Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

The biggest concern with an eruption the size of Yellowstone is ashfall. The force would shoot ash into the atmosphere up to 30 kilometers high where the easterly Jetstream would carry it as far away as Europe within three days.


The volcano would also eject sulphuric acid into the air forming an aerosol that remains in the atmosphere for years, screening out sunlight, causing global temperatures to drop and killing crops for years afterward.

Volcanic ash can ascend hundreds of kilometers into the atmosphere—and stay there for years.

Volcanic ash is made of tiny fragments of jagged rock, minerals, and volcanic glass. Unlike the soft ash created by burning wood, volcanic ash is hard, abrasive, and does not dissolve in water. Generally, particles of volcanic ash are 2 millimeters (.08 inches) across or smaller.

Many scientists think that the sheer energy of a volcanic explosion charges its ash particles with electricity. Positively charged particles meet up with negatively charged particles, either in the cooler atmosphere or in the volcanic debris itself. Lightning bolts then occur as a means of balancing these charge distributions.

In extreme cases, these “volcanic winters” can affect weather patterns across the globe. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia, the largest eruption in recorded history, ejected an estimated 150 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of debris into the air. The average global temperature cooled by as much as 3° Celsius (5.4° Fahrenheit), causing extreme weather around the world for a period of three years. As a result of Mount Tambora’s volcanic ash, North America and Europe experienced the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816. This year was characterized by widespread crop failure, deadly famine, and disease.

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Even 1 millimeter of ash will close airports, cause damage to vehicles and houses, and contaminate water supplies.

Airborne volcanic ash is especially dangerous to moving aircraft. The small, abrasive particles of rock and glass can melt inside an airplane engine and solidify on the turbine blades—causing the engine to stall.

Volcanic ash can impact the infrastructure of entire communities and regions. Ash can enter and disrupt the functioning of machinery found in power supply, water supply, sewage treatment, and communication facilities. Heavy ash fall can also inhibit road and rail traffic and damage vehicles.

Ash also poses a threat to ecosystems, including people and animals. Carbon dioxide and fluorine, gases that can be toxic to humans, can collect in volcanic ash. The resulting ash fall can lead to crop failure, animal death and deformity, and human illness. Ash’s abrasive particles can scratch the surface of the skin and eyes, causing discomfort and inflammation.

If inhaled, volcanic ash can cause breathing problems and damage the lungs. Inhaling large amounts of ash and volcanic gases can cause a person to suffocate. Suffocation is the most common cause of death from a volcano.

Volcanic Ash Clean Up

Volcanic ash is very difficult to clean up. Its tiny, dust-sized particles can enter into practically everything—from car engines, to office building air vents, to personal computers. It can severely erode anything that it contacts, often causing machinery to fail.

Volcanic ash can cause disruption to electric power supply systems at all levels of power generation, transformation, transmission and distribution. There are four main impacts arising from ash-contamination of apparatus used in the power delivery process.

Wet deposits of ash on high voltage insulators can initiate a leakage current (small amount of current flow across the insulator surface) which, if sufficient current is achieved, can cause ‘flashover’ (the unintended electrical discharge around or over the surface of an insulating material).

If the resulting short-circuit current is high enough to trip the circuit breaker then disruption of service will occur. Ash-induced flashover across transformer insulation (bushings) can burn, etch or crack the insulation irreparably and will likely result in the disruption of power supply.

These power parts are not made here in the U.S. but China. When Canada had damage to one of its power generation plants, that was damages from a solar EMP it took 36 months to get a new one. Image if you have hundreds to replace along with transformers and lines. It could be years before parts of the U.S. has power restored. Government official estimate that within one year for the U.S to be without power 90% of the population would die.

Johnson, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, posed questions to witnesses testifying on Capitol Hill before his committee. He asked R. James Woolsley, chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, what would happen to society if the electrical grid were to be down for an extended period, such as a year or two, following an EMP event?

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Woolsley responded, “It’s briefly dealt with in the commission report of [2008]. There are essentially two estimates on how many people would die from hunger, from starvation, from lack of water, and from social disruption. One estimate is that within a year or so, two-thirds of the United States population would die. The other estimate is that within a year or so, 90% of the U.S. population would die. We’re talking about total devastation. We’re not talking about just a regular catastrophe.”

If there was a nationwide blackout, grocery stores would quickly empty – and stay that way for months because trucks would be incapable of delivering food due to inoperable grid-tied gas pumps. Hospital generators that rely on diesel would shut down, too.

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

No Electricity Means No Water

If you live in a town or city, you probably don’t give much thought to how the water you use each day gets to your house. Even small villages usually have a network of supply pipes that transport water to homes in the neighborhood. All you need to know is how to open the tap at the sink, and if you experience a power outage there’s no impact on your water supply.

If your electricity goes out, you may find yourself with a backed-up basement, burst pipes, no hot water and even a toilet that doesn’t flush.

The system is set up where the waste goes through a pipe and gathers in a chamber where an electrical pump pushes it through a pipe going to the outside sewer system. If the electricity fails, the waste will gather in the chamber and be unable to move further along the path. Eventually, that chamber will become full and begin to overflow into your basement

You have your sump pump in the basement, steadily pumping excess water outside so your basement stays dry. The motor of the sump pump runs on electricity. It may work quietly in the background without being noticed, but if the electricity goes out, the motor stops and you can find yourself with a flooded basement.

No Electricity Means No Food

Those who are able to find water sources not dependent on electrical power now have another concern: food. Almost everyone who lives in an urban location is completely dependent on markets and grocery stores for their food supply. Even those who live in rural locations are largely, if not completely, dependent on buying food from outside sources.

However, if the electricity goes out, the supermarkets are going to be looted and possibly never restocked. From transportation to refrigeration, to even the growing of the food itself, our entire system of keeping the population fed is reliant on electricity. Sure, there will be small farmers who are able to feed small amounts of people nearby, and there will be those who are able to adapt and grow their own food, but an alarming number of people would starve to death in a matter of months.

No Electricity Means No Climate Control

Some areas of the United States, such as Minnesota in the winter and Arizona in the summer, are only habitable because of climate control. If not for indoor heating and cooling, these places wouldn’t have been inhabited by so many people. Once indoor heating and cooling disappear, surviving during the hottest and coldest times of the year will become a real problem. Some people would relocate or figure out a way to get by, but many who are unable would die of heat stroke or freeze to death.

No Electricity Means No Modern Medicine

Think of all the things that used to kill so many people before modern medicine. From polio to a ruptured appendix, there are countless things that once would have been fatal that are now either treatable or wiped out.

Modern medicine, however, is entirely dependent on electricity. Without it, all of these things would come roaring back with a vengeance. Hospitals that didn’t close their doors would lose a large majority of their effectiveness without all the machines they rely on. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies would be unable to produce the wide array of prescription drugs that are keeping so many people alive.

Volcanic ash can erode, pit and scour metallic apparatus, particularly moving parts such as water and wind turbines and cooling fans on transformers or thermal power plants.

The high bulk density of some ash deposits can cause line breakage and damage to steel towers and wooden poles due to ash loading. This is most hazardous when the ash and/or the lines and structures are wet (e.g., by rainfall) and there has been ≥10 mm of ash fall. Fine-grained ash (e.g., <0.5 mm diameter) adheres to lines and structures most readily. Volcanic ash may also load overhanging vegetation, causing it to fall onto lines. Snow and ice accumulation on lines and overhanging vegetation further increases the risk of breakage and or collapse of lines and other hardware.Controlled outages of vulnerable connection points (e.g., substations) or circuits until ash fall has subsided or for de-energized cleaning of equipment.To get a more specific idea of how an eruption would affect us in North America, experts looked back to the amount of ash that fell during a similar super eruption 2 million years ago. From geological evidence, they are able to create a map which breaks North America into six zones. Taking population and infrastructure into account, planners are able to estimate possible fatalities and economic losses. The overall loss is staggering. According to Doug Bausch, a Senior Scientist at FEMA: "In terms of direct economic damages, a three trillion-dollar number is reasonable for this event. It's about 20 percent of our U.S. Gross Domestic Product."

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Zone 1

Zone 1 is called the ‘pyroclastic zone’. Surges of scorching hot gas and ash (over 400 centigrade) exceeding the speed of sound would spill from the side of the volcano and could extend up to 100 kilometers out. It is not survivable.

ESTIMATED ASHFALL: 3 Meters – Feet 9.84252
DISTANCE FROM BLAST: up to 80 KM – Miles 49.7097
MAJOR TOWNS: West Yellowstone, Mammoth
COST (2012 DOLLARS): 7.1 billion

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Zone 2

Zone 2 would have to be evacuated completely prior to the eruption. The very heavy ashfall would collapse all structures. Vegetation, livestock and aquatic life would die. Power and telephone lines would break and roads would become completely unusable.

ESTIMATED ASHFALL: 1.8 Meters – Feet 5.90551
DISTANCE FROM BLAST: 80 – 125 KM – Miles 50-77
MAJOR TOWNS: Bozeman, Cody
COST (2012 DOLLARS): 28 billion

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Zone 3

Zone 3 would have to be evacuated completely prior to the eruption. The very heavy ashfall would collapse all structures. Vegetation, livestock and aquatic life would die. Power and telephone lines would break and roads would become completely unusable.

ESTIMATED ASHFALL: 1 Meter – Feet 3.28084
DISTANCE FROM BLAST: 125 – 200 KM, Miles 77-124
MAJOR TOWNS: Idaho Falls
COST (2012 DOLLARS): 225 billion

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Zone 4

Zone 4 would still see substantial amounts of ashfall. Any areas with more than 30 centimeters of ash are under severe risk. The primary cause of death would be from roofs collapsing due to heavy ash load, potentially 1 in 3 people would be killed this way. Breathing outside would be very difficult. The water would be contaminated with sulphuric acid. The ash would enter air filtration systems causing air quality problems in structures still standing.

There would likely be no power and very limited transportation, if any at all.

ESTIMATED ASHFALL: 60 Centimeters – Feet 1.9685, inches 23
DISTANCE FROM BLAST: 200 – 300 KM – Miles 124.274 – 186.411
MAJOR TOWNS: Salt Lake City, Boise
POPULATION: 11 million
COST (2012 DOLLARS): 225 billion

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Zone 5

Buildings in zone 5 are still at risk of collapse if the roofs are not immediately cleared of ash. Trees would be severely damaged due to breaking of branches. Road transport would be halted due to buildup of ash on roads and cars would stop working as air-filters become clogged.

Rail transport and electricity may be cut as wet ash short circuits signaling systems and sub-stations.

ESTIMATED ASHFALL: 15 Centimeters – inches 5.90551
DISTANCE FROM BLAST: 300 – 800 KM – Miles 186 – 497
MAJOR TOWNS: Denver, Portland, Calgary, Seattle, Regina
POPULATION: 34 million
234 billion

Supervolcano: Yellowstone’s Fury

Zone 6

Minor damage to buildings in Zone 6 will occur as ash enters, soils interiors and blocks air conditioning filters. Electricity may be cut as wet ash causes shorting at sub-stations. This would cause water supplies to be cut. Roads would need to be cleared to prevent ash from blocking storm-water systems. Crop damage is possible and livestock may be affected by lack of feed and contamination of water supplies.

Damage to electrical equipment and machinery is likely.

ESTIMATED ASHFALL: 1 – 6 centimeters – Inches 0.393701 – 2.3622
DISTANCE FROM BLAST: Beyond 800 KM – Miles 500
MAJOR TOWNS: LA, Dallas, New York, Toronto, Chicago
POPULATION: 190 million
COST (2012 DOLLARS): 213 billion

Mary Greeley News


Why 90% of the Population Would Die Without Electricity