The Long Valley Caldera in California became more active in the 1970's. If this study's conclusions hold up under investigation and it only takes a few decades of activity before a "supervolcano" can erupt, we should monitor these caldera a bit more closely.
Obviously that's predictability within a single supervolcano, not worldwide, but I'd love clarification if I've got that wrong.
> Caldera collapse volcanic eruptions the size of Yellowstone occurr at random intervals
Which I take to mean that there isn't enough data about exceptional events like this to reliably predict their timing.
So, in the Yellowstone case, it is reasonable to assume another one will happen and that the magma is "building up". And that it is more likely to happen soon, if it has not happened in a long while. On the other hand, I don't think we yet understand the mechanisms behind caldera eruptions well enough to say what will happen with much certainty. It is possible Yellowstone won't erupt again.
Earthquakes are much more predictable. There are hundreds of faults all over the Earth that each have a long history that can be determined by digging trenches across faults. Most are semi-periodic with repetition going back dozens of earthquakes.
Outlook not so good.
There are already engineering plans to relieve the eruption. NASA has commented that a Super Volcano are a bigger threat than asteroids.
> But if more of the heat could be extracted, then the supervolcano would never erupt. Nasa estimates that if a 35% increase in heat transfer could be achieved from its magma chamber, Yellowstone would no longer pose a threat. The only question is how?
Of course, then one has to wonder if that sort of interference in major geological processes will have some other bad side-effects in the future.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of a trip there. I don't remember much else about the trip but can still picture the amazing kaleidoscope of color and recall the smell of sulfur.
Endless free energy?
I guess you could transfer enough energy out from the borders of the chamber without affecting the rest of the place too much.
If a volcanic (or nuclear) winter occurs due to a massive eruption, the most straightforward technological solution to food production is to use methanotrophs to convert natural gas efficiently into food calories.
This is already done for animal feed by a company called Calysta, and in an emergency can be used for direct human consumption as well:
In cooperation with Cargill, Calysta is building a 200,000 tons per year methane-to-feed facility in the US. To feed 300 million people in an emergency, it'd take at least 300 of those facilities.
I believe the energy efficiency of methane (and ammonia) to food calories is approximately 50%. I will use a more conservative 30% efficiency to account for processing.
Human metabolism is ~100 Watts (2000kcal/day = 98W). US produces about 25 trillion cubic feet of gas per year (as of 2012), or about 850GW_thermal of gas. At 30% efficiency, that's equivalent to an ability to feed 2.5 billion people a 2000kcal/day diet. Global production works to 12 billion people at 2000kcal/day. We can do more by increasing natural gas production or using coal-to-gas technology (China would likely do that, in which case it could provide for its own population just fine) or harnessing methane clathrates, use nuclear power to produce methane and ammonia, etc.
People would likely have to live in better insulated and smaller (perhaps shared) houses due to colder weather, but using methanotrophic bacteria for fermentation-based food production would solve the food production problem, especially in a rich country like the United States that already has a lot of natural gas production.
So if we had a 10 year warning, the US could definitely prepare food production capable of working in deep volcanic winter. (The US is the greatest producer of natural gas with about 21% of global gas production, followed by Russia at 18%... the next highest is Iran at just 5%.)
Soylent Green is...Dinosaur Farts!!!
People with in the blast radius will be escaping to somewhere.
You'd want breathing masks, just like is already used in places that see regular eruptions. And crop failure in the Midwest is the major concern. Methanotrophs solve that.
The US has plenty of room.
~1/100,000 years seems slow, but that's ~650 of them post dinosaurs.
Which is how many people Elon Musk & Jeff Bezos would have to get to Mars or the Moon to create a genetically stable population.
We also have slow reproductive rates which make it harder to weed out genetic issues. Wild mice on the other hand can have stable populations from a very small number of random individuals.
But, again this just comes back to extinction, and super volcanoes don't kill off most species. Even though it may be a really bad time for the survivors.
Can I ask, what is the intended communicative payload of the scare-quotes around 'mass'?
Put another way, when 99.9% of species survive it's not a mass extinction. Remember, even if 99% of individual organisms die that's not necessarily fatal at the species level.
PS: The big 5 killed of ~70-98% of all species and even large ~17-57% of all families of species. That's hard to picture, but think not just all domestic cats, but also all tigers, lions, Jaguar, Leopard, Ocelot, lynx, Bobcat, Cheetah, Leopard, etc aka anything cat like as just one family.
Globally, the problem is volcanic winter - ash in the upper atmosphere blocking out light and causing major cooling. The estimates I've seen suggest ~2 years of nonstop winter, followed by a gradual recovery.
But regionally, the problem is settling ash, which travels much further than larger debris. That blankets plants and kills them, as well as causing lung damage and suffocation sufficient to kill or sicken most animals in the area.
It's one of the reasons Yellowstone is particularly threatening - we can expect that the volcanic winter would start with the death of crops and livestock in one of the highest-export farming regions on the planet.
First: the last major Yellowstone eruption involved 240 cubic miles of debris. Even if that's only 1% ash, that's a basically prohibitive amount of volume to remove from the upper atmosphere.
Second: ash distribution is rapid and extensive. There's not enough ash in any one place to make cleanup runs effective overall, and distribution is too fast to clean a region persistently.
Third: volcanic ash is some of the nastiest, most machinery-hostile stuff nature produces. I would expect it to jam and corrode basically any moving πarts we can build, while also blocking out enough light to prohibit any kind of sustained solar flight.
Frankly, I don't think there is a good answer at the moment; the sheer volume of the stuff is beyond any sort of geoengineering we've seriously considered.
I've got this bazooka bubblegum
This sounds very much like the beginning pages of seveneves by Neal Stephenson.
It's a novel about what happens to people when an unexpected deadline is imposed upon them. Highly recommended.
It is also why I advocate additional investment in engineering solutions to surviving climate change rather than focusing entirely on CO2 mitigation. We cannot prevent a super volcano from erupting.
One of the more interesting conjectures I've heard about climate change was the relationship of sea level to magma mobility. A paper looking at the effect of the Mediterranean ocean drying out and its impact on volcanic activity describes a fairly local connection.
Such a mechanism could be used to explain a systemic recovery response of the planet from periods of high average temperature. Specifically the planet has gone through periods where it has been really warm and then really cold (ice ages) and back again to warm.
But even the biggest conceivable eruption will leave Earth infinitely more habitable than any other known celestial body.
That is, are the massive cooling effects and resulting changes to the environment required to balance natural warming?
Has anyone studied or attempted to model an earth without super volcanic events?
So it's more correct to say that without the greenhouse effect, life would never exist on Earth, because plant life most certainly wouldn't develop in -18C and saturate the planet with oxygen.
Like the presence of the moon, distance from the sun, etc.
NYT is a horrible source for science news. Why were they hauling rocks and what did they do with their hauled rocks? I like bears and bison, but that doesn't seem important.
Another article, slightly more sensationalist but worth checking out, in my opinion:
> Ms. Shamloo later analyzed trace crystals in the volcanic leftovers, allowing her to pin down changes before the supervolcano’s eruption. Each crystal once resided within the vast, seething ocean of magma deep underground. As the crystals grew outward, layer upon layer, they recorded changes in temperature, pressure and water content beneath the volcano, much like a set of tree rings.
It's true that this is not sufficient information to allow readers to replicate the analysis at home, but it seems like a good level of introductory detail so people can decide whether they want to follow the link in the NYT article to the volcanology conference.
NYT is a lousy source for science journalism. How about what kind of rock? How about why they were moving rock (heavy?) instead of just taking small samples? Bison, bears, and the hot sun are prose for op-eds and novels, not an article about geology.
Heck, they could have skipped that whole sentence and it'd have been fine. I'm not outraged, it's just lousy science journalism that is an example of their continued low-quality reporting. It's just one more strike against them, so I figured I'd mention it and offer readers a second article - which wasn't much better but you can combine the two and almost have something worth reading.
Now if the content about the science was wrong, or misleadingly simplified, that would be a valid complaint. The recently linked article on baryonic matter discovered between galaxies didn't clarify that it wasn't talking about dark matter, which a lay reader might have assumed. That was a valid complaint. But this just seems a bit silly to complain about.
If a science article in a major newspaper mentions actual methods used in a new line of inquiry at all, I consider it above average.
I say that because I think it gives some color to my next comment.
I have some very, very strong opinions about science journalism and the changes I've seen in the past thirty years. However, I fear my attempt to express those opinions would be sufficiently off-topic and incomplete, as my complaints are many, varied, and long.
There is still good science journalism, it exists. It just isn't all that popular. It is quite possible to have good science journalism that appeals even to moderately educated people. I know this to be true because I have seen it.
I often lament the death of the ideal which is that of the citizen scientist. It is through gritted teeth that I submit the ideal has been suplanted by citizen journalist. That is wonderful, at least in theory. However, it seems that it has resulted in fewer people paying for quality journalism and it also seems likely that this is a primary cause for the reduction in quality.
It doesn't help that the evening news now competes with reality television. In a world where deep thoughts are limited to 140 characters, sensationalism has prospered at the cost of depth.
I ain't even started... I can rant for hours about the state of scientific journalism, or journalism in general. The lack of quality editing only compounds it.
The effect this has had on education and scientific literacy is troubling. We have a populace that can more readily recognize a Kareashian than they can an equation. It isn't limited to one age group, side of the political spectrum, or the population densities of their respective communities. No, no it is not...
However, I suspect that my rant would just be preaching to the choir. I strongly suspect we are in full agreement.
I don't suppose you have a solution?
This is actually edited for brevity. I removed several paragraphs. They digressed too much, even for me.
I don't think your link contains better science:
> A Yellowstone eruption would be absolutely devastating, covering half the Earth in an ash cloud that could trigger a nuclear winter.
I suppose _all_ winters are nuclear winters... from an atom's point of view.
Maybe my expectations for the NYT are too high but they did once have a very good science and technology section.
And yes, I like bears and buffalo. I do live in the woods for a reason. There are no buffalo but there are bears.
While I only highlighted the one sentence, most of the article was fluff. It's the science section, we don't need to set the scene.
As I said, I may just expect too much from them. Once upon a time, they were substantial and informative. They would have experts to explain things for a layperson. They'd have multiple sources for commentary and would make an effort to inform.
For better or worse, those days are behind us. It's not just this one article, or just that one sentence. I'm not mad, just disappointed.
Seriously though. So annoying.
Here's the weekly report for the world's largest active volcano:
Lots of earthquake activity in the area, as I understand it.
Then again, I think you could reasonably say that at any point in the past hundred years or so, at least if you were living in America.
But a supervolcano is an inhuman threat. So is war, regular, nuclear or civil. So is climate change, if we're too late to stop its progress.
On the other hand, in the 19th century diseases _would_ get about 1/4 to 1/2 (depending on what country you were in) of your kids before they turned 5. Check out http://www.gapminder.org/tools/#_state_time_value=1800;&mark... for example. And diseases were, at the time, very much an inhuman threat that you couldn't protect against; people didn't even have a very clear understanding of why they happened, much less what to do about it until the _end_ of the 19th century.
Dying in a mine or being murdered by noblemen isn't even a blip compared to dying of good old cholera, measles, typhus, etc, etc.
Natural disasters were always here. Wars and regional conflicts were just as plentiful and more deadly.
I think a timeline similar to the life of Shirley Temple would be perfect. You'd get to see all sorts of societal and technological advances and then pass away at a ripe old age before things get really bad.
Colour me surprised!
Now that my whining is out of the way: if we had a decade of warning, I'd hope that we'd be able to figure out some engineering technique for dissipating the magma chamber heat before a catastrophic eruption.
There have been several proposals, some of which even allow for using the heat for generating electricity.
IIRC the problem with these approaches is that they take a few hundred years to be completed because you can’t simply drill the magma chamber but rather have to advance very slowly and carefully.
A few hundred years unfortunately seems to be too large a timeframe for politics to pursue this huge undertaking in earnest.
I don't see much support for doing it in a preservation area, however.
In CA, the heat could be used to power sea-water desalination, if someone is willing to build the large 270km long pipe.
You'll need the pipes to send the salt water back into the ocean.
In this case though I'd say we interpret 'linkbait' differently. The above title seems reasonable to me, though perhaps borderline.
Not a practice I generally support in other contexts.