Volcano Super-Eruptions Can Send Us Back To A 'Pre-Civilization State': How Long Until The Next One?

By Vincent Lanaria | Nov 30, 2017 05:54 AM EST

If a volcanic super-eruption occurs, humanity could return to a "pre-civilization state."

A new study says that modern society has been fortunate enough to not have experienced the cataclysmic event so far, but the thing is, it also found out that the average time between occurrences is a lot less than previously thought.

What Is A Volcanic Super-Eruption?

A super-eruption is when a volcano explodes and spews more than 1,000 gigatons of mass, covering a whole continent with volcanic ash and alter the climate across the globe for decades.

This is defined by the Schools of Earth Sciences and Mathematics of the University of Bristol, and according to the team behind the research, the frequency of such an event happening "is only slightly longer than the age of our civilization — dating from the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago."

Coauthor of the study Jonathan Rougier says that the previous estimate in 2004 concluded that super-eruptions take place every 45,000 to 714,000 years. However, the researchers' findings now have the numbers pegged at 5,200 to 48,000 years, adding that the best guess average is at 17,000 years.

The team continues to say that the last two super-eruptions happened between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago.

Volcanic Super-Eruptions Not Overdue

Despite the numbers and the data, a volcanic super-eruption happening in the near future isn't set in stone, not to mention that the intervals between such catastrophes aren't exactly fixed.

"On balance, we have been slightly lucky not to experience any super-eruptions since then. But it is important to appreciate that the absence of super-eruptions in the last 20 thousand years does not imply that one is overdue. Nature is not that regular," Professor Rougier says.

Put differently, one primary takeaway from the team's research is that volcanoes are a much bigger threat than previously thought, particularly how the estimated average time between occurrences is drastically lesser than the former assessment.

It's also worth noting that one supervolcano under observation is underneath the Yellowstone National Park, and if it does erupt, it's expected that people won't have that much time to prepare for it. This was presented at the IAVCEI 2017 scientific assembly held in Portland.

However, Professor Rougier does say that planning for a super-eruption is not an immediate concern right now, but a well-thought-out one is utterly important to reduce the risk of disaster.

This study is part of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters published in ScienceDirect.

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