I have an unhealthy tendency to worry about doomsday scenarios. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard. When I used to live in Seattle I actually did research on volcanoes in the Cascade Range and picked a house that would be outside the path of danger if Mount Rainier decided to do its worst.
And by worst I do mean worst. Rainier is not a simple volcano that would blow its top like Mount St. Helens. It is an unstable mash of rotten rock, ice and magma barely holding itself together. Without enough structural rigidity to support a proper explosion it would instead send tons upon tons of mud, and debris down slope as it sloughed off its outer skin. In a worst case the flow would cover most of the lower Puget sound, perhaps even pushing into the sound itself, altering the coast line dramatically.
Bracketing my chosen home location on the other side is Glacier Peak, another volcano with the potential for eruption – in fact it is the second most active volcano in Washington right after Mount St. Helens. The point being, I chose my neighborhood not just for the normal reasons like the fact it was close to a pond, was an easy commute to work, and had nice walking paths but also because it was just outside the zones of potential destruction posed by these two scary mountains. Oh yeah and it was also far enough from the city center that a small nuke wouldn’t take out my home… but maybe that’s getting too paranoid!
When I moved to Montana I thought I could put aside my earlier concerns about a geological disaster, but it turns out I was quite mistaken. Right in my backyard, a mere 90 miles away, sits the Yellowstone caldera. That’s probably why I didn’t figure the danger potential out right away, I’m pretty savvy to volcanoes now, but calderas? It turns out a caldera is a fancy name for a really, really big volcano. A Super Volcano! I’d moved from the frying pan to the fire. This puppy, if it exploded would take out everything for 600 miles – or as one of my favorite authors once said, “We’d all turn into bright smudges of color”. When I look at the circle representing the extent of destruction I noticed something funny… Seattle is just outside the zone that would be completely destroyed by a massive Yellowstone eruption – I’d been looking at the wrong maps!
Well it turns out I needn’t have been so worried. The scientists at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (the same ones that put out a daily Volcanic-Alert Level for my area) have just released a study on the likelihood of a Yellowstone induced Armageddon. They’ve concluded that Yellowstone is not due for a large eruption anytime soon, and may not have enough power left in the ground for another large eruption ever. That’s a relief, because the last two major eruptions, if they happened now, would be civilization ending events.
If you are interested, you can read the report here - http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1071/
I learned two other important pieces of information along the way:
- My home insurance does cover volcanic eruptions
- The “woodpecker signal” is not a secret Russian plot to prod Yellowstone into blowing its top. If you want to know more about this wacky fact, Google it yourself.