Yellowstone supervolcano could erupt much sooner than previously thought

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Given that eruptions of supervolcanoes buried on our planet-and there are several-are thought to occur every 100,000 years or so, however, the likelihood of such an event during your lifetime is small, reports the New York Times. Depending on the size of the eruption, the volcano could cover major portions of the United States in risky ash, and the Earth's atmosphere would likely be filled with that same ash.

The minerals revealed changes in temperature and composition built up in only decades.

The last time Yellowstone erupted - 631,000 years ago - it shot out 1,000 cubic kilometres of rock and ash, choking the sky and creating a 72km-wide caldera that still exists today. "Until now, the magazine reported, geologists had thought it would take centuries for the supervolcano to make the transition".

The new findings come on the heels of a 2011 study that found that ground above the magma reservoir had bulged by about 10 inches (25cm) in seven years, National Geographic reported. Researchers believe that the last supervolcano woke up following the two fresh magma influxes that flowed in the caldera's reservoir. At that time, volcano expert Bob Smith, from the University of Utah said that it was an extraordinary uplift because it covered a very large area and the rates were very high.

Much like reading a set of tree rings, Shamloo and her team were able to record temperature and composition changes by analyzing crystals found beneath the earth's surface. Based on the new study, it seems the magma can rapidly refresh-making the volcano potentially explosive in the geologic blink of an eye. For its part, the U.S. Geological Survey puts the rough yearly odds of another massive Yellowstone blast at 1 in 730,000-about the same chance as a catastrophic asteroid collision.

"We expected that there might be processes happening over thousands of years preceding the eruption", said Till said in an interview with the New York Times. The pair also presented an earlier version of their study at a 2016 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

Lead Image: Steam rises off the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the most stunning hydrothermal features in Yellowstone National Park.

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