Supervolcanoes: Reflections prior to my trip to Yellowstone
My home and destiny are in Yellowstone country, and my time in the District of Columbia is merely an interlude on my travels to the land with much to teach me.
Yellowstone National Park lies on one of the world’s largest volcanoes. It is so large that it has been deemed a supervolcano, one of only a few that exist in the world. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the Yellowstone supervolcano, imagine a volcano. At the peak of a volcano, at the top where all the lava and ash come out, picture what that looks like. How wide is that peak? In your mind, perhaps a couple dozen feet, perhaps, hundreds of feet, perhaps in some cases you imagine a large hollowed out crater that can stretch perhaps a quarter of a mile. This area is called a caldera. Yellowstone’s caldera, its peak, is 60 miles wide. In fact, a large chunk of the park exists in the caldera itself; that is, in the volcano’s peak. Beneath that 60-mile caldera is enough volcanic activity that when it next explodes it will have catastrophic effects on the global environment. Everything in a large radius will immediately die, chlorine gas will cover the United States, ash will cover the northern hemisphere, the global temperature would drop so dramatically that we would immediately be thrown into an ice age that could last at least 10 years. Since large chunks of the Missouri River system and the Columbia River system arise out of Yellowstone, one can only imagine what that might do to the river systems. The Yellowstone supervolcano’s explosion will be at least 10,000 times more powerful than that of Mt. St. Helens. Major explosions of the supervolcano happen every 600,000 years or so; it’s been 620,000 years since the last major explosion. The last supervolcano explosion happened 70,000 years ago in Indonesia and nearly wiped out the human species.
Of all the things to mention about Yellowstone, and there are many, why am I singling out the supervolcanic nature of Yellowstone? I do not believe that anything that happens in my life rises to the level of the supervolcanic, and yet there has been something deeply volcanic and transformative about my life in the District of Columbia. It is in the backdrop of a life eruption that I write today, as I contemplate my time in Wonderland.