This is a good thing for us because a super volcano eruption would be detrimental to life on this planet, especially if past eruptions are any indication of what would occur.
Unfortunately for us, there are six known active super volcanoes across the globe, two of which are long overdue for an eruption according to some researchers.
Though the possibility of a super volcano eruption occurring in our life time is relatively low, the possibility is still there. This possibility has many geologists wondering not only when a super eruption occur, but what would it look like today.
The last known super eruption occurred roughly 22,000 years ago in Japan. Just prior to that, in geologic time, New Zealand’s Taupo caldera erupted 26,500 years ago.
However, the most worrisome super volcano is the Toba volcano located on Sumatra. If scientists are correct, this volcano nearly wiped out prehistoric humans when it erupted nearly 70,000 years ago.
It appears that after the Toba eruption the human population declined to about 10,000 worldwide. This decline in the human population is mainly contributed to the after effects of a super eruption, a global volcanic winter.
What Would a Super Volcano Event Look Like?
A volcanic winter is a climate event that occurs when an erupting volcano ejects so much ash and debris into the atmosphere that it blocks out the sun resulting in lower than normal temperatures.
In recent history, regular volcanoes have triggered small scale volcanic winters with their eruptions.
In Uncertainty Estimates in Regional and Global Observed Temperature Changes: A New Data Set from 1850, the authors contend that such an event occurred as recently as 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines and resulted in a drop in global temperatures for nearly three years. However, a volcanic winter from a super volcanic eruption would have a much more catastrophic effect.
For example, researchers believe that the Toba eruption ejected so much material into the atmosphere that is actually altered human evolution.
This idea is known as the Toba Catastrophe Theory. According to this theory:
“The Toba caldera experienced a category 8 or ‘mega-colossal’ eruption on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.” (1)
Subscribers to this theory believe that this eruption caused temperatures to decrease by as much as an average of 3.5 degrees Celsius for a number of years causing a new ice age to occur. With that being said, if such of an event could occur 70,000 years ago, it could plausibly occur today.
If a super volcanic eruption occurred today, it would have devastating effects.
For example, a recent article stated that if Yellowstone experienced a super volcanic eruption that much of North American would be covered in ash.
So much so, that the roofs of homes nearest the eruption would collapse under the weight of the ash. This ash would also be disbursed into the atmosphere causing global temperature to drop and be cooler than usual for nearly a decade.
Much of the US would almost be uninhabitable during that time period because of the ash, and the rest of the world would experience a global cooling.
However, that does not mean the rest of the world would be out of the woods. According to Dr. Jeremy Phillips, a research Fellow at Bristol University, once one super volcano erupts it triggers a multitude of eruptions adding to the debris. (7)
However, most scientists believe that this is an unlikely scenario in our lifetime. According to the USGS:
“We are still about 90,000 years away from the time when we might consider calling Yellowstone overdue for another caldera- forming eruption.” (3)
However they do state that there is no real indicator in predicting such eruptions. Nevertheless, if and when such an eruption occurs, if it is anything like the super eruptions of the past, it is sure to alter the course of human civilization.