Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruptions Were Bigger Than We Thought

Posted: Mar 27 2016, 4:03am CDT | by , Updated: Mar 29 2016, 2:59am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruptions were Bigger than We Thought
Dr. Tom Knott stands at the base of a cliff in Idaho’s Snake River Valley. Credit: Marc Reichow, University of Leicester

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New research has identified 12 distinct super-eruptions between 8 and 12 million years ago. The volcanic eruptions were significantly larger than expected.

Geysers, hotspots and terraces cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The geothermal features of the region have erupted with tremendous force several times in ancient times. Most of those supervolcano eruptions were originated from Snake River Plain in Idaho. New research suggests that these volcanic eruptions were much larger than expected.

A combined team of researchers led by University of Leicester examined the site along Yellowstone hotspot track and found that most of the giant super-eruptions between 8 and 12 million years ago were bigger than what we initially assumed but low in numbers than research has previously suggested.

Researchers used a number of techniques including paleomagnetic data, radioisotopic dating and rock and mineral chemistries to identify the magnitude and location of the individual ancient eruption and managed to found the evidence of only 12 distinct yet significantly larger volcanic eruptions, contradicting earlier theories that the eruptions were more numerous and less extreme.

“While it is well-know that Yellowstone has erupted catastrophically in recent times perhaps less widely appreciated is that these were just the latest in a protracted history of numerous catastrophe super-eruptions that have burned a track along the Snake River eastwards from Oregon to Yellowstone from 16 Ma to present,” said lead researcher Dr Tom Knott from University of Leicester’s Department of Geology’s Volcanology Group.

“The size and magnitude of this newly defined eruption is as large, if not larger, than better known eruptions at Yellowstone and it is just the first in an emerging record of newly-discovered super-eruptions during a period of intense magmatic activity between 8 and 12 million years ago.”

One of the super-eruptions, called Castleford Crossing eruption, took place about 8.1 million years ago and its eruption volume was estimated to reach 1,900 km3. The single eruption produced a volcanic sheet that covers approximately 14,000 square kilometers in southern Idaho – an area almost the size of whole Connecticut.

This is just one of the 12 identified super-eruptions in the region while the rest of eruptions were also intense and lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions also covered a large area.

Yellowstone supervolcano is located in the western state of Wyoming and formed during the last few super-eruptions over the past 2 million years.

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