Last week it was supernovae, this week, supervolcanoes. Isn’t that super!?

But seriously, three researchers (Dr. Kennedy, Dr. Jellinek, and Dr. Stix) at a couple of Canadian universities (the University of British Columbia (UBC) and McGill University) have conducted experiments to simulate the effects of the devastating geological phenomenon of supervolcanoes. A supervolcano is created when, during an eruption, the magma chamber collapses, leading to catastrophic effects.

The press release, discussing the researcher’s simulation of this phenomena with a corn syrup filled plexiglass model, notes that these supervolcano eruptions are “capable of causing long lasting change to weather, threatening the extinction of species, and covering huge areas with lava and ash.”

Dr. John Stix, from McGill, suggests that “a really big one could create the equivalent of a global nuclear winter.” This kind of eruption scenario would also feature nasty side effects like crop failure and ash falling from the sky.

Most recall the famed Krakatoa, a significantly devastating but still conventional volcano that erupted in the late 19th century. We imagine that these eruptions, like St. Helens, will occur from time to time, and that a supervolcano would likely be an infrequent event, occurring on geological time scales. But most have never heard of Mount Tambora, a supervolcano which killed over a 100,000 people in Indonesia in 1815, less than two hundred years ago. It’s effect was so dramatic — including plumes of ash that clouded the sky for months — that 1816 was known as the “year without a summer”.

Your can find a McGill press release discussing the publication of the three scientists’ paper in Nature Geoscience here.

There’s also a Canadian Press story here. Damn, scooped…

Cool research project. It’s just too bad that the McGill University administration’s labour policies also blow chunks…

5 Responses to “Supervolcanoes”

  1. Michael Says:

    “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” a famous Roman once suggested.

  2. The Necromancer Says:

    Words to…er…live by.

  3. jamesviscosi Says:

    I saw a TV show about supervolcanoes a while back, focusing on Yellowstone National Park. Visit it while it’s not a huge hellish lava-filled crater!

  4. The Necromancer Says:

    Yeah, I was going to mention the Yellowstone angle. They do in the press release, actually. I have every intention of visiting one of these days — seems so wonderful. It’s also the oldest wildlife park in the world, created in 1872. Became the model for the type.

  5. Stirring up a supervolcano « The Volcanism Blog Says:

    […] to fellow-historian and boundary-crossing scholar Dr Sebastian Normandin, whose blog article on supervolcanoes brought the whole corn syrup thing to my […]

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