Supervolcanoes that can unleash huge amounts of magma are found in populated regions all over the world including the United States, so what would happen if an eruption occurs? How would people save themselves?
Your survival instinct may tell you that the best thing to do would be to run away from flowing hot molten rock. New evidence gathered by researchers from an ancient eruption site suggests that this could be a feasible thing to do.
For their research published in the journal Nature Communications on March 7, University Of Buffalo volcanologist Greg Valentine and colleagues conducted a study of the Silver Creek caldera that erupted 18.8 million years ago, flooding parts of what are now Nevada, California and Arizona with river-like currents of hot ash and gas known as pyroclastic flows.
Pyroclastic flow is considered as the real killer during volcanic eruptions and not lava. A pyroclastic flow was responsible for wiping out the Roman town of Pompeii. It also killed about 29,000 people when Mount Pelée on Martinique erupted in 1902.
By conducting an analysis of the rocks that were trapped in volcanic ash, the researchers found that the rivers of gas and ash coming from the supervolcano were not fast-moving jets as earlier believed but likely traveled at a speed ranging from 10 to 45 miles per hour.
It may be difficult to sustain this speed on foot but it is possible with a car. Valentine said that although not everyone would be able to outrun a volcano, there are a few that could.
"It's really interesting how you can have such a violent eruption producing such slow-moving flows," said Valentine. "They still devastate a huge area, but they're slow and concentrated and dense."
A supereruption will likely come with some warnings such as more frequent tremors and earthquakes. While authorities may urge people to evacuate once volcanic activities heighten, the new findings suggest that those who live near a supervolcano may still have a few hours to evacuate once the disaster starts.
"We want to understand these pyroclastic flows so we can do a good job of forecasting the behavior of these flows when a volcano erupts," Valentine said. "The character and speed of the flows will affect how much time you might have to get out of the way, although the only truly safe thing to do is to evacuate before a flow starts."