Have you ever heard of a “Yellowstone Volcano Eruption”? In fact, Yellowstone is a cauldron-shaped supervolcano with the largest scale on the American continent. The surface of the volcano extends up to 72km. Indeed, it is so large that it can even be observed from space, in low Earth orbit.

The most important thing is that inside that mountain contains tens of thousands of cubic kilometers of lava – a really huge number. It is estimated that it will take hundreds of years for the world’s most majestic Niagara Falls to fill one of the shallowest lava chambers of this mountain, not to mention the deeper ones.

So, what if that terrible supervolcano suddenly exploded? What will America be like? Would California be affected by Yellowstone? And for everyone on Earth, what will happen?

Yellowstone Volcano Eruption is Just Sooner or Later

At the present time, the top 2 chambers of Yellowstone volcano are still in a cooled state. According to Dr. Michael Poland – an expert from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, this mountain does not currently have enough energy to create a giant eruption.

beautiful Yellowstone National Park at the moment
The beautiful Yellowstone National Park at the moment.

“At the moment, most of Yellowstone’s lava has solidified, and we need a huge amount of magma to trigger it to explode.” – Poland said.

Experts monitoring the Yellowstone volcanic region have witnessed dense lava flows and several hydrothermal explosions. This shows that in the future, similar events will also happen. This is a problem, of course, but it is hardly a disaster. The risk of this supervolcano exploding strongly is only about 1:730,000. Even, it’s smaller than the possibility of a super-meteorite entering Earth.

However, in cases where lava flows in the deeper layers are suddenly pumped in, or the underlying geological layer weakens, that’s a different matter. If it did, it would likely be pressurized enough to push the entire magma to the surface, blasting straight out. No one can answer exactly what will happen next, but Yellowstone’s history has shown us dark clues.

The Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruption Alert

Now let’s assume the worst-case scenario. In other words, all of the supervolcano’s lava suddenly explodes. Historically, there have been three times when Yellowstone has had such an event, with a period of about 660,000 – 800,000 years/time. The first was 2.1 million years ago, then 1.3 million years ago, and the last was about 640,000 years ago.

In particular, the first eruption is also the most terrible, when it produced volcanic material (lava, ash …) more than 2,500 times larger than the eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980. For those who do not know, it is considered the deadliest and most economically devastating disaster in American history, when it killed 57 people and destroyed structures within hundreds of kilometers around. Even the “weakest” eruption 640,000 years ago was enough to cover 60% of the US area with a dense layer of ash.

What Happens if Yellowstone Volcano Eruption?

It’s not clear how the US volcano-watching organizations will be alerted. Yet, the truth is, in the days before the volcano erupts, the entire land around Yellowstone National Park will swell. The hydrothermal system below will cause the temperature to rise rapidly, causing the surrounding groundwater to increase in temperature, and the acidity in the air will also increase significantly.

Next, a series of tremors began to occur as the magma gathered to the center and accelerated to the surface. Then, the top layer of rock would succumb, break apart, and the eruption begins.

Yellowstone's Old Faithful eruption in the Winter
Yellowstone’s Old Faithful eruption in the Winter.

As expected, a column of ash and lava will shoot straight into the sky, at least 25,000m high. The column of matter will remain for many days, pumping the ash straight up to the stratosphere. And when they fall, they will create large explosions around the Yellowstone National Park.

A mixture of ash, lava crumbs, and superheated gas with temperatures above 1000°C can travel at speeds of up to 482km/h. Anyone unluckily touch them will surely die instantly. In the surrounding areas, the air temperature will increase rapidly to about 300°C.

Basically, lava flows can travel about 15km from the center of the explosion but sometimes spread up to 100km – equivalent to the length of Yellowstone National Park. Therefore, when the explosion happens, the creatures around the park, including humans, would die in mass. It results from both the lava and the collapse of the mountain structure.

Besides, the mixture of lava – ash when going downhill can mix with mud to increase the movement speed. As stated, anyone who accidentally stands in the way will surely meet death.

Can Yellowstone Volcano Destroy the World?

Definitely, the answer is no. Humanity isn’t disappearing because of the Yellowstone Volcano eruption. Nevertheless, these problems above are not the most dangerous part of a volcanic eruption. It’s the ash with the potential effects on a global scale.

Yellowstone Volcano Effect on Biosphere and Climate

The scariest thing that happens to the world, is the huge amount of ash will make the sky dark and even the temperature in many areas around the globe will drop. If the amount of ash is high in sulfur, which is an extremely good sunlight-blocking material, the global temperature could drop by a few degrees. As a result, the whole world may not have a summer anymore in the next few years.

The smoke and ashes generated by a volcano eruption
The smoke and ashes generated by a volcano eruption.

“The temperature will drop markedly for many years. The question is for how long. No one can answer.” – Poland explained. Based on the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815, Yellowstone can completely change the climate in the world, creating terrible effects on people’s lives.

Initially, the timing of the monsoon will change. The atmospheric circulation has also become more unpredictable. Meanwhile, the spread of waterborne diseases has also increased dramatically.

Volcano Impact on Economic Cost

Agriculture will also suffer great consequences, causing a shortage of food supplies. This will increase the total economic damage for the whole world. According to estimates by FEMA (the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency), the loss to the United States alone will be 3 trillion dollars – equal to 16% of the total GDP of the country. By comparison, it’s $400 million more than they have suffered because of climate change over the past decades.

Yellowstone Volcano Effect on World’s Infrastructure

In addition, ash is up to 6 times denser than water. Therefore, it can cause structures to collapse because it is too heavy. According to Poland, just a layer of wet ash a few dozen centimeters thick is enough for a large building to crack. In case of Yellowstone eruption, perhaps the entire 80km-wide area around must be subjected to a layer of ash at least 3m thick.

buildings, vehicles, and trees are covered by ashes from Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption
An example of buildings, vehicles, and trees are covered by ashes from Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption.

Roads, and water systems,… all will be clogged and broken. Contaminated water cannot be used. The electrical system is short-circuited. Millions of homes in the US will be uninhabitable.

Now, assuming the wind around is not too strong, cities like Denver and Calgary are also flooded with at least 10 – 30cm of ash. We will need months, even years, to resolve the ashes. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle,… suffered about 3cm of ash. On top of that, it is enough to destroy vehicles and people cannot use drinking water.

Certainly, flights could not continue but had to move the landing point out of the US for at least a few weeks. The military will surely come out to rescue the affected residents, numbering in the tens of millions.

Supervolcano Effect on Humans

When breathing in air containing volcanic ash, the lungs will be severely weakened, and cement-like crystals will form in them. Furthermore, each time about 11,000 visitors visit Yellowstone National Park on average. In other word, it’s about 3.8 million people a year. And if Yellowstone volcano eruption happens in the summer months when most people visit, the number of casualties will certainly be much higher.

However, according to Poland, this does not mean that life on Earth will be destroyed. There is an example of the Toba eruption 74,000 years ago – one of the most powerful eruptions in history. It’s larger than all of Yellowstone’s peak explosions. Obviously, humanity has overcome that event when they do not even have modern technology like humans today.

In Summary

It can be affirmed that if Yellowstone really explodes, it will be an extremely terrible environmental disaster, affecting life around the planet. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean our civilization will end, just that the world will become a harder place to live. Anyway, it should be emphasized that such a global disaster will not happen in the near future, because the odds are very small.


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16 COMMENTS

  1. The thought of it going off is a little scary. Some people assume the volcanos that are dormant for so long will never go off but I never think that

  2. That is quite a scary thought. I remember reading about this before, and the information was super hyped. They were talking about how it could be a planet killer. It’s nice to know that’s not the case.

  3. There are definitely some catastrophic consequences from an eruption. I can’t imagine the widespread impacts it would have. Natural disasters like these are scary to think about.

  4. This is interesting and never been there yet, but good to know about it. It look so cool and would love to visit it in real life.

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