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Yellowstone's "Doomsday Volcano" Acting Up

By Chris Capps    1/26/10

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Yellowstone's so called "Doomsday Volcano" has been experiencing quite a bit of seismic activity in the past few days, as over 1,200 seismic events hit the area around the Caldera in less than eight days.  Experts are saying the strongest earthquakes so far around the area were getting up in strength to 3.8.  If the quakes reach 4.0 a whole new team will be called in to evaluate a potential eruption that, if it happens, will change the face of the world.

It's said the likelihood of Yellowstone actually acting up in any appreciable way is unlikely in our lifetime, but the recent swarm of activity did spark a small amount of controversy online.  Fortunately most bloggers and forum posters have been fairly calm about the event, remembering a similar one that was a little less intense just over a year ago.  And long before evacuations begin, scientists say there will be plenty of warning.

Warning for what, though?  Many are saying the event would be the single greatest volcanic eruption on record, creating an explosion some say several times in excess to the greatest nuclear bomb we have, or at least as destructive.  In early 2009 and late 2008 an event similar to this one occurred, and the panic followed.  Some have said people are growing tired of the idea of a world ending cataclysm after this cultural need was exorcized with films like 2012 this year.  Others disagree, saying it's actually because the events last year put those this year in perspective.  But what would it look like if the big volcano was about to go off?

Seismologists have said the volcano would start as a series of earthquakes similar to what we're seeing now, but once the activity reached 4.0, a new team would be dispatched to measure the potential for volcanic eruption.  After the team was confident something was going to happen, they would handle the situation by trying to evacuate the nearby area, thus displacing millions.  The last time anything of that scale has been attempted before in the US was in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina.  Hopefully by now evacuation would end better, since the event is expected to be several factors more disastrous long term than any we have seen in the past few hundred years.

Seismologists have taken a great deal of interest in the swarm of seismic activity, however, as it will tell them more about the mechanics of seismic activity in general as well as interactions of plate tectonics.  Seismologists expect this to be a data gathering venture long before it becomes a major disaster, but others are asking what the harm is in preparing for the worst case scenario by planning routes that don't depend on major highways for use at some future date in case something eventually goes wrong.  The size and direction of the blast radius would be difficult to calculate ahead of time since several forces would be involved, but several vulcanologists have said it could be several hundred miles in diameter.  Fortunately, they also say we will have plenty of opportunities to get out of the blast area before that happens.

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