A new model from the scientists at the University of Illinois suggests that there will be clear and ample geological signs before the next supervolcano eruption.
The new model was based on the seemingly neglected impacts of tectonic stress on the rock beds where most of the world's supervolcanoes where located. Essentially, it proposes that any prevalent tectonic stress on the rocks could signal impending instability of supervolcanoes. Tectonic stress occurs when plates are moving toward, past, or away from each other.
By calculating the tectonic stress on the supervolcano locations, experts could finally estimate the timing of when the next catastrophic event will take place.
Scientists were baffled about three consecutive geyser eruptions at the Yellowstone National Park in the past six weeks. Experts, however, dismissed any assumption that the geyser eruptions are signaling a looming Yellowstone eruption. This was echoed by Patricia Gregg, geology professor and proponent of the new model.
Gregg said that any seismic or geyser activity at the Yellowstone National Park will naturally trigger panic. However, their research suggests that the signs of devastating explosions will be more encompassing and long-lasting than mere seismic activity or geyser eruptions.
"When new magma starts to rejuvenate a supervolcano system, we can expect to see a massive uplift, faulting, and earthquake activity. Far greater than the meter-scale events we have seen in recent time," Gregg explains in their study which was published online on April 9.
The team — comprised of Gregg, Haley Cabaniss, a graduate student at the University of Illinois and Eric Grosfils, a geology professor at the Pomona College — created their model based on the Taupo Volcanic Zone located in New Zealand.
They preferred the location because of its simple extensional tectonic setting. This is a characteristic common to locations of other supervolcanoes across the world.
Using the model, the team then tested different scenarios applying varying amounts of stress, tectonic plate movement, and magma supply. They observed that magma reservoirs inside the supervolcanoes remain stable in any given tectonic setting even while new clusters of magma is being actively supplied.
The team, therefore, concluded that it would take hundreds to thousands of years before enough magma supply could trigger an eruption. When this happens, there would have been immense tectonic stress and plates would have then reached tens to hundreds of meters of uplifts.
Furthermore, it requires several or more human lifetimes for the whole rejuvenation of magma to take place, Cabaniss explains.
The full study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.