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.