SCIENCE: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

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    Default New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Remember all the hype and terror that keeps popping up about Yellowstone? We may have a new volcano that could top it.

    Rapidly Inflating Volcano Creates Growing Mystery | Volcanic Eruptions | Uturuncu Volcano ǀ Supervolcanoes | Our Amazing Planet

    Quote Originally Posted by Our Amazing Planet
    Should anyone ever decide to make a show called "CSI: Geology," a group of scientists studying a mysterious and rapidly inflating South American volcano have got the perfect storyline.

    Researchers from several universities are essentially working as geological detectives, using a suite of tools to piece together the restive peak's past in order to understand what it is doing now, and better diagnose what may lie ahead.

    It's a mystery they've yet to solve.

    Uturuncu is a nearly 20,000-foot-high (6,000 meters) volcano in southwest Bolivia. Scientists recently discovered the volcano is inflating with astonishing speed.

    "I call this 'volcano forensics,' because we're using so many different techniques to understand this phenomenon," said Oregon State University professor Shan de Silva, a volcanologist on the research team. [See images of the inflating volcano here.]

    Researchers realized about five years ago that the area below and around Uturuncu is steadily rising — blowing up like a giant balloon under a wide disc of land some 43 miles (70 kilometers) across. Satellite data revealed the region was inflating by 1 to 2 centimeters (less than an inch) per year and had been doing so for at least 20 years, when satellite observations began.

    "It's one of the fastest uplifting volcanic areas on Earth," de Silva told OurAmazingPlanet."What we're trying to do is understand why there is this rapid inflation, and from there we'll try to understand what it's going to lead to."

    The peak is perched like a party hat at the center of the inflating area. "It's very circular. It's like a big bull's-eye," said Jonathan Perkins, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who recently presented work on the mountain at this year's Geological Society of America meeting in Minneapolis.

    Scientists figured out from the inflation rate that the pocket of magma beneath the volcano was growing by about 27 cubic feet (1 cubic meter) per second.

    "That's about 10 times faster than the standard rate of magma chamber growth you see for large volcanic systems," Perkins told OurAmazingPlanet.

    However, no need to flee just yet, the scientists said.

    "It's not a volcano that we think is going to erupt at any moment, but it certainly is interesting, because the area was thought to be essentially dead," de Silva said.

    Uturuncu is surrounded by one of the most dense concentrations of supervolcanoes on the planet, all of which fell silent some 1 million years ago.

    Supervolcanoes get their name because they erupt with such power that they typically spew out 1,000 times more material, in sheer volume, than a volcano like Mount St. Helens. Modern human civilization has never witnessed such an event. The planet's most recent supervolcanic eruption happened about 74,000 years ago in Indonesia. [Related: The 10 Biggest Volcanic Eruptions in History]

    "These eruptions are thought to have not only a local and regional impact, but potentially a global impact," de Silva said.

    Uturuncu itself is in the same class as Mount St. Helens in Washington state, but its aggressive rise could indicate that a new supervolcano is on the way. Or not.

    De Silva said it appears that local volcanoes hoard magma for about 300,000 years before they blow — and Uturuncu last erupted about 300,000 years ago.

    "So that's why it's important to know how long this has been going on," he said.

    To find an answer, scientists needed data that stretch back thousands of years — but they had only 20 years of satellite data.

    "So that's where we come in as geomorphologists — to look for clues in the landscape to learn about the long-term topographic evolution of the volcano," Perkins said.

    Perkins and colleagues used ancient lakes, now largely dry, along the volcano's flanks to hunt for signs of rising action.

    "Lakes are great, because waves from lakes will carve shorelines into bedrock, which make lines," Perkins said.

    If the angle of those lines shifted over thousands of years — if the summit of the mountain rose, it would gradually lift one side of the lake — it would indicate the peak had been rising for quite some time, or at least provide a better idea of when the movement began.

    The local conditions, largely untouched by erosion or the reach of lush plant and animal life, lend themselves to geological detective work, Perkins noted.

    "It's a really sparse, otherworldly landscape," Perkins said. "Everything is so well preserved. There's no biology to get in the way of your observations."

    Perkins said that surveys conducted on the lakes last autumn didn't indicate long-term inflation. However, tilting lakes are only one indicator of volcano growth, he said.

    De Silva said the geological detective team is working to combine data from a number of sources — seismic data, GPS data, even minute variations in gravity — to pin down when and why the mountain awoke from its 300,000-year-long slumber, and better predict its next big move.
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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Oh gosh, I think I need my inhaler. Far too excited by this.

    [/geology unf]



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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Supervolcanoes seriously scare me. Just the thought of the destruction and societal collapse that could follow an eruption... it makes me shudder.

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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    ^ This. If the Toba eruption killed off 3/4 of all plant species in the Northern Hemisphere, then humans....... yeah.
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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    I'm so used to looking these things up and having to really consider them that I've gone from "bawww this is scary" to "THAT IS SO GODDAMN AWESOME OH MY GOD" since we can't exactly stop it either way. >__> I'm not exactly hoping for an eruption or anything because that would be horrible but the budding geologist in me is definitely excited by the prospect of a not-so-shiny-or-new thing to study.



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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    And here comes another Discovery Channel docudrama.

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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky View Post
    Supervolcanoes seriously scare me. Just the thought of the destruction and societal collapse that could follow an eruption... it makes me shudder.
    After hearing about the one in Yellowstone Park, I am now afraid of ever visiting Wyoming, think about it, this may have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Although to be fair, the chance of the Yellowstone volcano erupting is 1 to 100 million, it's been there for millions of years, and it's not going to erupt any time soon, certainly not in December 2012, that's for sure.
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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Supervolcanoes are those ones that explode right? That scares me, you never know when that might happen. So much damage would be caused/people killed. Just terrifying. Reading the op saying this one is bigger than Yellowstone?

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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Quote Originally Posted by Masterge77 View Post
    Although to be fair, the chance of the Yellowstone volcano erupting is 1 to 100 million, it's been there for millions of years, and it's not going to erupt any time soon, certainly not in December 2012, that's for sure.
    Quite the opposite. It's overdue for an eruption precisely because of how long it's been there without doing so, according to observations anyway. Volcanoes erupt. It's not dormant and even those that apparently are can surprise us.
    Last edited by Kaori; 25th October 2011 at 10:37 AM.



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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Quote Originally Posted by TFSpock View Post
    ^ This. If the Toba eruption killed off 3/4 of all plant species in the Northern Hemisphere, then humans....... yeah.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky View Post
    Supervolcanoes seriously scare me. Just the thought of the destruction and societal collapse that could follow an eruption... it makes me shudder.
    Well, think of it this way. We're humans. We've got technology. Yeah, millions and millions, maybe even billions of people are going to die indirectly due to a supervolcano erupting. However, organizations have taken measures to ensure that, if society collapses and plant species go extinct, they can get society back up and running in a few decades and reintroduce those lost plants via technology. That's what those seed (and more recently, animal DNA) banks are for.

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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Quote Originally Posted by Katelynn View Post
    Well, think of it this way. We're humans. We've got technology. Yeah, millions and millions, maybe even billions of people are going to die indirectly due to a supervolcano erupting. However, organizations have taken measures to ensure that, if society collapses and plant species go extinct, they can get society back up and running in a few decades and reintroduce those lost plants via technology. That's what those seed (and more recently, animal DNA) banks are for.
    Yeah but doesn't that go against natural selection and evolution? To make room for new species by wiping out the older ones? Perhaps humans are destined to be extinct from a supervolcano.

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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    So if (and when) this thing erupts, how big will it be? Just in South America? Or much farther than that?

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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    Stories like this just lead to fear-mongering... and it works on me. I tend to stay away from reading stuff like this because I'm just a hypochondriac and anything that could potentially happen scares the fuck out of me.

    I'm sure it's still interesting to some people (like my dad, he loves all this sort of stuff, geology and that) but to me, it's just creating more doomsday hype and how/when the world will end. Which I don't really want to think about. :/
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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    I find natural disasters so fascinating to read about, so part of me wants this big boy to explode. Krakatoa is my cocaine.
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    Default Re: New Potential Supervolcano in Bolivia

    This can only mean one thing: Groudon is angry.

    That is all.
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