Arizona State University researchers have analyzed minerals around the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park and have come to a startling conclusion. It could blow much faster than previously expected, potentially wiping out life as we know it.
According to National Geographic, the researchers, Hannah Shamloo and Christy Till, analyzed minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent eruption. What they discovered surprised them – the changes in temperature and composition only took a few decades, much faster than the centuries previously thought.
“We expected that there might be processes happening over thousands of years preceding the eruption,” said Till said in an interview with the New York Times.
The supervolcano last erupted about 630,000 years ago, according to National Geographic. Prior to that, it was 1.3 million years ago, per a report from ZME Science.
If another eruption were to take place, the researchers found that the supervolcano would spare almost nothing in its wrath. It would shoot 2,500 times more material than Mount St. Helen did in 1980 and could cover most of the continguous U.S. in ash, possibly putting the planet into a volcanic winter.
The new discovery, which was presented in August after a previous version of the study, comes after another study in 2011 which found the magma reservoir in Yellowstone has moved considerably, gaining about 10 inches in seven years.
"It's an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high," the University of Utah's Bob Smith, an expert in Yellowstone volcanism, told National Geographic six years ago.
Despite the concerns about an eruption happening relatively soon, Shamloo told The Times that more research needed to be done before a definite conclusion could be drawn.
In June, the supervolcano was hit with more than 400 earthquakes in one week, though researchers cautioned it was nothing nothing to be alarmed about.
For its part, NASA is working on a way to prevent the supervolcano from destroying mankind, including trying to cool the magma before it spills over.