If you think about a global catastrophic event, what comes in your mind first of all?
I bet you imagine a nuclear war and a deserted landscape left as a result of it. Well, in the troubled times we live in, something like this is a possible scenario. But there is another force we constantly neglect – our planet itself.
Did you notice how many natural disasters have been happening all over the world lately? It may seem like if our planet is rebelling against the parasite species that is destroying the natural environment – humans. While hurricanes and earthquakes can be incredibly catastrophic, wiping out whole cities and taking thousands of lives, they strike only specific locations. But there is something here on Earth that could cause a global disaster. And this a supervolcano eruption.
There are around 20 supervolcanoes on Earth, but luckily for us, all of them are currently “sleeping.” According to the estimates, the last eruption of a supervolcano took place at Lake Taupo in New Zealand around 26,500 years ago.
Now, NASA scientists say that a supervolcano eruption could prove much more catastrophic to the human civilization than any external threat, such as an asteroid impact. Fortunately, they also have a plan on how to prevent it.
“I was a member of the Nasa Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for NASA to defend the planet from asteroids and comets. I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat,” Brian Wilcox of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told BBC.
What would happen if the Yellowstone volcano erupted?
The Yellowstone Caldera is a huge volcanic caldera which measures around 34 by 45 miles. The last supereruption occurred around 630,000 years ago, followed by a smaller eruption approximately 70,000 years ago. But what would happen if it erupted again?
Scientists estimate that in this case, the supervolcano would release hundreds of cubic miles of lava. This would completely burn the surrounding area of 60 miles and would cover Wyoming and neighboring states with three feet of volcanic ash.
Next, dust, ash and gases released into the atmosphere would lead to the phenomenon of volcanic winter when the sunlight is blocked by these products of eruption. This could last for decades, resulting in destroyed crops and millions of deaths.
What can be done to prevent it from happening?
According to the scientists, Yellowstone is not going to erupt in our lifetime. Yet, one day, the supervolcano will “wake up” and something needs to be done in order to prevent an eruption’s disastrous consequences.
The NASA claims that pumping heat from the caldera to turn it into electricity would decrease the volcano’s power. To do this, it would be necessary to drill into the hot rock several miles away from the Yellowstone Park. Thus, water could be pumped through the borehole and would then return at a temperature of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit. This process could power turbines and convert the generated geothermal energy into electricity.
The project would be costly – it would take around $3.46 billion to drill into the rock and build a geothermal plant. However, it would be an effective and long-term way to generate clean energy at competitive prices. Wilcox says that the electricity generated from Yellowstone’s heat could potentially power the surrounding area for tens of thousands of years! And most importantly, it would help prevent a deadly supervolcano eruption.
“Keeping these volcanoes from devastating the human food supply and causing the deaths of 99 percent of all of humanity, that seems like a worthwhile thing to debate,” he concluded.