Giant Volcanic Eruptions Also Develop Quickly

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May 31 2012 3:46 PM

Giant Volcanic Eruptions Also Develop Quickly

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New science suggests civilization-destroying volcanoes also develop very quickly.

Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/GettyImages

It’s bad enough that a “supervolcano” 100 times the size of Mount Helens could wipe out a whole civilization. And now they tell us it could all happen in a historical blink of an eye?

That's the new finding by geologists, who studied remnants of a past mega-blast and found pools of magma 10 to 25 miles in diameter could take just a few hundred years to go from formation to explosion. Using new calculations based on the formation of quartz crystals in lava deposits from a super-eruption in California 740,000 years ago that covered half of the continent in burning ash, scientists discovered killer lava lakes form and erupt on an historical, not geological, time scale. And their destructive force is mind-boggling; a super eruption in Indonesia 74, 000 years ago may have nearly wiped out the entire human race.

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The bad news: The new research doesn’t help with prevention—just prediction. The good news? The forecast for giant eruptions is clear at the moment, thanks to a dearth of giant magma pools. Even that Yellowstone puddle seems to be on good behavior.

Video by Paca Thomas.

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.