A Reminder of Mankind’s Fragile Future

There’s a subtle irony in recent TV images of gun toting Tea Baggers in America, accompanied by those dense clouds of ash floating over Europe. To hear them talk, the Tea Baggers are intent on protecting themselves and their families from imagined assaults by the Obama-led federal government. They are ready for those black helicopters, underground prisons and imported guillotines they’ve been warned about on talk radio and the Internet.

But are they ready for the next supervolcano?

Their automatic rifles won’t be much use against the eruption geologists say is sure to come. It is not a question of if, it is a question of when, these scientists declare.

I saw a TV program about supervolcanoes a while back that gave be the shivers. So when I saw the clouds of ash billowing over Europe, I wondered whether this was the Big One. But it turned out to be just another of the eruptions Iceland experiences every so often.

There are 30 active volcanic systems on the island. It sits over a “mantle plume” – a rising column of abnormally hot molten rock, originating at the edge of the earth’s core. To make things even more exciting, the plume is positioned under the mid-Atlantic ridge: a crack that runs down the middle of the ocean floor.

Iceland might produce a supervolcano some day. But apparently, this isn’t it.

Supervolcanoes erupt every 100,000 years or so, spewing thousands of tons of ash and gas into the air. In addition to the devastation these eruptions cause, the clouds they emit blot out the sun and plunge the earth into a deep freeze for years.

Possible contenders for the next eruption include Yellowstone Park in the U.S., and if the supervolcano under Yellowstone blows its top, scientists say, it will wipe out most of North America.

Here’s a likely scenario, as portrayed on the Discovery Channel:


So my guess is that the apocalypse won’t come from the election of Obama, One World government or an attack by Islamic extremists but from the boiling magma beneath the earth’s crust.

If one of those meteorites hurtling through space doesn’t hit us first.