Quirks & Quarks

What would happen if the Yellowstone supervolcano exploded?

Vast amounts of ash and massive climate disruption would be a global disaster

Vast amounts of ash and massive climate disruption would be a global disaster

The Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, is evidence of the simmering volcanic activity that geologists say one day could erupt as a devastating "supervolcano." (Beth Harpaz/Associated Press)

This week's question come to us from Michelle Neilson in Edmonton. She asks:

What would happen to Canada and the world if the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted? Is Canada prepared for such a disaster?

Johan Gilchrist, a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of British Columbia says such an eruption would have an impact both on the ground and in the atmosphere.

According to recent simulations, those closest to Yellowstone, including southern Alberta to southern Manitoba would experience ash fall that would cover the landscape up to one metre deep.

This would shut down transportation, collapse buildings, short-out the electrical grid and cause massive agricultural failure.

Ash fall would diminish with distance, but Toronto would see anywhere from 1 to 10 millimetres of ash according to the same models. Airborne ash would ground most air traffic and cause respiratory problems.

Debris in the atmosphere could reduce the Earth's surface temperature by several degrees Celsius or more. This would result in a global cooling event that could last for many years, or possibly decades after the eruption.

Gilchrist believes it is difficult to imagine that any nation, including Canada, could possibly be ready for a global catastrophe like the eruption of Yellowstone. 


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