Scientists in the United States have found that rare volcanic eruptions that are so catastrophically powerful that they have the potential to devastate the entire planet could give up to a year of warning before they unleash their volcanic fury. Super-eruptors, which are the volcanoes that can do this, build up over time. Samples suggest that the final stages happen quickly, but not too quickly that we won't have warning.
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"The evolution of a giant, super-eruption-feeding magma body is characterized by events taking place at a variety of time scales," says geochemist Guilherme Gualda from Vanderbilt University. "Now we have shown that the onset of the process of decompression, which releases the gas bubbles that power the eruption, starts less than a year before eruption."
Gualda and Stephen Sutton from the University of Chicago examined the crystal deposits from Bishop Tuff, a place where a super-eruption occured 760,000 years ago. Scientists previously believed that these deposits took several thousand years to form, but this research proves that it was a much shorter time, according to Science Alert.
"Maximum rim growth times span from approximately 1 minute to 35 years, with a median of approximately 4 days," the researchers write in PLOS ONE. "More than 70 percent of rim growth times are less than 1 year, showing that quartz rims have mostly grown in the days to months prior to eruption."
According to the researchers, the rim growth shows the transition from "pre-eruptive to syn-eruptive conditions," which would have been noticeable from the surface. This would give us at least a few months, and up to a year, of warning.
The reason this is such a problem is because of the amount of magma that shoots out of the volcano. It would shoot ash into the air that would block the sun's rays for years.
The good news for most of us is that the two scariest supervolcanos - Yellowstone Caldera and Lake Toba - probably won't erupt anytime soon.
"As far as we can determine, none of these places currently house the type of melt-rich, giant magma body needed to produce a super-eruption," said Gualda. "However, they are places where super-eruptions have happened in the past so are more likely to happen in the future."