Supervolcanoes - capable of spewing 2,500 times more material than Mount St. Helens did in 1980 - such as the one under Yellowstone are far more powerful than traditional volcanoes. An eruption would send an untold amount of rock and ash into the sky, unleash torrents of lava, and potentially bring about a planetary volcanic winter.
This allowed them to pinpoint the exact changes that occurred to Yellowstone right before the last eruption. And it's not the planet's only buried supervolcano.
Scientists say the odds are small that Yellowstone or another supervolcano will erupt anytime soon, the Times and others report. It's just that the process by which the supervolcano might be gearing up to an explosion is happening more quickly than scientists thought.
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A team of scientists from Arizona State University have analyzed the minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent eruption and discovered the changes researchers once believed took centuries to achieve - such as temperature and composition shifts - actually only took a couple decades to occur, according to National Geographic. There, they hauled rocks under the heat of the sun to gather samples, occasionally suspending their work when a bison or a bear roamed nearby. Each crystal once resided within the vast, seething ocean of magma deep underground.
"We want to understand what triggers these eruptions, so we can set up warning systems", Shamloo, a graduate student Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, told EOS. That could mean the supereruption transpired only decades after an injection of fresh magma beneath the volcano.
So, yes, geologically speaking, an eruption of the supervolcano could happen sooner than previously thought.
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"It's shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption", study co-author Hannah Shamloo told the New York Times.
Dr. Kari Cooper, a geochemist at the University of California, Davis who was not involved in the research, said Shamloo and Till's research offered more insights into the time frames of supereruptions, although she is not yet convinced that scientists can pin down the precise trigger of the last Yellowstone event.
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