Could we – and by we, I mean humanity – be wiped out by a mega-volcano? Well, maybe. Excerpt:
In the Bay of Naples, Europe’s most notorious giant is showing signs of reawakening from its long slumber.
Campi Flegrei, a name that aptly translates as “burning fields”, is a supervolcano. It consists of a vast and complex network of underground chambers that formed hundreds of thousands of years ago, stretching from the outskirts of Naples to underneath the Mediterranean Sea. About half a million people live in Campi Flegrei’s seven-mile-long caldera, which was formed by vast eruptions 200,000, 39,000, 35,000 and 12,000 years ago.
The past 500 years have been fairly peaceful ones for Campi Flegrei. There have been no eruptions at all since 1538, and that was a comparatively small event that resulted in the formation of the “New Mountain”, Monte Nuovo. But recent events suggest that this period of quiescence may be coming to an end.
Here’s the scary bit:
“The last eruption of Yellowstone would potentially have put ash across both American continents,” says David Pyle at the University of Oxford. “If you take a continental land mass and you suddenly cover it with 10cm of volcanic ash, all the organic matter and trees will lose their leaves and probably die. Animals will take in chemicals which are toxic to them. The ground will suddenly be much brighter than before, so a lot of the incoming solar radiation might simply be reflected back into the atmosphere, resulting in a lengthy drought.”
With water supplies clogged, electricity transmission lines failing and a complete disruption in ground transport, there would be an immediate crisis.
While a mega-volcano eruption would indeed have global consequences, I’m not spending much time worrying about one. I find the geology behind mega-volcanoes interesting (I find pretty much all geology interesting) but if you read any of the science at all, there’s one ting you have to understand while considering the scariest environment imaginable resulting from a mega-volcano eruption:
Geologic time scales.
One of these monsters might go up tomorrow. Or it might not happen for half a million years. For the last few million years, ice ages have come and gone; on the geological time scale, glaciers have been marching up and down the Northern Hemisphere like window shades, but the only reason we know anything about the most recent glaciation is from the signs it left behind.
There’s another reason to remain calm: There’s no point in worrying about something you can’t do anything about. So, sure, a mega-volcano may wipe us all out tomorrow. So might a Texas-sized asteroid. But, while the science is interesting, I won’t bend many neurons worrying about either.