Taxonomy term


Early humans dealt with Ethiopian supervolcanoes

About 200,000 years ago, modern humans evolved in East Africa, including in what’s now Ethiopia. They — like earlier hominins who had preceded them — likely encountered occasional explosive eruptions spewing ash and lava into the air and onto the landscape, according to a new study in Nature Communications.

17 Feb 2017

Snake River eruption history offers glimpse into Yellowstone hot spot dynamics

About 8 million years ago, what is now the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho ripped open in a catastrophic super-eruption that spewed roughly 1,900 cubic kilometers of lava and ash across thousands of square kilometers. New research, based on field studies and geochemical analyses of rocks collected on the plain, shows that this eruption was just one of many massive mid-Miocene volcanic events arising from the Yellowstone hot spot. The work also provides a window into the complex and evolving mantle-crust interactions that have occurred as the North American Plate has moved westward over the hot spot.

30 Jul 2016

Slow-moving super-eruptions still travel great distances

When Hollywood movies depict the destruction unleashed by volcanic eruptions, they usually focus on red-hot lava, but even more dangerous are pyroclastic flows: mixtures of rocky debris and searing hot ash and gas that move as fast as 700 kilometers per hour and can bulldoze, incinerate and suffocate anything in their paths. In a new study looking at pyroclastic flow deposits associated with the Silver Creek Caldera in the southwestern U.S., researchers have found that not all pyroclastic flows are so swift. Dense, slow-moving flows can still wreak havoc over vast distances.

29 Jun 2016

How supervolcanoes are set off

If a supervolcano were to erupt today, its impacts could be catastrophic. Fortunately, no such eruption has occurred during human history. The lack of eyewitness accounts, however, makes it difficult for scientists to understand how supervolcanoes evolve and erupt. Based on a recent modeling, researchers have offered a new hypothesis for how supervolcano eruptions might be triggered by external, rather than internal, forces.

01 Mar 2016

Magma pancakes underlie Toba supervolcano

Giant eruptions from so-called supervolcanoes eject tremendous volumes of lava and ash, but details about the source of all that volcanic material have been unclear. Now, a new study has found that magma reservoirs intrude into the crust under volcanoes over millions of years in the form of multiple horizontally oriented chambers stacked on top of each other, like a stack of pancakes.

11 Mar 2015

Modeling a big mess from Yellowstone

In the event of another super-eruption at Yellowstone National Park, few places in the U.S. would be ash-free, according to a new modeling study. The northern Rocky Mountains would be blanketed in meters of ash, and millimeters would be deposited as far away as New York City, Miami and Los Angeles.

15 Jan 2015

Shifting winds blow away Taupo's 'Ultraplinian' title

The eruption of New Zealand’s Taupo volcano about 1,800 years ago is the stuff of legends. With an ash plume estimated to have reached an astounding height of 50 kilometers — substantially higher than any other known eruption — Taupo was once thought to justify its own volcanic explosivity category: Ultraplinian. But new research looking at the effects of changing wind patterns on the eruptive deposits left by Taupo may lead scientists to downgrade the event to Plinian, effectively making the term Ultraplinian obsolete.

01 Jul 2014

Corn syrup model splits Yellowstone's plume in two

Yellowstone is renowned for its hot springs, geysers and for hosting one of the world’s most volatile supervolcanoes. Despite its popularity, the origin of all that volcanic activity remains poorly understood. Traditional plume models can’t explain the jumble of volcanic surface features. Now, a new study using corn syrup to replicate the mantle processes underlying Yellowstone offers a more complicated scenario.

14 Jul 2013

Setting off a supervolcano

Supervolcanoes are one of nature’s most destructive forces, but given that there are no recorded observations of super-eruptions — the last occurred 74,000 years ago in Indonesia — scientists don’t fully understand how they work. Now a team studying the world’s fastest-inflating volcano, Bolivia’s Uturuncu, is shedding some light on how supervolcanoes become so powerful.

17 Jan 2012

Tracking Yellowstone's Activity

New technologies track the feverish supervolcano in real time

This story has been modified since it was originally published in EARTH.
12 Apr 2011