Monday, February 2, 2009
I Hope This Blows Your Canadian Ass Up!
Let me preface this post by explaining the title… I got in a “discussion” the other day with some people talking about the possible explosion of Yellowstone National Park. Despite what people are saying, I do not believe Yellowstone will explode in my lifetime and I have, while doing research for this post, found quite a bit of evidence to support my opinion, as well as reports and quotes from experts saying they don’t think it will happen either.
But while I was trying to explain the science of geothermal activity to them, they obviously didn’t like that I had scientific reasoning and “proof” on my side and tried to end the discussion by saying they were fine because they were in Canada. I tried to explain that country boundaries made no difference to a volcanic episode. They replied that they were near the Yukon, and thus, safe. Then I tried to explain the magnitude of an explosion by using the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens as an example. They had no idea what I was talking about. I asked how old they were. Turns out I was arguing with a 17 and a 19 year old. I made an innocent comment saying that their ages made sense. They took that as an attack about their ages. I only meant that it made sense because they probably didn’t learn as much about the eruption having been born almost 10 years after the event. I am only 22 but I studied the eruption, even though it was before my lifetime. I tried to explain my comment, but they wouldn’t listen, because, apparently, 22 is soooooooo much older than them, and they changed chat rooms (Ok, I’ll admit it, I was on Kongregate, playing games while I was at work… and I noticed a comment on Yellowstone in the chat sidebar… and having been there 3 times, I’m very interested in it… so I got sucked into a game chat room.)
Anyway, Yellowstone National Park is one of my favorite places in the world. Admittedly, I haven’t been very many places, but I’ve done enough research to know how special YNP really is, both as a geographic area and as an animal habitat. And while I could spout off forever how much I love this place and how unique and amazing it is, it is also one of the most dangerous places on the earth, more so than many people realize. This post is to explain just the magnitude an explosion of Yellowstone could be. (And yes, I realize I ended that sentence improperly, but I think the implications of a possible explosion are more important than proper grammar…. Wow, you can see how important this subject is to me, huh? You know how I feel about grammar…. jeez, this side note got long and ramble-y, huh? Haha.)
Opened in March of 1872, Yellowstone was the technically the first national park in the world. It is home to over sixty species of mammals, including bison, elk, wolves, grizzly bears and many others. It features forests, grasslands, mountain ranges, geysers and other attractions. It is considered one of the most popular national parks in the world, with over 2 million visitors every year and over 3,000 employees. It was considered a mythical or magical area in the 1800’s. It was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
When most people thinks of the dangers of Yellowstone, they generally think attacking grizzly bears, charging bison and tourist road rage. Often forgotten is the land itself. Stepping off the path in thermal areas, one runs the risk of breaking through the crust and falling into a geyser. Yellowstone National Park is in the center of the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super-volcano on the continent. It is considered active and has exploded several times in the last 2 million years. Each time a geyser erupts, it helps build the pressure that prepares for the larger eruptions. Each time the chamber under the surface of the earth empties in a miniature eruption, it is refilled with more water at a higher pressure and a higher temperature. As the water boils, it’s forced up a cone-shaped chamber until it erupts to the surface. Each time this happens, the eruption is a little larger until it reaches maximum capacity. This is witnessed every hour at the Old Faithful geyser. Each geyser’s eruption helps build towards the entire area’s eventual eruption.
The eventual eruption sounds scary, but many people are blowing it off because they are “far enough away.” In order to compare possible damage, consider the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington.
On May 18, 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted. It has been called the most economically destructive eruption in the US, ever. It destroyed 250 homes, 15 miles of railways, 185 miles of highway and 47 bridges. 57 people were killed. Debris and ash covered over 230 square miles of land. The eruption lasted nine hours. U.S. President Jimmy Carter said, “Someone said this area looked like a moonscape. But the moon looks more like a golf course compared to what's up there.”
Yellowstone covers 3,468 square miles of area. The current caldera was created by an eruption 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The crater from the epicenter of the explosion alone was over two-thirds of a mile deep and 52 by 28 miles in area. The largest known eruption spewed over 588 cubic miles of volcanic material. And each eruption leads to a larger eruption. My point? Being in Canada, even in the Yukon, won’t save your uneducated ass.
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