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Supervolcanoes are catastrophic for thousands of years after a super-eruption, study warns

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A “catastrophic” supervolcano eruption that could seriously affect Earth’s climate, turning it into a “volcanic winter” is more likely than previously believed, a new study suggests.

Experts from Australia’s Curtin University studied Lake Toba in Indonesia, home to the Toba Caldera supervolcano, and found that supervolcanoes are active and dangerous thousands of years after a super-eruption.

They found that between 5,000 and 13,000 years after the eruption, “magma continued to seep into the caldera,” before “the shell of solidified leftover magma was pushed up like a giant turtle,” Curtin University associate professor Martin Danišík said in a pronunciation.

The researchers looked at minerals, feldspar and zircon left over from the eruption, which allowed them to understand the timing of the event, as well as gases such as argon and helium trapped in the volcanic rocks to arrive at their conclusion.

A ‘catastrophic’ supervolcano eruption that could send Earth into a ‘volcanic winter’ is more likely than previously believed

Magma continued to seep out between 5,000-13,000 years after Toba Caldera's eruption

Magma continued to seep out between 5,000-13,000 years after Toba Caldera’s eruption

By doing so, it may have released as much as six billion tons of sulfur dioxide and, according to some researchers, may have lowered Earth’s temperature by 59 degrees Fahrenheit for years.

“The findings challenged existing knowledge and study of eruptions, which normally involves looking for liquid magma beneath a volcano to assess future danger,” Danišík added.

Experts looked at feldspar and zircon left over from the eruption and at gases like argon and helium trapped in volcanic rock

Experts looked at feldspar and zircon left over from the eruption and at gases like argon and helium trapped in volcanic rock

“We must now consider that eruptions can occur even if no liquid magma is found under a volcano – the concept of what is ‘eruptive’ needs to be re-evaluated.”

On average, supervolcanoes erupt about once every 17,000 years.

The most recent volcanic eruption occurred under Lake Taupo in New Zealand about 22,600 years ago, according to the American Geological Survey.

Toba Caldera erupted about 74,000 years ago, spewing at least 1,740 cubic miles (2,800 kilometers) of “rhyolite magma” from a “warm” reservoir several times its size, according to the study.

Toba Caldera, located in Lake Toba in Indonesia (pictured) may have emitted 6 billion tons of sulfur dioxide and lowered Earth's temperature by 59 degrees for years after the eruption

Toba Caldera, located in Lake Toba in Indonesia (pictured) may have emitted 6 billion tons of sulfur dioxide and lowered Earth’s temperature by 59 degrees for years after the eruption

Danišík explained that super eruptions are “one of the most catastrophic events in Earth’s history,” releasing thousands of cubic feet of magma almost immediately.

“They can affect the global climate in such a way that the Earth goes into a ‘volcanic winter’, which is an abnormally cold period that can lead to widespread famine and population disruption.”

Experts looked at feldspar and zircon left over from the eruption and at gases like argon and helium trapped in volcanic rock

Experts looked at feldspar and zircon left over from the eruption and at gases like argon and helium trapped in volcanic rock

SUPER BURST

There have been thousands of massive eruptions in human history, but no real super eruptions, at least not yet.

These oversized eruptions have devastating power, can release enough volcanic ash to cover an entire continent, and have the potential to wreak havoc on the weather as weather patterns would change over the next few decades.

The largest eruption of the last two million years ago was the eruption at Toba Caldera in Sumatra, Indonesia, which spewed 671 cubic miles (2,800 cubic km) of volcanic ash into the atmosphere.

That’s enough to cover about half of the United States.

The island in the center of Lake Toba is thought to be a direct result of the Earth’s bulging from the increasing pressure of the increasingly active magma chambers beneath the Earth’s surface.

Rapid cooling, such as the one associated with the Toba Caldera eruption, is “consistent with a catastrophic eruption,” the authors wrote in the study.

“In contrast, the age discordance in the post-caldera domes implies a more complex thermal history.”

The researchers looked at minerals, feldspar and zircon left over from the eruption, which allowed them to understand the timing of the event, as well as gases such as argon and helium trapped in the volcanic rocks to understand how supervolcanoes work and why they erupt. about once every 17,000 years.

“Using this geochronological data, statistical inferences and thermal modeling, we have shown that magma continued to seep into the caldera, or deep depression created by the eruption of magma, for 5,000 to 13,000 years after the super-eruption, and then the shield of solidified leftover magma.” was pushed up like a giant tortoise,’ Danišík said.

Supervolcanoes like Toba Caldera have erupted multiple times in their history, but understanding what happens in between these eruptions, in the prolonged dormant eruptions, can give scientists a better idea of ​​when they will erupt next, Danišík added.

“While a super eruption can have regional and global impacts and can take decades or even centuries to recover, our results show that the danger is not over with the super eruption and that the threat of further dangers remains for many thousands of years afterward,” says Danišík. . added.

The findings may have implications for the other 20 supervolcanoes on Earth, including the most studied, those beneath Yellowstone National Park (pictured)

The findings may have implications for the other 20 supervolcanoes on Earth, including the most studied, those beneath Yellowstone National Park (pictured)

The findings could have implications for the other 20 supervolcanoes on Earth, including the most studied, those below Yellowstone National Park.

“Learning when and how eruption magma accumulates, and what state the magma is in before and after such eruptions, is critical to understanding supervolcanoes,” Danišík said.

The research was published in the journal Nature — Earth and Environmental Sciences.

NASA’s PLAN TO AVOID A SUPER VOLCANIC ERROR

NASA believes drilling ten kilometers deep into the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park to pump in high-pressure water could cool it.

Despite the fact that the mission would cost $3.46 billion (£2.63 billion), NASA considers it “the most viable solution.”

Using heat as a resource also provides an opportunity to pay for the plan – it could be used to create a geothermal plant, generating electrical power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10 (£0.08 ) per kWh.

But this method of subduing a supervolcano has the potential to backfire and trigger the supervolcano eruption that NASA is trying to prevent.

‘Drilling into the top of the magma chamber ‘would be very risky;’ careful drilling from the bottom might work though.

Even the potential devastating risks aside, the plan to cool Yellowstone with drilling isn’t an easy one.

This would be an excruciatingly slow process occurring at the rate of one meter per year, meaning it would take tens of thousands of years to cool completely.

And yet there would be no guarantee that it would be successful for at least hundreds or possibly thousands of years.

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