Archive for February 27th, 2006

Naked Science

Last night I made the mistake of watching Naked Science on the National Geographic Channel.  The Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel were both showing specials on the Bermuda Triangle – and I couldn’t make a decision as to which one to watch, so instead I watched Naked Science – Super Volcano. 

And let me tell you, it scared the Bejesus out of me. 

As it turns out, Yellowstone National Park is really a ginormous volcanic caldera.  Yellowstone isn’t a volcano like the one that destroyed Santorini –
Volcano2or the one in Costa Rica that looks just like you think a volcano should look –
Dsc00478Or my personal favorite – Vesuvius –

Umm, yeah, Yellowstone isn’t like all of these other dangerous volcanoes.  Yellowstone is thousands of times bigger.  Yellowstone is such an enormous volcano that you can’t even see the crater from the air.  Because it is that big.  So, naturally, it has taken us a long time to even realize that Yellowstone is a volcano. 

Aren’t we stupid?

Grandprismaticspring_sm_1"Look!  Look!  Isn’t it cool how the water comes shooting out of the earth boiling hot?!  How neat!  Let’s get closer and take pictures!  And look at how the ground bubbles green and blue and yellow and smells funny!  I wonder why it does that?  We should totally see how many people we can get to come stand in the middle of the volcanic crater and build hotels and restaurants and make it accessible to everyone!"

Oh, and not only are we sure that Yellowstone is a volcano – it is an active reoccurring super volcano. 
YnparkBut don’t worry, if you live near Yellowstone, if this sucker erupts you won’t be the only one affected.  And it appears that there are a few other super volcanoes around the world

Let me give you a time line of what the Naked Science people said will happen if this thing erupts.  First, we should be given at least a couple of days notice before she blows.  Yellowstone is being monitored around the clock and supposedly the earth in Yellowstone would do all kinds of crazy things indicating the impending doom, like earthquakes, cracks in the earth, the ground will raise up, etc.  So then they would try to evacuate everyone within 60 miles of the caldera. 

Because when it blows, everything within 60 miles will be covered in Pyroclastic flow, which is an ash cloud full of incandescent gases, rocks, and ash.  This will cover everything and kill everything it covers.  You can’t outrun this thing.  And you don’t die from the rocks – you basically suffocate.  The scientist on tv told me that there is no where to run and no where to hid and when you breathe in these gases your lungs basically melt and your brain explodes from the heat.  This is what happened in Pompeii, although in a very contained area and not in the way it would happen in Yellowstone.  The people in Pompeii also knew that Vesuvius was about to blow and most everyone got out.  They weren’t stupid. 

This would happen in the first hour or so.  In the next three days ash would fall over a 1000 mile radius – and within a 500 mile radius the ash fall would be quite heavy.  Denver could get 3 feet of ash.  Wet ash weighs six times more than wet snow, so many roofs would collapse, hospitals would close, people would be trapped, roads would be useless, lawlessness could take over. 

Fs20053024_fig_12The areas farther away – outside the 500 radius – might not have the problems from the amount of ash – but they are still in trouble.  Because, volcanic ash isn’t actually ash.  The ash is basically air born pieces of rock.  And the air born pieces of rock that make it 1000 miles from the source are going to be very, very fine.  Not really even rock anymore, more like glass shards.  Air born pieces of glass that will be in the air we breathe. 

So, instead of dying almost immediately from the rocks and gas that are actually on fire, you will end up with glass in your lungs and die a slow death as your lungs shut down.  The scientists on tv said it would be a painful, lingering death. 

I took a look at the map and figured that as long as I was in Georgia I would be okay – and not die from this disaster.  Then they told me that the immediate impact of the ash and the pyroclastic flow and stuff would not be the real problem.  The real problem would be all the sulfuric acid that would be released into the atmosphere, which would cloud the atmosphere, and cause the earth to receive less sunlight, cooling the global temperature by about 10 degrees.  Which doesn’t seem to serious, except it basically means we would see snow in the tropics. 

This severe of a drop in temperature would cause mass global starvation in the years following the eruption.

Yellowstone has erupted in the past – approximately 2.0, 1.3, and .6 million years ago.  So scientists think that the next eruption could be any time in the next 100,000 years.  But don’t worry, they think that it is unlikely that it is going to happen anytime real soon.  Let’s cross our fingers. 

I probably shouldn’t watch National Geographic channel. 

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