When I first saw this story come up in my news feed, I automatically assumed it was a headline from the Onion or some other parody source. Outside of the descriptions for late night on Syfy, most of us don’t come across the term “supervolcano” all that often in our daily life. The next thing that came to mind was a scene in Roland Emmerich’s 2012, another thing that doesn’t come up with a great frequency for most people. Regardless of how sci-fi this sounds, the situation is very real, as tourists are being barred from parts of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park because an underground supervolcano has grown so hot it is melting asphalt roads.
Park spokesman Dan Hottle says, “It basically turned the asphalt into soup. It turned the gravel road into oatmeal.” The road to Old Faithful, the park’s most popular attraction is especially dangerous at this point. Officials are also warning hikers not to venture into certain areas, because their outings could take a drastic turn into realms usually reserved for horror movies. While you’re walking along there is apparently a “high” level of danger that what you think is solid ground may actually turn out to be boiling hot water. That sounds terrible, strolling through the wilderness, basking in the glory of nature, only to submerge your leg up to the knee in scalding liquid.
The park plays host to more than 3 million visitors annually, and while some areas are affected, spokespeople are assuring the public that the park has many more attractions to offer that are not currently being disturbed by a massive underground volcano. This is especially important for the park during the tourist-heavy summer months. It is, however, unknown when the impacted regions will be reopened to the public at this juncture.
According to geologists, the supervolcano—defined as any volcano that is capable of producing an eruption of more than 1000 cubic kilometers of magma—lurking beneath Yellowstone hasn’t actually fully blown for more than 640,000 years, which is quite a while. That said, last year, scientists did actually discover that it is much larger than they initially thought, and is in fact more than twice as large as it was originally believed.
But don’t worry, the supervolcano isn’t increasing in size, we don’t need to star working on giant arks just yet. James Farrell of the University of Utah clarifies that this does not mean the rupture in the Earth’s crust is growing, saying, “That’s not to say it’s getting any bigger…just that our ability to see it is getting better.”