The past few days, I’ve been reading Ashfall by Mike Mullin. Once I’ve finished it, I’ll be sure to review it here but suffice to say, unless it takes a hard right turn into crapville, this book is easily among my top five favorites for the year. The plot centers around what happens with a few main characters after the Yellowstone Caldera blows.
Most of my readers are probably aware that Yellowstone sits upon a very large volcanic region. A caldera is formed when a volcano empties itself of stored magma so quickly, the surrounding land basically collapses into the crater previously occupied by the molten rock. The last eruption of the so-called Yellowstone Supervolcano was about 640,000 years ago. Many experts believe we are way overdue for another eruption.
What will happen when it blows? Simply put, the end of life as we currently know it. The last time, it shot about 240 cubic miles of dirt and ash into the air. This debris eventually covered over half of the continental United States. Today, it would likely wipe out much of the breadbasket of the country. The skies would be dark for quite some time, due to all the debris in the air, and thus have a negative impact on gardens and crops everywhere.
The climate would change as well, becoming much colder for a while, perhaps as much as a 21′F decline in annual temps. The sulfur and other elements in the debris jetted into the atmosphere would bring acid rain for months, even years.
Thousands of people would be immediately killed due to lava and ash falls. Millions more would likely perish in the days and weeks to follow, whether from breathing difficulties brought about by the ash in the air, famine, or disease.
Now, with all that said, how likely is it that the Yellowstone Supervolcano will erupt in our lifetime? Hard to say with any degree of accuracy. Scientists say it is all but certain it will happen in the next 100,000 years. But even that large of a time frame is not much in the grand scheme of things. If you liken Earth’s geological history to the average lifespan of a man, 100,000 years is like 40 minutes or so.
It isn’t a matter of if, it is just a matter of when, just like so many of the other threats we prep for every day.