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back to article Scientists discover supervolcano trigger that could herald humanity's doom

European scientists think they've found the trigger mechanism for the eruption of supervolcanoes, the most violent and dangerous natural disasters on Earth. magma Earth's forever blowing bubbles Unlike traditional volcanoes, which are easily identifiable by their mountainous shape, supervolcanoes lurk far underneath the Earth …

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Devil

So much for that idea

This should put paid to any sort of foolishness about an anthrocentric universe. Quite the contrary, Earth itself is just waiting to kill us.

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Re: So much for that idea

The Earth is not "waiting to kill humanity"

Your daft idea itself suggests an Anthropocentric Earth. The Earth couldn't "careless" whether humanity exists or not... it will just go blindly on. If coincidentally a supervolcano erupts, then humans may die, but the earth is not gunning for this to happen.

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Mushroom

Re: So much for that idea

Lighten up. I think Maddox was being facetious. Personally I fear it's a cockroach conspiracy to set off supervolcanoes, because they know they'll be the only survivors...

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Re: So much for that idea

I already referenced this when we had the remote-control cockroach story a month or two back, but here is more Joe's Apartment. Comedy, or terrifying glimpse of our cockroach-infested future?

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/572706/joe_apartment/

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Re: So much for that idea

Does a "smartermind" come at the deficit of a sense of humour?

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FAIL

Re: So much for that idea

@Greg D - 'Does a "smartermind" come at the deficit of a sense of humour?'

Ha Ha, very funny, How droll and original (Not)!

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Coat

Re: So much for that idea

"Personally I fear it's a cockroach conspiracy to set off supervolcanoes, because they know they'll be the only survivors..."

You've just left me with the unpleasant image of a blattopteran Dr. Evil, issuing commands:

"Initiate... 'Project VULCAN!..."

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Re: So much for that idea

Careless with the phrase "care less" there Smarter.... Always funny when some clever sod cocks up!

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FAIL

Re: So much for that idea

You're still not getting it are you?

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Re: So much for that idea

"Earth itself is just waiting to kill us."

I've been telling people this for decades.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm(dot)confused.

Are you obfuscating your site to avoid spam? That appears hypocritical considering the tone of your post.

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That's some quite polished looking SPAM you've got there.

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Actually, a supervolcano eruption would lower the surface temperature of the Earth by approximately 10 degrees.

Anthropogenic climate change happens to be approximately 10 degrees hotter.

So, if anything, the two would cancel each other out *and* relieve the Earth of some annoying Chumpanzees.

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climate change

dont worry about reducing our emissions, mankind in no way has the self disapline to make anything but a token effort. if it esult in losing cash or lowering the standard of living it aint gonna happen.

voluntarily that is

luckily, (depending on your pov) we have almost run out of stuff to burn, we are going to be responsible wether we like it or not.

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Re: climate change

And some poster do not have the self-discipline to spell correctly.

> we have almost run out of stuff to burn

LOLNO. The 70s called, they want their "out of oil but 'fraid of nukes" crap back.

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"Anthropogenic climate change happens to be approximately 10 degrees hotter."

I realise your post was tongue in cheek but where'd you get that figure from? Even the IPCC only predicts a 2C rise.

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Anonymous Coward

With supervolcano's being much more dangerous, having much dire consequences, that Climate Change, it is completely obvious that we must prepare to save future generations from said supervolcano's. This is mandated by the Precautionary Principle, that excellent principle that Climate Changers have shown us to be the sole source of wisdom for deciding on future actions. Consider, a drop in global temperature o 10 degrees (Celcius, one assumes). That will result in freezing everybody outside the tropics, and even worse, giving everybody in the tropics the same climate as the UK. Which is unimaginably worse than giving everybody tropical weather, and a few people in Greenland the kind of weather that the UK enjoys now.

Mars, here we come.

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@Wzrd1

Unfortunately the two would not cancel out. There's the annoying dust in the air still to deal with, the unwanted minerals poisoning the surviving plants, and the extra thermal energy dumped into the atmosphere causing severe weather events. Harvests are going to be practically nonexistent and there are likely to be periods when the air isn't very breathable.

This is one that, if it happens, happens with no chance of a fix being discovered (unlike asteroid collisions). But I expect that the 1% will survive in their shelters with their ten years of tinned food, stockpiles of medicines, oil, you name it. For what it's worth.

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Dr Malfait said that overpressure in the magma chamber would cause the ground above to rise "hundreds of metres" in advance of the eruption proper. Now I'm no geologist, but that kind of change in topology would hint to me that something funny was going on. Of course, I'm sure there's some sound journalistic reason for your having said there would be "no warning" in spite of the above.

Source: BBC News

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25598050

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Bulging in advance

"... cause the ground above to rise "hundreds of metres" in advance of the eruption"

Right. So you see this big bulge which says that there'll be a supervolcano there in 1000 years or so. What next? (I mean seriously, not unreasonable dreams like living on Mars.) I think there might be a bit of social breakdown.

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Rising a hundred metres over what time? If it happened over one month then we'd all notice and do a bit of basic planning. If it happened over a thousand years then one might blow tomorrow, because most of the world has only been mapped very recently.

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Re: Bulging in advance

> I think there might be a bit of social breakdown.

I don't think so. We have been living with nukes on hairtrigger alert since the 50's. Even in 2014 "liburl" presidents are throwing 100 billion dollars that they don't have into a "refresher project". No-one gives a f*ck.

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Anonymous Coward

"Rising a hundred metres over what time?"

When Mount St Helens erupted in 1980 it had developed a 'bulge' of around 150m, which had been recorded as growing at a rate of upto 2m per day. I'm guessing a supervolcano would probably feel the need to prove it's superiority to a regular volcano by growing a lot quicker - it's got to justify that 'super' title!

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Now I'm no geologist, but that kind of change in topology would hint to me that something funny was going on.

And ... what?

1. Discover supervolcano is about to explode in next N units-of-your-choice

2. ????

3. Survive!

These things severely alter conditions on the entire planet for several years. The ash bed from the last VEI 7 event at Yellowstone covered more than half of the contiguous USA, and Yellowstone and other supervolcanoes have produced VEI 8 events as well as 7s. Where are you going to emigrate to? How long will it take you to get ready? How many people can your plan accommodate.

Here's what'll happen when the next supervolcano goes: Most people on Earth will die. Whether they know it's coming won't make a damn bit of difference to the survival rate.

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Once every 100,000 years, or so. Don't worry, we have a long time to wait for the next one. Very funny, I wish probabilities actually worked that way. By that logic since the Yellowstone hot spot erupted 650,000 years ago on a 650,000 cycle, run, it due to happen tomorrow! A die doesn't always come up a 6 every 6 rolls. Plus there are many things that can happen to disrupt a natural cycle. But don't worry anyway, not much we can do about it if one of the twenty blows tomorrow.

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Mushroom

The valley floor in Yellowstone is expanding too!

Be afraid, be very afraid!

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Paris Hilton

Terrible stats from the author

@Retiredgerald

Have an upvote for getting there before me.

One thing though, why limit it to one, why not have a few pop their corks at once (geologically speaking)? Could be an extinction event for us if a few went.

Paris, as statistically speaking I should be shagging her next week.

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Boffin

Statistically speaking, I'm a man, if I live in the world. In the UK though, statistically I'm a woman.

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And if you live in Thailand?

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JLV
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>I wish probabilities actually worked that way

Ummm, yes and no.

First, I upvoted you, because you make a generally very valid point. But an individual volcano's activity is not like a dice's, where each event is independent of the next.

My area has magnitude 9 earthquakes about every 500 years, with a wide variation around that average. Last was in 1700. Since subduction earthquakes are about stress relief, pops will happen when enough stress has built up over time. It probably won't happen just 50 years after a quake. Nor will it likely wait for 5000.

Throwing 20 supervolcanoes with gradual magma buildup cycles in the mix does validate your argument quite a bit as their activity is not linked and their eruption cycles have different periods. So the result is likely to be a lot more random than if we looked at just one volcano.

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Coat

Oddly the article illustrates your point quite nicely if unintentionally.

The Lake Toba supervolcano in Indonesia erupted around 74,000 years ago...

the Oruanui eruption, blew off just 26,500 years ago

So it's good within an order of magmatude. Don't suppose the coat would help much if one goes off.

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100,000 years? I dont think so

The article did mention that the one in Indonesia exploded 74,000 years ago, and another 26,000 years ago, so that sound like a 48-50 thousand year occurrence to me, so we should expect one sometime in the next 24,000 years.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 100,000 years? I dont think so

"The article did mention that the one in Indonesia exploded 74,000 years ago, and another 26,000 years ago, so that sound like a 48-50 thousand year occurrence to me, so we should expect one sometime in the next 24,000 years."

That logic relies on the assumption that they occur on a regular basis, and aren't following another pattern. It would be interesting to find out when the erruption previous to the one in Indonesia occurred - it that was around 150,000 years ago, we could conclude that the period between erruptions decreases by around 25,000 years after each event... and we are therefore already overdue for the next one!

So, it could be any day now? Bring it on... at least then I won't have to listen to everyone whining about their New Years diets any more! ;)

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So perhaps if we can fracture (frack) enough of a layer of the Earth's crust, we could enable the Yellowstone super volcano to let go. Fracking could go down in geological history as the dumbest things humans ever did.

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Mushroom

So perhaps if we can fracture (frack) enough of a layer of the Earth's crust, we could enable the Yellowstone super volcano to let go its pressure before it blows. Fracking could go down in geological history as the best thing humans ever did.

FTFY. By judicious drilling, you might be able to create a volcano 10km from a city, rather than risk it blowing at a random outlet in the area. I don't know if the technology exists (yet) to create a vent-hole to that depth, but you might be able to get some payback from geothermal energy. Gotta be better than waiting & hoping...

Ground zero at the fracture site ------>

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I think the scale has eluded you.

10km from a supervolcano is nowhere near safe. Consider "Lahars from Mount Rainier can travel for tens of miles along river valleys and reach Puget Sound." Mount Rainier is just a run-of-the-mill volcano. http://geology.com/usgs/rainier/

Or Mount Saint Helens: "The May 18, 1980 blast devastated 596 square kilometers". Note that a 10km radius circle only has an area of 314 square kilometers.

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Actually, a controlled pressure release from some bores *could* prevent an eruption.

Of course, we're talking about a *lot* of magma and gas being vented to avoid an eruption.

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Like peeling the skin off of a bad blister or boil? Or letting an "Eartheurism"?

Hahaha, warning of a 100 meters bulge across a month allows some basic planning? Would not that be about 3 meters a day? 27' a day in SF or SJ or LA would spell disaster. After just 5 days, the streets would be too steep for safe vehicular negotiation, meaning most sites of import would need helicopters or super-suped up moving vans or tractor rigs on ever-standby, meaning looting, riots, violence, pilfering, and more, on a glacial 30-day spread, even slower than the Earth-busting in that movie, what, 2012?, if I recall.

If it 300 meters in over a month, then roughly 30 meters a day? 100' a day? Scary indeed.

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Maybe some trillionaires in combination will concoct a plan to vent it into the sea, or via an umbilical into the sky... Maybe a magnetic constrictor coil, surrounded by a high-flux, magneton-polerized, tetrion-augmented poleron array can direct it above the Aurora Borealis...

But, first, we'll need to construct a Dyson Sphere to contain the energy to redirect it back into the Meson Grid....

LaForge!!!! Enough! Another time, perhaps...

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Re: I think the scale has eluded you.

Also keep in mind that the Yellowstone Supervolcano was partly discovered via a 1-meter layer of ash that covered Nebraska. A tish more than 10 km distant.

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Mushroom

Balloon

Ever tried venting a balloon by piercing its skin!

This is the risk you take by franking around with things you don't fully understand!

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Re: Balloon

Yes, you cover it with tape first to prevent catastrophic destruction.

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Re: Balloon

True, but this balloon is not regular in shape, material type, temperature, strength & pressure. So where you stick your tape is going to be critical, and could make things worse and of course it can't loose it's stickyness

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It didn't end well in Mega City One when terrorists attacked Power Tower

Be careful what you wish for, citizen.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Balloon

So...stop funding nukes and start funding the biggest Duck Tape factory in the world? 20km wide rolls would be a starting point. Of course, how to tear bits off is left as an exercise for the reader.

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Anonymous Coward

@dssf

"If it 300 meters in over a month, then roughly 30 meters a day? 100' a day? Scary indeed."

Do your months only have 10 days?

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Probability

"But there's no need to panic just yet – as far as the scientist can tell the Earth suffers a supervolcano blast roughly every 100,000 years or so and the last one, the Oruanui eruption, blew off just 26,500 years ago"

I think I should introduce you to my friend Andrey. Andrey Markov that is. He had a few words to say about processes like this. Logic such as the above only works in movies.

As to "without warning" you do need to remember you are talking to geologists, and they tend to think in slightly different time scales to the rest of us.

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Re: Probability

"As to "without warning" you do need to remember you are talking to geologists, and they tend to think in slightly different time scales to the rest of us."

Not all. Remember, volcanologists think in both long and extremely short timescales.

If they see the earth bulging up tens of meters, they think in extremely short timescales. And rapidly depart the area.

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