If there’s anything the tabloid press loves almost as much as reality show “celebrities” and horrific crimes, it’s doomsday scenarios. And here’s one in today’s Daily Mail that has a couple of the hallmarks of the truly perfect doomsday tabloid story: It promises spectacular destruction, and there’s absolutely no way to do anything about it if it’s true.
The scenario involves a “super-volcano” underneath Yellowstone National Park that hasn’t erupted in 640,000 years. (At least, that’s what they say. The newspaper archives only go back about 560,000 years) According to the article, “It would explode with a force a thousand times more powerful than the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. Spewing lava far into the sky, a cloud of plant-killing ash would fan out and dump a layer 10 feet deep up to 1,000 miles away. Two-thirds of the U.S. could become uninhabitable as toxic air sweeps through it, grounding thousands of flights and forcing millions to leave their homes.”
That would put a damper on the day.
But there’s evidence, not just tabloid reporting, to at least slightly support the theory that LOOK OUT IT’S GONNA BLOW!!!, and it’s from National Geographic, which notes that miles of ground in the park have risen “dramatically,” pushing the ground above the volcano’s caldera to rise up to 2.8 inches a year since 2004. It’s slowed down considerably since 2007, and the scientists take pains to note that the surge in the magma reservoir doesn’t mean an imminent catastrophe, so it’s not really concerning them as much as when they first monitored the rise. Besides, they’ve measured rises and falls there before, with a 7 inch rise in 1976-84 receding 5.5 inches in the ensuing decade. They’re studying what’s going on, and they’re trying to see if there’s a connection between this activity and the many quakes that shake the region.
So, in truth, they’re not really saying that North America’s in danger of being covered in toxic ash, only that it COULD happen, possibly, theoretically. You probably don’t have to plan to move to the opposite side of the planet just yet. On the other hand, you might want to keep a few surgical masks and bottles of water on hand, just in case. They won’t help you much, but at least you’ll feel like you’re prepared.