New research indicates that a supervolcano—among the largest volcanoes on the planet—is simmering beneath Yellowstone National Park. Additionally, new scientific thinking concludes that supervolcanoes may take as little as a few hundred years to form and erupt. If it erupted, the Yellowstone supervolcano risks rendering two thirds of the country uninhabitable, according to the UK Press Association.
Supervolcanoes are fueled by giant pools of magma, typically 10-25 miles across, that form deep underground. Previously, supervolcanoes—which spew out roughly 1,000 times more material than Mount St. Helens did in 1980—were thought to exist for as much as 200,000 years before releasing their vast underground pools of molten rock. However, researchers reporting in the May 30 edition of PLoS ONE said they have found a magma pool in California that began erupting within hundreds of years of forming.
"Our study suggests that when these exceptionally large magma pools form, they are ephemeral and cannot exist very long without erupting," Guilherme Gualda, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, told NBC News.
Yellowstone experienced a super eruption about 2.1 million years ago.
"The fact that, at Yellowstone, there’s no giant magma body right now doesn’t mean that in hundreds to thousands of years we couldn’t have one," said Gualda."By understanding these time scales better, we know better what to expect."