Cerulean Geyser photo from Shutterstock

If you have ever visited the natural wonders of Yellowstone Park, seen one of the many documentaries on it, or had the misfortune to sit through the film 2012, you know that it is a super-volcano. Far below the beautiful lakes and forests lies a volcano that has the potential to wipe out most of the United States and blanket the world in ash, leading to, essentially, a nuclear winter. Now new research from teams at Washington State University and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre shows that a potential explosion will not be as powerful as predicted – BUT it could happen sooner than previously thought.

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According to Ben Ellis, co-author and post-doctoral researcher at Washington State University’s School of the Environment, “the Yellowstone volcano’s previous behaviour is the best guide of what it will do in the future. This research suggests explosive volcanism from Yellowstone is more frequent than previously thought.”

Don’t start building that bomb shelter just yet, because the new research also shows that what scientists thought was Yellowstone’s biggest eruption was actually two eruptions 6000 years apart from each other. How did they figure this out? Well, at the risk of sounding too technical, they used a new high-precision argon isotope dating technique which, according to co-author Darren Mark, is “like getting a sharper lens on a camera. It allows us to see the world more clearly.”

The results show that the first eruption, which is credited with creating Huckleberry Ridge was “only” 2200 cubic kilometres – roughly 12 per cent less than what geologists thought. It is now believed that a second eruption happened 6000 years later, adding the remaining 290 cubic kilometres.

So what does this mean in layman’s terms? Essentially, Yellowstone erupts more frequently than previously thought BUT because it erupted more recently that was believed, any future event is likely to be 12 percent less powerful than previously thought.

So there you go – when Yellowstone does erupt, it will be 12 percent less powerful than the movies and scientists will have you believe. Maybe it’ll only destroy 4/6ths of the US. Perhaps we all better start working on that bomb shelter…

+ Washington State University

Via Gizmodo

Images: DirectDishBernt Rostad and jmenard48