More than a natural disaster

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Guide to Visiting Yellowstone National Par BY ANGELA BROWN. Updated 05/29/18 (Daniel Viñé Garcia / Getty Images)

A lot of people are well aware of the dangers regarding geologic disasters: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. But in the United States, we have a widespread belief that we are relatively safe from such catastrophe. Little do many know that deep below the surface of the earth, tectonic plates are sliding past one another and colliding; creating magma chambers as well as building catastrophic tension.

Yellowstone National Park is known for its infamous geysers, the product of the geologic activity bubbling below. However, the park is much more infamous than it seems as it serves as our nation’s very own super volcano. This massive caldera, a volcano that has once collapsed on top of itself full of boiling magma, stretches 50 miles long and 12 miles wide, deep below the surface. If this is not frightening enough, the massive super volcano is seemingly overdue in terms of eruption. Volcanologists have estimated from ash composites and debris that the past two eruptions occurred 1.3 million years ago, and 630,000 years ago. The time span between these two eruptions is roughly 670,000 years, which means we are about 40,000 years overdue in terms of a Yellowstone eruption.

The thing that is most frightening about Yellowstone’s impeding eruption is not only the fact that it is long overdue, but the fact that it will cover the entire United States in a layer of ash, varying of course in depth. The bread basket of the United States, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Nebraska, where the majority of our produce and grains come from, would be covered in anywhere from 30 to 1000 millimeters of volcanic ash. This would be detrimental to the country economically as well as in terms of survival needs. Our fruits and vegetables as well as the wheats and grains we need for thousands of food products would be completely destroyed, making us dependent on small areas of the country and on other countries for the goods we consider normal.

Yellowstone is not the only geological predicament we have to be worried about.

Everyone knows the dramatic and fatal tales of the possibility of what could happen if the San Andreas Fault slipped, however little realize the immediate danger that lurks just north of this fault. The Cascadia Fault line begins at the north edge of California and stretches all the way to Vancouver Island in Canada. The two plates that lie miles beneath the surface are very slowly moving in such a way that could potentially pummel the northwestern region of the United States.

Yet again, we see that we are geologically overdue in terms of a massive quake. The Cascadia fault line typically experiences this magnitude of earthquake every 243 years, and we are now 315 years into the cycle; quite overdue. If you thought Yellowstone’s eruption would be devastating, brace yourself for the impacts of a Cascadia earthquake. The area of impact from an earthquake of this magnitude is around 450 square miles, which houses around 7 million people, which is predicted to injure around some 27,000 residents just from the quake itself. The earthquake, because it is so massive in scale, will generate a tsunami wave that will not only immerse the coast of California in 10 to 30-foot waves, but travel across the entirety of the ocean until it reaches Japan in only a couple hours, engulfing low rising islands across the Pacific in 10-foot waves; wiping them out as they are not above sea level.

Because there is no way to accurately predict when a volcano will erupt, or when an earthquake will take place, we are left in the dark as to when these monstrous natural disasters are to come, but we know they are well overdue. It could be another 40,000 years before we see an eruption, or another 300 before we see a massive earthquake, but know that these events are forthcoming, and they’re not scared to destroy anything in their path.


Katherine Blaine is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at katherine.blaine@uconn.edu.

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