Sam Bauman: Yellowstone: Beauty and peril



Winter has been kind to us of late, next to no snow on the local ground, temperatures in the 50s. “Snug as a bug in the rug,” one might say. No hurricanes like those in Texas, no Gulf Coast storms.

All’s well here unless you chance to read the article “Yellowstone Supervolcano” in the August 2009 edition of the National Geographic, which I just did. Found the magazine at FISH’s old magazine rack.

Its subhead reads: “What lies beneath the park,” and it turns out a lot rests there, enough to be pretty scary for those of us who live in Nevada. Like enough molten rock to destroy life in four area states, enough hot gas to melt sand, enough bad stuff to send us scurrying south.

I’ve walked Yellowstone and camped there, marveled at the bubbling water holes, never dreaming about what I was walking on.

Let’s look at the physical park itself, a 50-mile circle of caldera and mountains that look down on a surface of constantly bubbling pools of oddly colored water. There are sights to be seen, including Old Faithful which hasn’t been on time of late (seems water flow to the rocks beneath the site has decreased). And the odd plant life found at Yellowstone.

But the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 showered such supervolcano blasts to affect the entire globe. The dirt and gas from that super volcano in what is now Indonesia cast a pall over the Earth, lowering temperatures by as much as 10 degrees on average (maybe what’s needed to counter global warming).

Scientists have been inspecting Yellowstone for changes that might suggest a super volcano is building up. Edges of volcanic calderas (the outlets from subterranean molten rock) have risen as much as 30 inches in a decade, suggesting increasing liquid rock.

That’s just a quick skim of what dangers Yellowstone could offer. The last big volcanic disruption was more than a century ago in the Philippines.

If that upsets you in any of the four states specifically threatened, including Nevada and Montana, there are some weird ideas on how to live with a blanket of rocks or gases surrounding our planet.

No need to panic now; studies show things could blow up underneath Yellowstone many centuries away.

Don’t blame the National Geographic people for telling us about a possible distant peril. Just hop in your ATV and enjoy the fantasy that’s Yellowstone National Park. It’s basically free and such fantasy can be found no place else on Earth.

Except for maybe the Great Rift of Africa, which I’ve flown over. No competition.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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