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The Yellowstone Caldera was formed by a series of supervolcano eruptions. Photo: lucky-photographer / iStock

Scientists think they've uncovered the process that precedes a super-volcanic eruption, potentially allowing them to read the signs leading up to these rare, catastrophic events, per the NYT. They believe underground magma heats up relatively quickly before an eruption, awakening dormant supervolcanoes.

Why it matters: The findings mean that the mechanisms behind super-volcanic eruptions might take place on human timescales — maybe only decades. This research might help to predict these potentially apocalyptic events as well as more typical volcanic activity.

What they did: The researchers looked at crystals in fossilized ash deposits from the eruption of the supervolcano that created the Long Valley Caldera in California and found they contained argon, which can't be trapped in crystals when the magma around them is heated above 500 degrees Celsius. But magma in the Long Valley eruption is calculated to have been at 785 degrees Celsius. The researchers think the process must have been so fast it didn't give argon time to dissipate.

Yes, but: It's worth noting that supervolcanic eruptions are exceedingly rare. The Long Valley eruption occurred 765,000 years ago — and there have been only four suspected supervolcanic eruptions in the last 2,000 years.

Go deeper

4 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.