It doesn't really work that way. If we look globally, there just aren't that many instances of earthquakes that have caused eruptions."
Yellowstone.net says geologists estimate that the largest quake that would be likely to hit Yellowstone in our era would be in the 6.5 magnitude range. That isn't likely to cause Yellowstone to kill us.
Nuclear Bomb Detonation - Eruption Possibility - Probably Not
You might laugh at this possibility, but it really has been asked enough that the USGS answered it. If someone placed a nuclear bomb in Yellowstone and detonated it, would that cause the supervolcano to erupt? The USGS says probably not. Here's their somewhat simplistic answer:
You see, unlike science fiction stories, in which nuclear weapons seem to be the cause of, and solution to, many geological catastrophes, science fact tells us that you aren't likely to trigger a Yellowstone cataclysm with a nuclear weapon.
Their argument is the amount of energy released by a nuke isn't nearly enough to cause the kind of instability that would cause Yellowstone to fracture.
Let's take this outrageous question to the place where only disaster movies dare to tread.
Direct Strike By An Asteroid - Eruption Possibility - Probably, But The Volcano Would Be The Least Of Our Problems
As funny as it sounds, this question has been asked and more or less answered by the International Business Times which shared this fun video about the scenario.
As they point out, it would depend on the size of the asteroid. If it were the size of the one that allegedly killed the dinosaurs, it would be a moot point. Society as we know it would end. But, the scenario of an asteroid of sufficient size hitting Yellowstone could create 2 different death zones. You'd have the area vaporized by the asteroid, then the area affected by the ash cloud fallout of a Yellowstone eruption.
The odds of this happening seem more than a little small, so I wouldn't lose sleep over it
What would the most likely scenario for a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption?
Nature's Natural Geological Process - Eruption Possibility - Certain
This was another of our questions for Mike Poland. What would be the sign that Yellowstone were about to erupt due to natural geological processes? He said that you'd see the normal amount of hundreds of earthquakes per month become thousands. You'd see massive uplift in all parts of the park instead of a little in isolated areas.
The good news about this is that there are no signs of imminent problems according to the lead scientist at Yellowstone. Could it erupt in the future and destroy us? Sure. Is it likely to happen soon? Probably not.