Of Ancient Plate Tectonics and Unknown Carbon Reservoirs By Stephanie Osborn

Of Ancient Plate Tectonics and Unknown Carbon Reservoirs

By Stephanie Osborn



A couple of articles were recently brought to my attention by my particle physicist friend. One of them is a patently alarmist article in a UK newspaper. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4226566/Scientists-discover-massive-reservoir-greenhouse-gases.html) The other is the scientific article it purports to reference. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X16307543/#ec0040) [NOTE: this one is behind a purchase wall, but the abstract is available to read.] I won’t go into the whole contents of the articles; you can read those for yourself, or at least the abstract of one. The gist of it is, the UK newspaper is claiming that a recently-discovered deep-Earth structure and a possible ‘volatiles’ reservoir associated with it could create a catastrophically huge release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

This brought on some brief email discussion, as not everyone has a strong background in some of these sciences, and I thought it might be good to explain some of the things being discussed in the articles.

Now, I don’t know how much the average person knows about seismology, but it’s one of the reasons I picked up an undergrad minor in geology and did some graduate subspecialty work in geology, as well. I grew up in an area of the country that regularly felt quakes from the New Madrid Fault Zone, which is a whole ‘nother article in itself — several, actually. I can do those at some point, if there is enough interest. Anyway.

Seismology is really a form of optics; the very same rules apply, since you are looking at wave propagation, reflection, and refraction. (Having just finished the Optics sequence in the Physics dept., when I got to seismology in my Geology studies, I was better and faster than the Geology majors, because the concepts were already very familiar to me. For that matter, I made use of the concepts in my racquetball course, too, and the coach couldn’t believe I’d never played the sport before. Hee!)

So there are various ‘types’ of seismic waves, which is really just another way of saying they are polarized differently. (The only kind of wave that seismology has that optics doesn’t is the longitudinally-polarized wave — aka the acoustic wave. And so if you’ve studied acoustics, you even already have THAT.) Now the interesting thing is that certain of these wave polarizations create differing effects on the ground surface, and the budding science of seismology therefore named them accordingly. (A ‘shear wave,’ which the article references, is a ‘transverse body wave’ — this means that the wave motion is perpendicular to the direction of motion, and it moves through the body of an object like the Earth via elasticity within the object. It was named ‘shear’ by geologists because it had a shearing effect upon structures when it arrived.)

However, just like in optics, when the medium changes, so does the refractive index. And just like in optics, the boundary between media creates a reflective surface, which in turn also generates additional polarized reflected waves. And this is what complicates the thing so much. But certain polarizations are easier to ‘read’ than others, and they can tell us a lot about the various strata, including what state of matter they are in — liquids tend not to transmit some of those waves at all because, once inside the melt, the waves usually experience total internal reflection, and thus you get a blank zone.

So we know when there is a blob of actual melt down there, because we get all reflections from it, and no refraction through it to speak of. If it’s partly molten, you can get some refraction, but it tends to generate ‘mushy’ surfaces, is maybe a way to put it.

Now, the Farallon Plate referenced by the articles is an ancient oceanic-floor tectonic plate under what has become the Pacific Ocean. There are a few remnants of it left that have not yet been subducted under the North and South American plates; they’re most notable in the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where there are some triangular bits, now known as the Juan de Fuca Plate, and the adjacent Gorda Plate. Another notable remnant is the tongue-shaped plate (Cocos Plate) that forms the west coast of Central America, and the better-known Nazca Plate just off the western South American coast. In all cases, the principal direction of motion takes them east and under the continental plates in intensive subduction zones. (It’s worth noting that these are serious quake zones, capable of generating monster quakes and tsunamis, in some cases equivalent to the Boxing Day quake/tsunami combo in 2004.) You can find out more about it by plugging in ‘Farallon Plate’ to Wikipedia.

Now, it is also worth noting that there are volcanic and regular mountain ranges that run parallel to, and just inland of, the west coast from Alaska/Canada all the way down to the tip of South America, and it is this subduction of the Farallon Plate that is responsible for both types of ranges. Obviously the whole ‘big crunch’ thing is responsible for the standard mountain ranges, in various forms — when two plates slam together, buckling occurs, and mountains result. But what about the volcanic chains, such as the heavily volcanic Cascade Range?

Well, since most crustal plates are a mixture of mineral types, and various families of minerals melt at different temperatures, as the plate is subducted, low-melting-point minerals melt out of the solid plate. Being liquid, they’re more buoyant and rise upward through whatever cracks and crevices and imperfections they can find in the overlying plate, or force such cracks and crevices to open by dint of increasing pressure (which, I might note, tends to form magma chambers, either way). When they reach the surface, blooie, volcano.

Note also that the type of volcano tends to change as you move from the coast inland; this is because, as you go farther inland, the plate being subducted is being shoved deeper and deeper into the mantle, encountering hotter and hotter temperatures, and thus melting out minerals with increasingly higher melting points. This results in a separation of the minerals, and a corresponding chemical difference in the melts, in a smooth transition moving from coastal volcanoes and progressing inland. It’s been theorized that this is the reason why certain areas have more explosive volcanoes — the chemistry resulting from the melt leads to a more viscous lava, trapping the dissolved gases inside and allowing for pressure buildup.

There is also increasing evidence that the heat resulting from subduction was insufficient to fully melt the Farallon Plate, and the continental plates overrode the Farallon, which may have fragmented/faulted and ‘stacked up’ in slabs under the continents. According to a NASA research group, a significant portion of the Farallon sank to the bottom of the mantle, and is much farther east, most likely under the eastern USA. (http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a002400/a002410/) The footprint area is quite considerable. And no, it wasn’t that the Farallon drove so far eastward, as much as it was that the North American Plate just moved over it. Still and all, dang big plate, when you think about it.

That said, it strikes me that the Daily Mail has once again gotten its science mixed up. (Yes, I’ve dealt with anxieties produced by articles from this and other similar UK newspapers several times.) It references the same area that the Science Direct article does. And it does link to the Science Direct article. But that doesn’t mean they interpreted it correctly.

They, of course, immediately focus on the fact that the Yellowstone supercaldera is supposedly in the middle of it. I say ‘supposedly’ because the NASA research plainly indicates the Farallon Plate remants in a VERY different location from that depicted in the Daily Mail article. I’d really love to know where they got their graphic, and how accurate it really is, relative to what they think they’re talking about.

HOWEVER, all that said:

1) The Daily Mail article immediately assumes that virtually the entire volume of ‘volatiles’ referenced by the scientific paper is carbon, when the first volatile mentioned by the science paper is hydrogen. And even that is speculative, as denoted by the phrase, ‘such as.’

1a) Typically the constituents of volcanic gases are: water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen, methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and several of the noble gases such as neon, helium, and argon. (Other gases may be found in trace quantities as well.) According to Wikipedia (and this matches my training), “The abundance of gases varies considerably from volcano to volcano. Water vapor is consistently the most common volcanic gas, normally comprising more than 60% of total emissions. Carbon dioxide typically accounts for 10 to 40% of emissions.”

2) The Yellowstone hotspot is separate from the Farallon Plate structures, and goes far down, into the mantle. Its upper regions have been 3-D mapped, and are not a part of the Farallon structures. More, it has a tracked geologic history of eruptions, with fossil calderas that can be traced back from its current location, regressing southwest almost all the way to the northeast corner of California. There is no indication of catastrophic gaseous emissions of which I am aware; the volume of ejecta ultimately came from much deeper. The danger from a Yellowstone eruption is in the massive blast which would devastate the area for at least 1-2 hundred miles in every direction, followed by the truly titanic volume of ash which would be pumped high into the atmosphere. There have been discoveries of fossilized, fully-articulated herd animals in mass deaths from acute silicosis as far east as, if memory serves, at least the vicinity of the Mississippi River. (I distinctly recall reading this, but cannot now find the article online. However, not so very far away, near the Missouri River somewhat westward of my recollection, is also found the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in NE Nebraska. A huge die-off of animals, from turtles all the way up to herds of horses, camels, and rhinos, are found intact, embedded in what is evidently the Mesa Falls Tuff — tuff being a type of loose, porous rock composed of ‘welded’ ash. The Mesa Falls Tuff was the ash layer deposited by a Yellowstone eruption some 1.3 million years ago. Evidence indicates they died of acute silicosis and were then entombed in the very ash that caused their deaths. You can find lots of information here http://museum.unl.edu/research/vertpaleo/ashfall.html and here http://www.rhinoresourcecenter.com/index.php?s=1&act=pdfviewer&id=1378684580&folder=137 )

Is it possible for some of these volatile gases to ‘leak’ into the Yellowstone magma chamber? Sure it is. That’s how natural gas and petroleum get around, after all, not to mention groundwater. But there are limits; impermeable strata effectively block such migrations (which is how artesian wells occur).

And frankly, if we have a Yellowstone eruption, we got way bigger, and much more immediate, problems than trying to figure out how much carbon dioxide the thing is belching.

258 responses to “Of Ancient Plate Tectonics and Unknown Carbon Reservoirs By Stephanie Osborn

    • Very OT, but I skimmed a bit of your blog and an item in Shared Laundry Room Etiquette caught my attention and it seems you do not do with comments. When I worked at a convenience store there was the occasional customer who walked in a invisible but all too real cloud of stale tobacco smoke. It was.. nasty. And it wasn’t just my non-smoker sensitivities. One day the guy after him commented something like “He needs to shower and do laundry.” after the first fellow finally made his exit. And that guy? Who said that? He bought three packs of Marlboros.

      • There are limits to what showering and laundry can do, of course. Environmental conditions when smoking can concentrate or alleviate concentration of the stench, for example. It is likely the Marlboro purchaser (who a. might have been buying for somebody else b. might have been purchasing his year’s supply c. might have been buying them for purpose other than smoking, e.g., eating e.g., insertion of cigarette loads, hashish or other foreign substance) very likely smoked his butts in the wide open places, enjoying the stench-dissipating benefits of fresh breezes. The prior noisome character possibly smoked in small, tightly enclosed spaces which concentrated the effects, imbuing a more permanent odor.

        Let this be a lesson: never be a closet smoker.

        • Nice one you lead up to. But the Marlboro purchaser was indeed a heavy smoker, just not so… concentrated.

          One thing that does amuse me some is how ‘The Marlboro Man’ is a re-imaging for marketing. The original advertising was “Mild as May” and Marlboro was marketed to women.

          • An amusing anecdote about Marlboro advertising: I still remember an incident when I was, oh, probably about five or six. My parents subscribed to Time magazine, and the inside back page had a Marlboro advertisement with the slogan “Come to where the flavor is.” Being five or six, I thought this meant that the advertiser had had some kind of flavoring material added to that page, and so I licked the page to find out what the flavor was that they were talking about. Naturally, it tasted like magazine paper — and my mother saw me and said, “Don’t lick magazine pages. People handle them without washing their hands, so they’re dirty.” Never did it again, but that probably had more to do with my disappointment. The “Come to where the flavor is” line had lied to me!

        • Our first wide-screen TV (we are movie buffs, it seemed needed, lol) was an ancient used TV that we bought from the original user, housed in a mammoth wooden cabinet that we very nearly could not get in our front door. What we didn’t realize when we bought it was that the original owner had been a chain-smoker. We got the TV into the house and the thing began to outgas massively. It was horrid, and I am allergic to tobacco smoke. (So is my father, and he has severe reactive asthma.) We ended up opening the thing up, having to clean a thick film of smoke off the inside of the Fresnel lens, and stuff the thing with newspaper and leave it for a month without using it, to be able to absorb enough smoke to live with it.

          • I once bought a radio transceiver from a smoker – and wound up leaving a nearby window open for at least a month to let things air out to where I could stand to use it.

            And having grown up with very used cars it’s weird (in a good way) to get into an ‘old’ or ‘used’ car and not smell any smoke. That was the major component of Used Car Smell, alas, at least the cheap junkers the family could afford in the 1970’s.

            • I have a friend who re-habs old houses. He has a machine that generates ozone and blows it out with a strong fan. Big enough it has to be on wheels like a two wheel cart. In a smoky house or apartment it will neutralize LIGHT odor most of the time. Strong enough you can’t work in the room while it is running.
              There are exceptions. We had a condo that could not be made odor free until the carpet was removed and the walls sanded. Just sealing them didn’t work.
              We also had a house where the people went away for three and four days at a time and left two big dogs inside. We could not get rid of the urine smell until the drywall was removed 4 foot up from the floor and new sub-flooring put on the floor joists.

            • I remember a very heated discussion with a passenger who wanted to smoke in my new car. Well lightly used car bought from a non-smoker. He kept saying what harm could one cigarette do. He was a friend of a friend and basically shunned me afterwards. But he didn’t smoke in the car.

              A car is only a smoke virgin once. One cigarette and it will never smell the same again.

              • Cigarettes deposit film on the inside of the windshield which is very difficult to eliminate and which negatively affects visibility at night, thus establishing a driving hazard.


              • Once, when our van had to be repaired, we got it back with a cigarette smell. We have reason to suspect that they were angry with us for returning the van (possibly a second time) to repair something that went wrong with their last repair. I remember another problem related to their repairs later, but at that point, they weren’t returning our calls.

                Since I have a suspicion that cigarette smoke triggers my migraines*, and since my wife has asthma, we weren’t at all pleased.

                When we learned a few months later that the mechanic shop had gone out of business, we weren’t particularly disappointed, either.
                *I also have reason to believe that old-book smell might trigger migraines too; one book I particularly like seems to be a major offender….

      • Hm? I have comments set to be approved the first time someone comments. Cuts down on the spam.

        I can’t stand heavy smokers. It’s insanely gross.

  1. Two things grabbed my attention about the molten carbon story:

    1. The one I saw put it nearly 300 miles down. At that point it became “neato.” It also brought to mind the Surrency Bright Spot, which is only about ten miles down, and probably something else.

    2. Wondered about the sublimation of carbon and this molten pool. Wondered if it was a carbon compound, or because it was heated under pressure.

    Oh, think National Geographic ran an article about the herd of animals near the Mississippi killed by a Yellowstone eruption. Think it was prior to the Mount St. Helens eruption. Remember it because ash beds near the Mississippi struck from an eruption that far away blew my mind.

    • Ash traces from a hotspot (before Yellowstone got to Yellowstone) eruption in Idaho have been found in the Texas Panhandle. “Blowin’ in the wind . . .”

      • Oh yes. The dense ashfall from a Yellowstone eruption will cover a HUGE area. Here is a map of several determined previous Yellowstone eruptions, with some other comparable eruptions. DO note that one of those is from the Long Valley caldera in CA, which is itself a supervolcano.

        • I remember being puzzled the first time I skied Mammoth. I knew it was an extinct volcano but couldn’t figure out where the caldera was. Another skier in the gondola pointed at the ridge miles away on the other side of Lake Crowley. I figured he was BSing me. I was stunned when I looked it up later and found out he had been telling me the truth.

          • It’s not extinct. It’s part of the Long Valley Caldera complex, and that is definitely dormant to active. According to the USGS, “Phreatic eruptions, distinct from those at South Inyo Craters, took place about 700 years ago from vents on the north side of Mammoth Mountain. Recent volcanic unrest, including seismicity, gas emission, and tree kill, is thought to be related to a dike intrusion beneath Mammoth Mountain in 1989. Both Long Valley Caldera and Mammoth Mountain have experienced episodes of heightened unrest over the last few decades (earthquakes, ground uplift, and/or volcanic gas emissions). As a result, the USGS manages a dense array of field sensors providing the real-time data needed to track unrest and assess hazards.”

          • It’s funny to encounter something so bizarre that it doesn’t fit our expectations…

            I remember walking out of my dorm room one morning, while someone else was walking in. He told me “Did you hear that terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center?” I did not. “And they attacked the Pentagon, too!” At this point, I said, “Yeah, sounds like something terrorists would do” because at this point, I thought he was joking — terrorists attack the Pentagon?!? How absurd! — but as I headed for my French class, I thought, “what if he wasn’t joking? I have a feeling I’m going to find out for certain in a few minutes.”

            And I did. That was the only thing that was being discussed in French class before the professor came in…

  2. Well, even though the plates have been moving around for a few billion years, evidently something man’s (note it’s ok to use “man” in this context, like “manslaughter”) doing is causing this latest natural anomaly.

    The only solution is more taxes.

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Too bad we can’t arrange to have idiot reporters (ones write articles like that) to be very close to the next Yellowstone eruption. ::don’t have enough coffee yet::

    • Such an event would be very difficult for civilization to survive. The people who die suddenly at the beginning may well be considered the lucky ones.

      In addition to the obvious agricultural difficulties, water pollution, and weather phenomena, the ash would be destroying internal combustion engines around the world. And there’s a good chance the initial blast would do funky things to the magnetosphere that electronics wouldn’t like very much (the ash would be hard on them, too).

      • Depending on the content of the emission ash it might conceivably eradicate every integrated circuit in the world as conductive ash shorts every circuit.

        • Every integrated circuit? Naw. To short it out it would have to get to it. Even if it works its way inside a case, there’s a critter known as potted circuits that would be impossible for ash to get into. You’d have a better chance courtesy of ash and good ol’ static electricity.

          For the really big technological problem, notice the part about silicosis. Now consider that lungs aren’t the only things that don’t like fine, sharp, particulates. Anything that grit can get into gets worn; anything. That includes turbines and pistons. Not to mention that running a motor with a clogged filter isn’t a good thing. Nor is running a clogged computer, though if dust concentrations are that high, you have other things to worry about. Like breathing. Or not getting crushed because your roof is collecting ash.

          • My understanding of volcanic ash is that it is almighty fine stuff.

            The cascade of catastrophic effect is likely too lengthy to list.

            • Yes, it is. And if you remember Mount St Helens letting go, you probably breathed in some dust, even if you were on the East Coast. There was a light dusting in places thousands of miles away.

              Sure, Yellowstone would be much bigger. But – simply having volcanic dust in the air didn’t kill us or stop every machine. It didn’t wipe out towns closest to Mount St Helens, where day turned to night and they had to clean ash from roofs. Yeah, it was hard on machines – this is all well documented. But people lived. Had it been more widespread you’d have starvation, and machines breaking down without replacement parts, but that’s a function of scale, not the presence of ash.

              • Don’t forget proximity. The middle of Washington is sparsely populated as compared to the edges, with Yakima being about the largest at just under 50,000, about a third of the population of that entire county. (Yakima County is about the closest “large” county to the ash plume fallout.) If there had been a major city close by, there would have been more issues.

                It’s also farm country, so once you get past that first year, the ash makes for really nice soil.

                • “It’s also farm country, so once you get past that first year, the ash makes for really nice soil.”
                  Negative. When you have ash, you have powdered volcanic glass. It takes MUCH longer for that to break down into constituent minerals which enrich the soil. Go look at St. Helens. It’s been nearly 37 years and the area around the volcano is still a moonscape, shrouded in very much un-broken-down ash. The Toutle River still has 30-foot-high bluffs of ash and tuff in places. I’ve been there; I’ve seen it.

                  No, what you have is farm country that’s been buried under potentially meters of ash. You have NO crops. You have farm animals dying off from breathing the stuff.

                  You have devastation.

                  • It’s the amount. I was speaking of Yakima County, which was further away and got little enough that it could be plowed under, and I was thinking of Idaho, which touts its (ancient) volcanic soil as the best potato soil ever.

                    • It is the best potato soil ever, because it has very little clay. The soil doesn’t retain water, so there’s very little opportunity for the tubers to develop fungus. It’s also why the area is a great place for garlic, onions, and mint (because you can actually kill it easily by just not irrigating it).

                    • It is still NOT the volcanic ash which enriches the soil. It is the minerals it chemically decomposes into that enrich the soil. And that takes time. It isn’t just about plowing it under.

                    • Also this, to which I linked in the original blog article:

                      “It became clear early on that there was a definite pattern to the arrangement of the skeletons in the ash bed. Digging down from the top we always found rhinoceroses first, then, at deeper levels, smaller hoofed animals such as horses and camels, and finally, birds and turtles. The latter were always at the very bottom of the ash bed, in a layer containing numerous footprints of rhinos and other hoofed animals. It seemed evident that the small creatures died first, then the middle-sized ones, and finally, the rhinos. The animals definitely did not die all at once; they were not (with the possible exception of the birds and turtles) buried alive.
                      “The larger animals clearly died more slowly, over a period of a few days to a few weeks. Proof that they were not instantaneously killed and buried can be seen on many skeletons, especially those of horses and camels, which often show bite marks attributed to large scavengers that must have had access to the carcasses before they were completely buried. Every fossil mammal so far discovered at the site has abnormal patches of highly porous superficial bone on various parts of its skeleton, especially on the lower jaw and the shafts of the major limb bones and ribs. Veterinarians have reported very similar growths on animals that have died of lung failure. Inhalation of large amounts of volcanic ash almost certainly caused the deaths of the Ashfall victims.”

                      Note the time frame — a few days to a few weeks. This is not even long enough for the eruption to have finished.

              • The blast radius for Yellowstone is on order several hundred miles. As soon as the ash column collapses, a whole new problem is unleashed — a nuee ardente, aka pyroclastic flow. That will cover at least the same radius as the blast zone, if not more. The depth of ash even as far east as the Mississippi River is on order of METERS.

                No, there will not be any kind of magnetospheric effects, because it doesn’t work like that. Yes, you can get lightning in the vicinity of an eruption, but it’s for the exact same reason you get lightning in a storm cloud — turbulence in the cloud particulates generates static. It isn’t some sort of “super-lightning,” and it isn’t going to affect the geomagnetic field. It really can’t.

                Volcanic ash is truly nasty stuff. It isn’t just dust. Have you ever seen something called Pele’s hair?

                Think natural fiberglass. Obsidian is lava, cooled virtually instantly, and it forms natural glass. When the lava is “fountaining,” and the wind is blowing, you get Pele’s hair.

                Now take a wad of Pele’s hair and pound it down to dust-sized particles. THAT is volcanic ash. It is tiny shards of obsidian, with all the points and sharp edges that implies. It is heavy, it is sharp, it is dangerous, it will scour through all kinds of stuff…including lungs. And in a surprisingly short amount of time.

                • > Pele’s hair

                  Also known as “rock wool”, once a fairly common substitute for fiberglass. It was made out of reclaimed slag and mine tailings.

                  It was listed as a carcinogen for decades, until several manufacturers paid for a study to determine that it’s totally not a carcinogen. The EPA took the results at face value and changed their rating accordingly.

                  I wore a face mask when removing it from the Project House…

                  It’s also a crappy insulator; over time, it slumps down to less than half its original volume, leaving huge cavities where there’s supposed to be insulation.

      • You are looking at it the wrong way. All the ash in the atmosphere would be the same as material from large scale nuclear detonations, a.k.a. nuclear winter. There you go, global warming – solved.

      • For our doomsday speculation, let’s start with a couple of maps:


        The top one is historic ash fall. The bottom is projected ash fall.Notice the depths in millimeters and areas covered. Consider that ash + rain can equal something similar to concrete. And then there’s the problems with ash and mechanical devices.

        Much of these effects are documented, so that, plus anticipated ash fall, lets us dial in our disaster. Haven’t heard about tracking – that’s when insulators flash over because of a conductive path, but wouldn’t be surprised it would happen if the stuff got damp. So out where the stuff is barely measurable, you could rock along fine until the next foggy morning or rainy day. Then zap! The lights go out, and we go out and find the problem.

        Anywho, that’s just ash on the ground. It’s the stuff in the upper atmosphere along with volcanic gases that chill things.But by how much? Considering the Year Without a Summer, by a good bit. Growing zones move toward the equator for a decade or two. Most likely only the bulk of US agriculture. Ash-wise, the rest of the world is fine. It’s the temperatures and reduced sunlight that’s the thing.

        End of civilization? Doubt it. Much of the US and parts of Canada are an immediate disaster area. Famine is going to claim lives world-wide. But civilization? It’ll still be here.

        • Stirling’s Peshawar Lancers provides an example; only difference is that he stacked a open Atlantic strike on top. 4 years with no growing season was nearly enough to wipe out the planet, and our food production and delivery are on a far narrower base and much more fragile.

          • Except, the other times Yellowstone and other supervolcanoes have let loose since the end of the Cretaceous haven’t caused widespread extinctions. Starvation world-wide, a massive die-off, but not extinction level.

            • Oh we’ll survive….. but bombed back to the Stone Age won’t be a metaphor.

              Civilization survival no; species survival probably.

              • Probably this.

                Unfortunately the USGS projection you’ve used, Kevin, is not actually consistent with the geological strata; the layers of tuff that are found from prehistoric Yellowstone eruptions is far thicker, for a good deal farther out, than their projections show.

                Just so people know, let me elaborate a bit more than I did in my article. Tuff is a porous stone comprised of cemented or welded ash. This means that the ash collects in a layer and, either because it is still hot/soft and plastic, “welds” itself into a unit strata, or else, over time, cementing materials such as carbonates percolate in solution into the layered ash and, upon removal of the water, cement the ash particles together into a unit strata.

                • Arguably, it is only the North American continent that will experience the civ collapse, but from a more overall perspective, that still won’t be healthy for governments located outside the zone of immediate geological effects.

                  • Stephanie, what I’m worried about is the effects of ash induced cold weather causing a global food supply collapse. Most urban centers are going to be out of food within 3 days and depopulated in 3 weeks.

                    • That is a definite concern. We know from the studies of St. Helens, Pinatubo, and other more modern eruptions that the ‘aerosols’ (which include ash, as well as other things like fine droplets of sulfuric acid) get injected VERY high into the atmosphere, and have a definite effect. And because of the height of the vent column, generally are not brought down for quite some time. According to the USGS, we are talking stratospheric injection. (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/yellowstone/yellowstone_hazard_45.html)
                      The same site also says (on a different page), “During the three giant caldera-forming eruptions that occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, tiny particles of volcanic debris (volcanic ash) covered much of the western half of North America, likely a third of a meter deep several hundred kilometers from Yellowstone and several centimeters thick farther away. Wind carried sulfur aerosol and the lightest ash particles around the planet and likely caused a notable decrease in temperatures around the globe.”

                      Now for a sense of scale:
                      Mt. St. Helens ejected just shy of a quarter of a cubic mile of rock, in the form of ash.
                      Mt. Pinatubo ejected just shy of two and a half cubic miles of rock, in the form of ash.
                      The Huckleberry Ridge eruption of Yellowstone, 1.3M YBP (Years Before Present), ejected SIXTY-SEVEN CUBIC MILES of rock in the form of ash.
                      The Lava Creek eruption of Yellowstone, 630,000 YBP, ejected TWO HUNDRED FORTY CUBIC MILES of rock in the form of ash.
                      The Mesa Falls eruption of Yellowstone, 2M YBP, ejected SIX HUNDRED CUBIC MILES of rock in the form of ash.

                      Like I said, when Yellowstone goes (and it is when, not if; the ONLY question is when the “when” is), we will have a lot bigger problems than wondering how much carbon dioxide it’s venting.

                    • Okay, I need to correct myself here. I am trying to answer questions AND get ready to go to AnachroCon in ATL this weekend, and I mixed up the eruptions.

                      “Small” Yellowstone eruption, 1.3MY BP formed the Mesa Falls tuff and produced 67cu.mi. rock equivalent of ash.

                      “Medium” Yellowstone eruption, ~630,000Y BP formed the Lava Creek tuff and produced 240cu.mi. rock equivalent of ash.

                      “Large” Yellowstone eruption, ~2MY BP formed the Huckleberry Ridge tuff and produced 600cu.mi. rock equivalent of ash.

                      I fear I mixed the Huckleberry Ridge and Mesa Falls eruptions. This should be the correct range, as per the USGS sites. (This was a case of quick-glancing at Wikipedia to correlate a link that only showed the years BP of the eruptions, and Wikipedia being wrong.)

                      Sorry about that.

                  • The US definitely gets hosed. This gets onto the rabbit trail of what constitutes a civilization. A post-Yellowstone functioning US, infrastructure-wise would at least initially be a little bigger than the US in 1789. How much of that would function after starvation, cold, and disease hits is another question, but Leningrad functioned somewhat even with the siege and cannibal gangs in the streets.

                    Certainly there’s a massive die-off, especially in the cities. Points may be reached in places where things break down because there’s not enough people to run them. This is macabre, but would the drop in essentials as starvation spreads worldwide be offset by the collapse in population?

                    Don’t know, but a good writer might want to tackle a disaster situation with the question what does it mean to be an American?. Can the American civilization say to have collapsed as long as most believe in liberty and the Constitution?

                    • [A] good writer might want to tackle a disaster situation with the question … Can the American civilization say to have collapsed as long as most believe in liberty and the Constitution?

                      I doubt there’d be any market for a book/series like that.

                    • There was one book and sequel i read a year or so ago ,Without Warning (John Birmingham) where the author wiped out almost all of the U.S.A., parts of Canada and some of the Caribbean islands. Mostly handwavium hocus pocus unknown reason. The after effects were interesting.

                    • The problem, from the author’s perspective, is that this is pretty much a long-term disaster, and the recovery would be on order decades to centuries. Certainly it will be a VERY long time before the farmland/pastureland buried under feet of ash becomes usable again. There would be a huge “hole” in the middle of the country where there was absolute devastation on order of the 5-mile radius around St. Helens (and a comparable radius around Mt. Mazama, aka Crater Lake, which blew off a third of its height nearly 8000 years ago and STILL has a pumice desert around it), only this radius of devastation would range for a couple hundred miles, if not more. Tens to hundreds of thousands of square miles of moonscape.

                      It’s an epic story arc just to get the place back to something approximating livable.

                      I mean, if you don’t MIND the story ending on a downer, you can play a “TV-movie-of-the-week” kinda story with it. Or cheat, like Deep Impact did, and compress a gajillion-day time period into the last five minutes and say, “Hey presto! The USA is back!” But that isn’t the kind of story I want to read, and it isn’t the kind of story I want to tell.

                      It’s probably even worse than a Carrington-level solar/geomag event, and when Ringo and I were ideating that one, he ended up discarding it because of the length of the recovery period making it impractical for storytelling the way he wanted to do it. A Carrington event would have a months-to-years recovery; a Yellowstone, decades to centuries.

                      It’s definitely doable. I just don’t know if it’s something of which I’d want the telling.

                    • IOW, folks, John Ringo could write about a plague killing off 95% plus of humanity because the recovery is orders of magnitude easier.

                      BTW, a chemical weapons attack by a major power would have a similar impact on food production. Even though you could plow the ground, you couldn’t grow anything there because the soil microbes plants need to grow wouldn’t be there for 1-3 feet down. Nukes do less damage in that respect.

                    • If the point is the examination of the question of what makes an American, it might be better to begin it well after eruption, maybe thirty or forty years. The major die-off has already happened and things are recovering enough for outside interest. What has America become? Is it still recognizably American?

                    • Oh, geez, no. I don’t “do” sociological fiction like that. I’d be looking at the eruption itself and the aftermath, not whether or not there was anything recognizable as the previous states left after. Other authors MMV.

                    • Getting too far down in the indents here. @RES, you might want to tell John Ringo about that lack of marketability…

                      WHICH REMINDS ME! At the time, I couldn’t afford to get the BTR anthology. Yay! A Sarah Hoyt that has not been read yet has just downloaded to the Fire!

                      Thank you, RES.

                    • B: You’re entirely welcome.

                      A: Actually, I had a certain Darkship Universe in mind. Ringo’s post apocalyptical* worlds don’t have quite the same focus on American civilization.

                      *Somebody needs to set a civilizational collapse novel in the West Indies so we can get a post-apocacalypso story …
                      The woman piaba and the man piaba
                      and the Ton Ton call baka lemon grass,
                      The lily root, gully root, belly root uhmm,
                      And the civilization crash-crash

                    • “Don’ worry. Be happy…”

                    • “Always hire Americanos,” his father said. “They know how to handle the dust and how to make do.” Miquel tried to keep that in mind as he looked over the new hires. Even washed and in company uniforms, they looked more like what he’d find in a favela than an advance team. But his father had a point: Even now the Americanos were slowly reclaiming the dustlands. Just the type of people he needed for the moon.

                      Something like that.

                    • Kim Stanley Robinson had his California Trilogy where he had one future ultra-technological, one about medium, and one post-apocalyptic following nuclear disaster. The U.S. had been quarantined from the rest of the world, but there were tales coming from abroad of massive climate shifting (such as a new Tornado Alley across Russia.) One of the characters is “the oldest man in the world,” a pre-apocalypse survivor who tells them tales of how the U.S. used to be—some weird mishmash that includes Egyptian customs and all. It turns out he’s lying about his age and was actually a small child when the disaster struck.

                • If you will look at the map you posted, you will see that the range of ash from a Yellowstone eruption is variable. That’s based on geologic strata, too. Yes, Yellowstone has made ash deposits as far east as the Mississippi. It has also made ash deposits that didn’t extend that far east. And I would hope the estimate of ash fall was based on the volume of lava in the magma chamber and the volume of material above it that would be displaced during an eruption.

                  I haven’t read Mastin and Lowenstern’s article on an estimate of ash fall,, and, not being a geologist, might not make heads or tails of it, but you might find it interesting. There’s a link in the URL I posted.

                  • I have looked at the map, dear. There are three different Yellowstone eruptions depicted there: the Mesa Falls, the Huckleberry Ridge, and the Lava Creek eruptions. It also depicts the ash distribution from an eruption of the Long Valley caldera supervolcano in SoCal, which is comparable in extent to the smallest of the Yellowstone eruptions. By comparison, the St. Helens eruption is the barest smudge on the map.

                    And I’m already familiar with the article on ash fall. And I can make heads or tails of it. The volume of the eruption that they chose to model was comparable with the SMALLEST eruption that Yellowstone is known to have experienced. It is a full order of magnitude BELOW the biggest eruption.

                    This was the first attempt at dynamic atmospheric modeling; it does NOT mean it was accurate. In the caption of the illustration found in the link you provided, please note the following phrases (emphasis mine):
                    “EXAMPLE model output”
                    “POSSIBLE ash distribution”
                    “Results VARY”

                    And the geologists make this remark: “…we learned that supereruptions distribute ash in a fundamentally different pattern than smaller eruptions by creating an umbrella cloud that can push ash more than a thousand kilometers upwind…A powerfully spreading umbrella cloud means that ash dispersal is much less affected by atmospheric winds.”

                    What all this means is that, for a small to moderate Yellowstone eruption that is a true supervolcano eruption (other kinds of eruptions have taken place), that was probably a reasonable model. But for a maximal, Mesa Falls type eruption, you should probably take the regions on the model map and raise the values approximately an order of magnitude to get a better feel for what the true ash distribution might be. THIS results in, e.g., up to a foot of ash on Chicago, and up to 4 inches here in Huntsville. Denver could get anywhere from 3-10 FEET. Salt Lake City, upwards of 30.

                    Y’all may find this interesting, in light of this discussion:
                    “Lake Toba is the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption estimated at VEI 8 that occurred 69,000 to 77,000 years ago, representing a climate-changing event. It is the largest known explosive eruption on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, it had global consequences for human populations; it killed most humans living at that time and is believed to have created a population bottleneck in central east Africa and India, which affects the genetic make up of the human worldwide population to the present.”

                    Okay, folks. I say this not to scare you. I say this in order to be as accurate as I possibly can be about the potential. WHEN Yellowstone goes, it will not be pretty. It will not be a snow day. It will be bad, it will be potentially life-threatening, and it will be something to sit up and pay attention to.

                    That said, it is also very important to know that seismic data seems to indicate that the magma chamber (which admittedly is a monster, as you might expect, and which runs very deep) is only partly full, and only semi-molten. There have been some incidents of apparent inflation, as for instance the fact that Yellowstone Lake has started spilling out at one end — but this has been going on for some decades now, and again, there is not evidence of a full, pressurized, molten magma chamber. Given the nature of the area, some dynamism in the landscape is to be expected. There is NO expectation that the thing is gonna blow any time in the foreseeable future.

                    Unfortunately, we have essentially NO real observations of a supervolcano in eruption, any more recent than the 1800s, which saw Tambora in 1815.

                    Wikipedia says, “With an estimated ejecta volume of 160 km3 (38 cu mi), Tambora’s 1815 outburst is the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The explosion was heard on Sumatra, more than 2,000 km (1,200 mi) away. Heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java, and the Maluku Islands. Most of the deaths from the eruption were from starvation and disease, as the eruptive fallout ruined agricultural productivity in the local region. The death toll was at least 71,000 people, of whom 11,000–12,000 were killed directly by the eruption; the oft-cited figure of 92,000 people killed is believed to be an overestimate.” The fact that the volcano appeared dormant, with a cooling magma chamber, might be significant in our case. There is essentially no actual scientific data from the time to use, merely observations by eyewitnesses. And Tambora was a VEI 7, with ejecta volume of ~28 cubic miles. Compare this to a small-to-moderate Yellowstone eruption: 67cu.mi., VEI 8.

                    What I’m saying here is that we really don’t know WHAT will happen when Yellowstone goes. (Until St. Helens blew out the north flank of the mountain, geologists didn’t even know that volcanoes could blow any way but up.) So there’s a LOT we don’t know.

                    • Then isn’t the question to ask is whether the size of the eruption they used in their estimate is warranted? Not being a geologist, I can only guess at some factors, including amount of lava involved and how “fizzy” it might be. I’m also mindful that each eruption probably changes some configuration of things at Yellowstone.

                    • That was exactly what I was trying to point out, Kevin.

                      They started with a small event, comparable to one that had already occurred, and whose extent was, more or less, known. Since this was the first try with such a dynamic model, they went small to see if they could come close to replicating observation, and to be able to play around with the OTHER parameters — wind direction, size/shape of ash column, etc.

                      What they got was reasonably comparable to the smallest of the 3 known eruptions from the current caldera site. This is promising; if they’d gotten something wildly divergent from observation, it would have spoken negatively to the fidelity of the model.

                      Now they can go on to begin modeling other size events.

                      “Fizzy” or not lava is determined by melt chemistry.

                      Basaltic magmas, which are lower in silicates, tend generally to have high temperatures, low viscosity and are very “runny” and produce the wonderful lava fountains we see at some eruptions. (Hawaii is an example, generally speaking.) The low viscosity means that the dissolved gases tend to come out of solution as soon as it reaches the surface and the pressure is released — much the same way that a soda bubbles up and creates little fountains once you take the lid off.

                      But magmas with higher silicate content, such as andesitic or rhyolitic magmas, tend to much higher viscosity…and also tend to hold much greater quantities of dissolved gases. (They also are often at lower temperatures.) So when the pressure decreases as the magma nears the surface, the gases CANNOT escape, and the internal pressure builds up. This tends to result in explosive eruptions.

                      Incidentally, this difference in the magma composition is also responsible for different volcano shapes. Runny basaltic lava tends to produce the broad, relatively flat shield volcano, which are structurally very strong. Very viscous lava tends to produce the high, steep-sided cone shape. (Small versions of this are usually called “cinder cones” for fairly obvious reasons.) This is usually poorly consolidated (cemented) material, and such a volcano is structurally not very sound; the cone is prone to collapse or rupture. often to disastrous result. An intermediate chemistry, or alternating chemistry (which can happen as minerals crystallize in cooler parts of the melt, enriching the rest of the melt in whatever is NOT in the crystals) will result in a composite cone aka stratovolcano, which is moderately steep-sided but not so much so as the cinder cone. These are usually the volcanoes that are considered the most beautiful and symmetric; Mt. Fuji is a prime example. They are still not as structurally sound as a shield volcano, however, and can be prone to catastrophic failure as well, though not as readily as a cinder cone type. They are perhaps the most common, however: in addition to Fuji, Vesuvius, St. Helens, Pinatubo, and Krakatoa were of this type.

                    • On the Mt. St. Helens eruption, there’s a fascinating article by Tim Cahill in which he accurately describes the eruption effects—before the eruption actually happened. Right down to finding a body wearing an “I Survived Mt. St. Helens” shirt.

                      When confronted with people awed at his prescience, he shrugged and said he’d simply asked the geologists what the worst-case scenario would be, and went with that.

                    • Don’t forget the other Supervolcanoes out there.

                      Campi Flegrei (aka the one Naples, Italy is INSIDE) could devastate Europe and the entire Mediterranean.
                      Lake Ilopango in El Salvador is now considered by many to be the cause of the near-destruction of the Maya (the “Classical Hiatus” – it’s now apparent there are significant ruins under the ash, and that the region might have been one of the centers of the civilization). Its resulting 18-month cold snap that appears in both Byzantine and Chinese records, and caused massive crop failures and famine. This might have contributed to a plague pandemic in Eurasia, and there’s evidence that one of the Indonesian volcanoes blew within a couple decades afterward, that functioned as a triple whammy. the 536 AD eruption was at 84 cubic kilometers, but it’s a lot closer to Europe than Tambora is.

                    • “Don’t forget the other Supervolcanoes out there.”

                      Don’t forget the other supervolcanoes IN THE USA.

                      Yes, you read that right, folks. We’re blessed with more than one. Some are apparently extinct. Some may be dormant. Others are still considered active.

                      In addition to Yellowstone (and the ancient caldera remnants that track all the way back to the NE corner of California, as a result of plate tectonics moving the N. Am. plate over the hotspot plume), we have:

                      La Garita Caldera, Colorado — 5000x the energy of Tsar Bomba, ~28MY BP. Blew 1200 cubic MILES of ash into the air. Average thickness of ash 100m. Area affected >11,000sq.mi. Probably extinct.

                      Long Valley Caldera, California — probably active. We don’t know WHY. One of the largest calderas in the world. Started as an active volcanic field, which was destroyed in the caldera-forming eruption. Prone to very hot pyroclastic flows.

                      Valles Caldera, New Mexico — associated with the Cerros del Rio volcanic field (and to a lesser extent, the . Considered “small” because the caldera is only about 14mi across. Geologic evidence of recurrent supervolcano eruptions forming new calderas. Associated with the Rio Grande Rift & the Jemez Lineament, “tears” in the N. Am. plate, consequent to the faulting and extension of the Basin & Range province, caused by uneven movement of the plate as a whole, is perhaps a simple way to express it. Probably active. (The volcanic field certainly is.)

        • “Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.”

  4. Really a case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But small minds can only encompass small problems.

  5. Love this!!! I have a minor in Geography. Had wanted to get into geology, but the school I went to only dealt in applied Geography and they only had nominal geology classes for the undergrad. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed (but have in later life come to appreciate the Geography portion because of the rise of the GIS technology/information discipline.)

    • I make no claims to being a professional geologist/seismologist/vulcanologist. However, I have degrees in related subjects and have studied the material fairly extensively, and am generally considered rather more knowledgeable than the average layperson in the subject. Upon my visit to the Johnston Observatory at Mt. St. Helens, the ranger running the inside of the observatory and I had an in-depth conversation, and for as long as I was there (which was largely the rest of the afternoon), he started deferring geology questions from visitors to me.

  6. To really get some to flip their wigs the response is, “Ooh, all that carbon! Carbon means energy. How do we tap into all that?”

    No, not serious.

    • I did think that a bit… and also ‘I wonder how much dynamite they had to use to get an image that deep…’ (I do seismic processing for a living though not nearly that deep.)

      • I thought the oil companies used thumpers these days instead of dynamite.

        • *hand waggle* many folk still prefer dynamite if they can, but the permitting often sucks, so vibroseis is the norm these days, but dynamite’s still out there especially when you want to look DEEP. I doubt you could get vibroseis down to Moho depths. That takes a LOT of energy.

          I’d love to see the survey parameters of the article in question. May have to see if anyone in the office has a subscription to that magazine or still has online access to the university libraries.

      • Oh, they didn’t use geophones to do this. They took quake data and used that to build up the imagery of where everything was.

        • I’d wondered but I hadn’t thought we had enough seismic stations to build up any models qualifying as ‘high resolution’ or did they get lucky and hit a few nice quakes with the temp ones that they’re ‘rolling’ through the US?

  7. Wow. The ability to image has obviously greatly improved since I was studying this stuff.
    I mean, we believed that it was the mantle plume that created the Columbia River Basalts and the Snake River Plain was the same, and deflection from a subducted plate fragment caused the geographical and chemical distinctions between them, but it was speculative. We had circumstantial evidence, but no ability to actually prove it.

    • It’s been getting better pretty steadily, at least the ability to detect has. Multi-component seismic is still pretty limited due to expense and you have to put a LOT of energy into the ground to go that deep. (Enough that exceptionally large dynamite loads are usually greeted with “What are you looking for? The Moho?” Some times the answer is Yes!)

      • Well, as I said above, research like this, geophone surveys can’t begin to touch. What they’re doing is collecting the seismic quake data from as many stations as they can, then running transforms to create structural imaging. Remember what I said in the article about how the interfaces between strata function as places where the index of refraction changes, and how melts and partial melts experience different degrees of internal reflection? This is how you start building up pictures of the large, deep structures.

        • As I said below, it was the ‘high resolution’ that threw me. I forgot that for this sort of thing, applying oil industry ‘resolution’ to something the size of a continent is rather um… over kill.

          Compensating for refraction (and defraction) is a huge portion of what we do in seismic processing. But depths of a couple miles are ‘deep’ for us.

          I am showing this to my co-worker who got her undergrad in seismology on the west coast.

  8. Saw this story a few days ago. Read it and dismissed all the scare mongering sentences when I learned that the molten carbonates were over 300 miles deep. Some people need to learn more science

    • Some people need to learn more science

      That would mean some serious skull sweat for them and that is just too much to ask. They just ask the nearest charlatan in a white lab coat (SCIENCE!) to give an opinion poorly disguised as fact that coincides with the narrative everyone (at least 97%) supports…….

    • Oh gee. You mean it wasn’t the sudden release of molten carbonates from hundreds of miles deep within Krypton that caused it’s destruction?

      • Worse. Krypton’s core contained significant amounts of uranium. Internal convection eventually caused a critical mass to concentrate.

        Krypton was a NEWKULER ACCIDENT!!!

        • OMG! You mean the molten center of Krypton got slightly warmer?!?

          No wonder they threw the baby in the rocket pod and hit the GO! button. Wasn’t Jor-El a famous actor? Any of our Hollwood types would do the same.

    • Keep in mind, folks, that not everybody is of a scientific bent. And even if you’ve taken a course, it doesn’t mean it made sense to you. (Especially these days, when kids can just regurgitate what they were taught to pass the tests, rather than being taught to reason through the material.) I do have people come to me who are honestly frightened by things like this. It’s one reason I do gin up these little blog articles.

      • Main thing that people don’t seem to get is timescales. “This major disaster (supervolcano, ice age, Yucatan-scale asteroid, whatever) seems to happen every X years or so – and we’re already 90% of the way since the last one.”

        Gets them every time. I look at almost every one of these, and figure out that not only will I be long recycled – my descendants that actually do have to worry about it may not even be recognizably humanoid…

        • Oh, there is one “natural disaster” that I do worry about (in my rather tectonically stable, not prone to tornadoes or hurricanes, and well up out of the flood plain, neck of the woods) – and that is a Carrington. That has a high enough probability, on a short enough time scale, to be in my planning horizon.

        • It’s not just TIME scales. People don’t understand units. I encountered one poor lady who was totally panicked over the radiation from Fukushima…

          • …HERE IN ALABAMA. (Sorry for the broken comment; the thing suddenly decided to post whether I was done or not.) When I asked her what units her son’s instrument was calibrated to, she looked at me like I was insane, and said, “I don’t know! What does it matter?! RADIATION FROM FUKUSHIMA!”

            At which point, I rolled my eyes and ended the discussion. Or the excuse for a discussion, because she certainly wasn’t actually listening to anything *I* said.

            • Heard one caller on a local talk show worrying about her CANNED TUNA. Not even three days (IIRC) after the news broke…

              • This is because you do not understand the Holistic Theory that, all things of a type being connected through the Quantum Reality, any portion of tuna is united with the category Tuna and thus radioactive taint is transmitted to the canned tuna by action of the uber-reality.

                It’s all quantum holistic stuff and if you can’t grasp it that can only be because you stubbornly cling to Western Concepts of sequential Time and the fragmentation of the Universe into discrete units.

            • I’ve had to talk down minor panics from some folks here in Illinoisy about Fukushima radiation releases. We are still in the dying throes of the minor panic caused by the detection of traces of tritium in well water near the several nuke plants here. Folks near the Braidwood plant used this detection to blackmail Exelon into building a water system for them, even when it was pointed out that the level of tritium detected was well below EPA maximum standards.

              All of these wells were ~20-30 ft deep sandpoint wells created by driving a pipe down into the high water table in these former swamp areas and were highly contaminated with pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer/cow shit/pig shit ag runoff. That was totally ignored in the radiation panic created by the local anti nuke crowd over tritium levels that could not be reliably measured as little as 10 years earlier, and was not significantly different from the tritium levels in similar areas without a nuke plant nearby.

              • Bingo.
                Because NUKULUR! Never mind numbers! What are these ‘units’ you speak of? NUKULUR!
                *rolls eyes*

                • Remember, we are dealing with people raised on Spiderman gaining his powers from NUKULUR!, of the Hulk being created by NUKULUR! of Godzilla being wakened by NUKULUR! and of radiation induced growth causing women to become fifty feet tall!

                  So a smaller dose only makes her grow to twenty-five feet, who wants that kind of risk?

          • Oh my goodness. I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen your picture Stephanie. My compliments on your looks and I’ll not say anything more for fear of choking on my chronic foot-in-mouth disease.
            And Huntsville Alabama! My wife’s cousin who used to design payloads for the space shuttle lives there.

            • Huh-wha? My looks? I got purple hair ’cause I have fun with it. Not purple all over, just have the odd streak put in now and again. But anyway, yeah, that’s what I look like, for whatever it’s worth.

              And yes, I spent 20+ years doing civilian & military space programs. Most of that time was spent as a Shuttle, then Station, payload flight controller, meaning I sat console and did all that cool stuff. Uncle Lar is an old friend and colleague from those days.

              • Most of the time, if I’m lucky, I get told I’m “cute.” Now, “cute” is really good for puppies and kittens, and young women to a point. But once a woman hits a certain level of maturity, to be called “cute” starts to seem like an excuse for, “Well, I can’t really tell her she’s GORGEOUS, but I need to say something nice, so…”
                Anyway, I have had enough people tell me over the years how NOT gorgeous I am, that I tend to just try to dress nice and do my hair and makeup, so nobody can accuse me of not trying/caring, and then ignore it. If it requires a ton of maintenance, I don’t wanna fool with it. (Which is why you’ll rarely see me with lipstick or gloss.)

                • Well, when I say I’m an old reader of science fiction, that’s not a fanciful statement; being on the distal end of middle age; albeit not quite eligible for retirement!

  9. Thank you.

    I love Our Esteemed Hostess, but I always do enjoy it when you guest post.

  10. Having spent some time on the Yellowstone Caldera in the past, I was a bit off-put by your last paragraph as it anticipated and expressed the most blatant point to be made (which is always my favorite point to make):

    Why, you crazy! The fall’ll probably kill ya!

    • Perils of posting before adequate coffee intake.

      This is the way we check the box,
      check the box,
      check the box.
      This is the way we check the box,
      earl-aye in the morning!

  11. There once was a carbon subduction,
    That was a normal Earth function.
    It squeezed and it sank,
    to a miles-down tank.
    Now don’t you think that is somethin’?

  12. I highly recommend a visit to the Ashfall State Fossil site if you are in the area. But NOT on a hot, windy day in June. Especially if you wear contact lenses.

    • Heh. Reminds me of my one visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park. I began hiking the dune field in a calm, warm, slightly-overcast weather. I was 45 minutes into the field when the sky cleared and the winds kicked up. It was, of course, 45 minutes back to the trailhead, being sandblasted all the way.

    • Yeah. “Consolidation” is relative.

    • Yes. Even as a jaded paleontologist’s kid who had seen far too many fossil sites to appreciate being dragged to yet another, that was a cool one. (Think of all the teen girl attitude you can muster. Then pour on your friends all watching Jurassic Park and thinking that was the Coolest Thing Ever while you knew just how bad Hollywood screwed it up. Then go to Yet Another Digsite to see one of Dad’s friends . . .)

  13. How about this interpretation: why worry about the measly amounts of CO2 humans are releasing when a natural disaster will probably soon enough make that look like a flyspeck on the window? Just throw all the logs in the fire while waiting for that, and have fun while you can! (Bwahahahaha…)

    🙂 (Yes, I know, I did study geology…)

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      IIRC, Ringo once said that volcanic CO2 dwarfed man made.

      • I like conservation because I’d like to have critters like tigers or big whales or elephants, and big wilderness areas, and so on around, and of course things like clean water and so on are important just for survival (ours).

        But all of it is for our benefits, so that us humans would have as good as possible environment to live in, both for pure enjoyment and more importantly so that we can survive and prosper. I get really irritated sometimes by the hysteria of “humans are the cancer on Earth, and destroying everything”. Planet, or Gaia if you will, has survived much, much worse. Big extinction events have always happened and will keep on happening, quite naturally and with no human influence, as long as the planet has had life, and will keep on happening until the last big one, which may be the sun dying or something else completely natural, but until then life will keep on recovering. On that scale of things whatever destruction we may manage is small stuff, and we are pretty insignificant (unless we get into space in a serious way, and start spreading Earth life to other planets and other solar systems…). So could you people please shut the f*ck up already? You are having a serious case of delusions of grandeur there…

        • I know. I’m sitting there thinking “Look nitwit, pick one. Either humans are no different from smallpox and shrews and are just animals, or we are god-like beings with superpowers that can counteract the power of the Sun when it comes to changing Earth’s climate. It can’t be both at the same time. Oh, yeah, and IIRC humans had not invented the internal combustion engine, and Marx had not coined the term ‘capitalism’ when the Altithermal/Atlantic Climate Phase/whatever else they are calling it these days happened.That was a lot warmer and drier in North America than last year, or the 1930s, or 1950s.”

      • From a 2013 article in LiveScience:
        “In 1992, it was thought that volcanic degassing released something like 100 million tons of CO2 each year. Around the turn of the millennium, this figure was getting closer to 200. The most recent estimate, released this February, comes from a team led by Mike Burton, of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology – and it’s just shy of 600 million tons.”

        PER. YEAR.

        And that’s not even the greenhouse gas volcanoes produce the most of. That would be water vapor.

        • From a 2010 study I found looking to see if I could find the ashfall field you mentioned near the Mississippi, it said Yellowstone was producing 45,000 tons per DAY, so that would mean over 16 million tons of that CO2 is coming just from there.

  14. I find this article interesting especially because we live in the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, and can see volcanoes and/or former volcanic vents any time we look out our windows. Much (probably nearly all) of the rock on my very rocky property is lava; I have picked up large pieces (a foot or more across, unbroken) which were rounded on the bottom and flat on top — my assumption is that that is how they landed when the blob blew out of whichever volcano or vent they came from.

    There is also an intriguing straight line of several vents which is visible as a line from one spot on our road to town; I’ve been told the line continues pretty much all the way back to Crater Lake, which is about sixty miles from us. There is a hill (Council Butte) in the middle of the river bottom directly across from our house that I suspect may be another of those former vents.

    As a result, anything having to do with volcanoes and their causes and effects is of interest here!

    • A really fun and underutilized National Park is Lassen Volcanic, south of where you are and directly east of Redding, California. We went there two years ago and I hadn’t known that it had *all four types* of volcanoes in the (small) park boundaries, the remains of a massive supervolcano named Tehama. The four types are shield (think Hawaii), lava domes (Lassen Peak itself), cinder cones (Black Butte next to I-5 south of Weed), and composite or stratovolcanoes (Mount Rainier, and in fact many of the Cascades.) There’s also Bumpass Hell, a trail that runs about three miles there and back, sulfur springs literally right next to the road, and interpretive trails. You can do a quick day trip there and feel like you saw most of the highlights.

      I love Yosemite, but it’s dense and you have to spend a lot of time there to get the feel that you’re seeing lots of the valley (and that’s not even the rest of the park!) It’s nice to have a National Park that has a lot to see in a short period of time. (I also love the Mount St. Helens trail of visitor centers*, but that’s gotten above what you can do in one day.)

      *For those of you who want to visit Mt. St. Helens, each center has some different information and focus, a wise tactic.

      • Oh, and for anybody who doesn’t know, the National Parks system has a Senior Citizen lifetime pass for some absurdly small amount, $10-$20. Get one, or encourage your senior parents to get one, and take them along. And if you don’t have one of those to bring along, consider a yearly pass if you have several National Parks in proximity.

        • Just five more years and one day… I’ve had a yearly pass since they started charging. We make fairly regular trips up the local mountain in the summertime (the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, part of Coronado National Forest).

      • Some National Parks that I’ve visited, that appeared to be lightly-patronized, include: Great Sand Dunes (CO), Black Canyon of the Gunnison (CO), Capitol Reef (UT), Canyonlands (UT), Theodore Roosevelt (ND), and Badlands (SD). The two Dakota parks I mention may have larger crowds during the time of the big Sturgis motorcycle rally, and I understand Great Sand Dunes can get busy on holidays and weekends. Those first four parks offer a lot to see in even a short period of time.

        For those interested in a smaller volcanic options, El Malpais National Monument in western New Mexico offers a few smaller volcanoes, extensive lava flows, some interesting sandstone formations. . . and limited crowds most of the time.

        • Clan Red took the back route into Capitol Reef *mumble mumble* years ago. We saw one set of tire tracks and three cows, one of which had been mummified by the heat/dryness. Saw one pick-up when we got within a few miles of pave. He was as surprised to meet us as we were to see him. The ranger couldn’t believe we’d come that route. The next day we didn’t see anyone at all. Hovenweep was also nice but holy sheepdip, the black flies were nasty. Their bites left scars.

          • Your family was braver than I. I stared into that dry wash from the end of Scenic Drive and said “maybe another time.” I plan to return someday, and a trip down through the Capitol Gorge is on the itinerary, assuming I’ve got an appropriate vehicle. As it was, I took one real hike there, at Chimney Rock, and the trail was darn near deserted, except toward the very start. Three van-loads of geology and physical geography students from Kansas were swarming over the area near the trailhead, on a scavenger hunt of sorts for specific types of rocks and features. A two mile trail, on a pleasant day, with great views, barely three miles from the visitor center and literally in sight of it, and there were no other hikers.

        • I live in the Sacramento area, and I’ve thought that a really great “trail” (not actually a trail) would be a listing that started with Sutter Buttes (which currently has an undeveloped state park that needs access, and which is all that remains of an ancient volcano completely unrelated to the Cascades), went to Lassen, stopped at Crater Lake, swung through the Lava Lands or went through the scenic route from Bend to Eugene (which includes a perfect view of a fractured mountain), then hit Mt. St. Helens and finally Rainier. Call it the National Volcanic Path or something. Each of those stops has something different and unique to offer about the study of volcanoes.

      • I didn’t know about Lassen Volcanic park — we’ll have to get down there one of these days and check it out (for as close to California as we are, we really don’t cross the border very often). We have visited the Lava Beds National Monument several times — it’s fun to take visitors there, and crawl around in all the lava tubes. There’s also some history as it’s the site of the last stand of Captain Jack during the Modoc Wars, back in 1872-1873.

        • There are two major entrances to the park. The direct one is from Redding—the road goes very nearly straight east to the park. However, that’s the “north” entrance—and almost everything is clustered around the south entrance, which is a bit more wiggly to get in. I think the road that way splits off of I-5 at about Red Bluff.

          The reason to come in at the south entrance is that the visitors’ center is *right there*, and they have a lot of good information about what you’ll see in the park, and where everything is. Also note that the park is high altitude and seasonally dependent—we went in June and the Bumpass Hell trail still had snow next to , despite summer weather. The Lassen Peak trail is also closed when weather conditions don’t permit.

        • $SPOUSE and I did the inner loop of the Captain Jack trail a couple years ago. We were in the wrong shoes (good hiking boots are a really good idea), but the site is fascinating. FWIW, there was a fire down there around 2006, and it cleared a lot of the brush from the Stronghold area. I heard they learned quite a bit once you could actually see the terrain as it was.
          Lassen was my favorite park when I lived in California. If we had a long enough break, we’d go for camping and/or backpacking. (Yosemite was close enough for a day trip–for us and thousands of other people…) We tried to hike to Bumpass Hell one Memorial day weekend; knee-deep snow and bright sunshine at high altitude had a predictable effect on our exposed skin–long before sunblockers were readily available.
          There are several fairly easy backpacking trails there; one nice one runs east from the Butte Lake campground, down to Snag Lake, then clockwise back up to Cinder Cone and out. Not much elevation gain, and if you avoid the rocks at the north shore of Butte Lake, there’s no scrambling. The road into Butte Lake is low enough that you can use that section when the parts nearer Lassen are snowed in.

    • I’ve been in your area, freeholder45. Have friends in Oregon, and have visited them several times. Consequently I’ve been to Mazama, St. Helens, and the Bend area, as well. Said friend lives at the base of an ancient volcanic neck, with lava flows on the other side of the “river” (I call it a creek) that runs around their property. Said flows have entire trunks of petrified wood embedded in them. It’s fascinating country to prowl, and looks completely different from the limestone karst topography in which I grew up.

      • It’s very different from where I grew up, too — partly over near the central Oregon Coast (mostly sandstone, though there are clay deposits), and in the Interior of Alaska, which has all kinds of fascinating geology going on. We learned early to be rock hounds. One of my uncles in Alaska used to work for the state highway department, and they found a huge deposit of amethyst while make a road cut. My uncle brought a couple of five-gallon-buckets full home from that.

        • I’ve been down as far as Redding also, drove past Shasta, and saw Lassen from a distance, but was just passing through, pretty much, and didn’t really have time to go to either, much to my regret.

          Given half a chance (and my knees were more or less functional then), I will prowl over a volcano. Heck, if I’d had time and advance prep, I’d have asked if the local seismologists needed any help setting something up on St. Helens.

          Yes, I’m strange that way. Have notions of going storm chasing with some pros one day, too. Am already an NWS-cert’ed storm spotter and have called in the first warnings of a couple incomings, too.

          • I’ve hiked an extinct cinder cone volcano once. It looked like the trail had been landscaped – it was completely covered in small, gravel-like chunks of red rock, like are often used in landscaping. 😉

          • I have a friend who does storm chasing; a volcano is tame by comparison. (Also, my mother’s trip to Hawaii was specifically for the Big Island and seeing lava. Which she managed.)

            • Depends on the volcano, and whether or not it’s in active eruption. I’d about rather take a tornado as far as that’s concerned, because you stand a chance of getting away from it, or getting far enough underground to be safe.

    • Hmm, looking out our kitchen window, I see the line of buttes that I’m pretty sure you are referring to. We’re on the old mill site. Hi neighbor!

  15. Just to note, Stephanie pulled this article together out of a series of e-mails a group of us were exchanging a week or so ago. Come to find out that Jerry Pournelle, one of the group, has put that discussion up at Chaos Manor just in case any of y’all noticed a certain repetition.
    And Steph herself will be a bit thin on the ground next few days as she and Darrell will be appearing at AnachroCon in Atlanta.
    Her newest book, Alpha and Omega, appears to be selling well a month after release, and a little birdie just told me that a rough draft of book two in that series should be ready for beta readers within a week. Proposed title for that is currently A Short Medium At Large.

    • In case anyone’s interested:

      • WHOA! I’m so sorry — I had no idea it was gonna do a gigantic preview!

        • I think the last WP “upgrade” makes all ‘Zon links do that. Happens at my place too.

          • No, ’cause I posted the same link upthread, and it didn’t do THAT!

            • Last link you posted had other text on the same line as the link.This one, you wrote on a line all by itself.

              Any links on a line all by themselves, WordPress decides to transform into an appropriate “preview” representation. That’s how you post images, Youtube videos, and Amazon previews into a WP comment thread: just put the link all by itself on one line. (I usually add a blank line above & below, just in case, when I intend for WP to do its thing). If you *don’t* want the transformation that WP applies, just make sure there’s other text in your link.

              And BTW, I’m pretty sure that the Amazon links that WP produces are affiliate links that send some money to the WordPress project. (Note the “tag=kpembed-20” part of the address when you hover over it. That’s an Amazon affiliate code, and I’m betting it’s one that belongs to the WP project). Choose accordingly when you’re deciding whether to use those links to buy a book someone mentions here.

              • OoooOOOOOOoooooo.

                Well, that’s cool. If the money’s going to Sarah, I can handle that.

                • What I mean is that I think the money is *NOT* going to Sarah, but rather to the WordPress programmers. When I hover over the links that Sarah put at the top of the page, I see “tag=accordingtohoyt-20” in there. The “tag=kpembed-20” links are going to send money to the WordPress programmers, not to Sarah.

                  So if anyone decides to click on an embedded Kindle link: if you’d rather have the percentage of your purchase go to Sarah instead of the people who wrote WordPress, change that “kpembed-20” part of the address to “accordingtohoyt-20” instead. You can do so after clicking on the link; just change that part of the addres, hit Enter, and then after the page reloads, your purchase percentage will be sent to Sarah.

                  • wait, what? I usually change the kindle link to mine?

                    • Um? I’m not sure what you mean.

                      Let me try again to explain in a way that hopefully will communicate what I’m trying to say without causing confusion. If you look at an Amazon URL, it has a bunch of “something=something-else” sections separated by ampersands. Each of those sections tells Amazon something different, and the “tag=(code)” section is the one that tells Amazon which affiliate should get the credit for this referral.

                      The Amazon links at the top of the page (e.g., the ones to A Few Good Men and Darkship Renegades) have “tag=accordingtohoyt-20” in them, so I know that if I click on that tag, Sarah will get the affiliate-referral percentage that Amazon gives. However, the link in the embedded image that Stephanie Osborn just created by accident (by simply posting an Amazon link on a line by itself) did NOT contain the “tag=accordingtohoyt-20” section. Instead, the “tag” section of that URL was “tag=kpembed-20”. And the same applies, I think, to any other Kindle links that are created because someone pasted an Amazon URL into a comment. Those will get created with the “tag=kpembed-20” section in the URL, whereas the links that Sarah posted at the top of her page get created with the “tag=accordingtohoyt-20” section in the URL.

                      I don’t know who gets the money from the “kpembed-20” code, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Sarah. So what I’m saying is that if people click on an Amazon link in the comments, and they would like to send some extra money to Sarah from whatever they purchase, they need to rewrite the URL. Look for the “tag=” part of the URL, and change “tag=kpembed-20” to “tag=accordingtohoyt-20”. Leave the rest of the URL unchanged, then press Enter so that your browser loads the URL you’ve just typed in. Then any purchases you make via the URL that has “accordingtohoyt-20” in it will go to Sarah.

                      Sarah, I’m *not* saying that the Amazon links at the top of your page are wrong; they aren’t. It’s just the links that get automatically created from what other people paste into comments which don’t have your affiliate ID in them.

                  • Okay, that explains where it was coming from. I kept trying to “fix” it in the earlier post, and it kept changing when I’d post it into the reply box. I finally decided it was, in fact, sort of like the thing Facebook does to links, where it attaches its own designator to it somehow.


  16. Slightly off topic but still geologically related.

    I have been hearing a lot of reports about waste water wells used in oil fields causing earthquakes. From my understanding those well go down a couple of thousand feet at most while earthquakes originate from several miles to hundreds of miles down.

    I couldn’t find information on how deep the quakes blamed on disposal wells occur, But I only did a quick search.

    Do you know anything about this?

    • I know there’s a lot of stuff out there about fracking causing quakes. Thing is, the whole technique originated as an effort to cause faults to slip a bit in order to bleed off the stresses in small increments instead of big quakes. I also know they gave up on it because it didn’t work.

      So if it doesn’t work when you’re doing it to a major fault line, how is it gonna generate a quake if you do it in an area where there really isn’t a fault?

      • [H]ow is [fracking] gonna generate a quake if you do it in an area where there really isn’t a fault?

        Evil demons annoyed by the irritation?

        (I have found that a surprising amount of modern “scientific” hysteria can be explained by substituting “evil demons” for the Scientific Hysteria Incident Trigger.)

        • Well, in point of fact, a quake occurs as follows: Two blocks of stone are sliding past each other — up/down, sideways, angles thereof — but they hang up on each other, because of course they’re not perfectly smooth, and pieces stick out. But the block as a whole continues to try to move, because mantle convection/plate tectonics. So stress builds up on the parts that are hung. The rock begins to actually bend, just a little, like a flat spring being deformed. Eventually the stress gets to exceed the structural capacity of the stone, and the stone breaks. The huge blocks of rock snap to either where they should be, or wherever the next pokin’-out place is, at which time they hang up again. (Durn it.)

          The quake is really just the shock caused by the rock breaking. It may be only in one place, or it may be hung up along its entire length. But ultimately, it’s just the “SNAP!” of the stone breaking.

          Now, the concept of fracking is that you’re going down into permeable rock that has absorbed crude oil like a sponge. There isn’t a chamber there like there is some places, and crude oil flows slower than molasses in January in Mynot, so you can’t just drill a hole and wait for it to fill up, like you could with a water well. So you use hydraulics to break up the rock and CREATE a chamber for the oil to drain into. Then you can either wait for it to fill up, or you can play games to force the oil into it, by pumping water into the porous rock from the other direction. This is fracking. This is all fracking is. (Let me also note that in general this stuff is all going on WAYYY deeper than the water tables from which we extract our drinking water, and there are usually considerable layers of IMpermeable rock in between, otherwise you’d have crude oil seeping up into your drinking water anyway. NO, it does NOT work like it did in the title credits of the Beverly Hillbillies.)

          So when the rock does start to crack down there, I would fully expect there to be small vibrations produced by it. That’s what breaking rock DOES. And those vibrations are going to be picked up/felt as tiny quakes.

          That does NOT mean that there’s about to be a Big One there. If there ain’t no fault, there can’t be a Big One.

          • Thank you for the explanation.

            I had heard about issues with fracking and waste water disposal causing small earth quakes in Oklahoma, and water issues in Pennsylvania But there seemed there were a lot of assumptions involved and I couldn’t find anything that showed a actual relation between the two.

            • I’m a geologist in the area in question. We recently had several papers on the issue. I’ll see if I can pull up some names (papers) from the local professional society meetings. Not sure if they’ll be available on line.

              The general answer is… ‘sort of’. The main ‘issue’ seems to be the waste water disposal wells. They’ve found some that go much deeper than they ‘ought’. They’ve found correlations that seem to imply causation (mostly timing), but it’s not nearly as straightforward as the newsmedia portrays.

              Quick summary of the geology of Oklahoma: Lots of limestone. Lots of shale, Lots of clay. Some cool quartz aranite layers. (One so unconsolodated that there’s a spot in the Arbuckles that they mined it with shovels. So pure they didn’t need to refine it before making glass out of it.) It’s a relatively flat, layered subsurface until you get down to bedrock. There are some cool things (like a BEAUTIFUL graben in the survey we just processed.) So we do have faults (A graben is a block of rock flanked by two normal faults which winds up lower than the neighboring blocks, which are called horsts.)

              Mostly we have little faults with some modest ones. Nothing New Madrid or San Andreas sized. For the non-geologists they’re caused, largely, by the fact that the entire North American plate is moving West at the current time, at a rate of about an inch a year that’s a lot of rock, a lot of stress, and so things give in that uncomfortable pressure field in the middle. The current thought is that the waste water injection wells are adding just enough pressure/lubrication to tip the faults that are near going anyway, and that there’s something of a cascading effect. (Fault A slips and this changes the stress field so fault B, or section B of fault A, is under MORE pressure, not less pressure, and gets tipped and… and… and… It was an interesting paper. Title: Triggering Processes of Oklahoma Earthquakes: Look Beyond Fluid Diffusion by Xiaowei Chen et. al) General summary, the fluid injection may be a factor (adding pressure to an already pressurized system and/or lubricating an already pressurized system) but it is not the only factor. Warning, there are a lot of technical diagrams in her paper, and they may not make sense to the non-seismologist unless you’re familiar with beachball diagrams and coulomb stress fields. (I’m not, fortunately my co-worker is.)

              How big the biggest you can get is a function of the geology. Our faults here just aren’t big enough to get too much bigger responses than they currently have, and the pressure that’s being released has been building up for millions of years. Salt: This is a basic, quick and dirty summary of what they think is going on. The paper has more information and seems to be reasonable grounded rather than based in handwavium.

              • Which is kind of what I was getting at. I’m aware that there is some minor faulting in the area, and for a while was wondering if this was in the vicinity of the other side of the major graben of which the New Madrid formed the eastern side. But insofar as I’ve been able to tell, it isn’t.

                When I say “There aren’t any faults in the area” I am generally meaning no MAJOR faults. It’s next to impossible to find a place in the world where there are NO faults whatsoever. Even in the middle of Australia, the least seismically/volcanically/tectonically active continent on the planet, there are faults. (I suppose I should be more accurate on the matter, so point taken.)

                That said, you just confirmed the point I was trying to get across, which was that what’s happening there is pretty much it. It isn’t gonna get any bigger, and they aren’t gonna ever have a Big One unless something far more catastrophic than a bit of fracking occurs. And evidently the fluid provides enough slip to cause it to happen on small faults, but is insufficient to really do much on the more major faults. (Which, by the sound of it, might have ended up being a good thing, if all it’s really doing is transferring stresses, rather than easing them.)

                I’ll go check out the paper as soon as I get my current WIP out the door.

      • Growing up in West Texas, we used to hear local news reports about minor quakes in the Permian Basin, and occasionally some of would feel them. Local geologists would tell everyone they were most like subsidence quakes from collapsing oil plays when so much oil had been pulled out the rock could not longer support the 300-12,000 feet of rock above it.

  17. So could Milo cause a Yellowstone eruption? Or would it take a prolonged Trump?

  18. The rock from which Castle Rock, Colo. gets its name is from Yellowstone. It is a VERY big rock and Castle Rock is a LONG way from Yellowstone.

    I imagine there wasn’t much visibility with all the ash, but sky-scraper sized rocks flying hundreds of miles must have been something.

  19. I grew up in an area of the country that regularly felt quakes from the New Madrid Fault Zone, which is a whole ‘nother article in itself — several, actually. I can do those at some point, if there is enough interest.

    Yes please!

    • Ask our hostess nicely. If she says yes, then once I’ve finished the current WIP (which is the sequel to the book whose link I posted above), I will look at putting together some blogs about the New Madrid Fault Zone. That thing was the main reason I took geology courses.

      • Stephanie, is all this material (including the carbon) being separated out part of “abiotic oil” and why we seem to be finding more and more of it within the US?

        • Well, that’s a good question. In all honesty, I never heard of the term until VERY recently. The email conversation that spawned this blog post did in fact get into that, and I recalled seeing a paper in the last few weeks that indicated that, e.g. coal and plant matter tended to be high in 14C, whereas petroleum and extraterrestrial hydrocarbon sources (of which there are MANY) tended to be higher in 13C. But then I could not for the life of me go back and find that paper to verify that it was a legitimate source. And I didn’t look that closely at it at the time, because it had no particular meaning to me then, other than, “Hm. That’s interesting.”

          So I’m afraid I really can’t speak to that question.

          That said, I can tell you like I told Jerry Pournelle, “We know that hydrocarbons are found in great quantity in the universe. There’s entire methane oceans within our own solar system. Comets have lots of hydrocarbons, and the blackish coating that forms the ‘dust’ is composed of hydrocarbons. There are hydrocarbons aplenty in the spectra of distant nebulae. There are even hydrocarbons in the spectra of some very cool stars…Where it gets interesting to me is that, for stuff ‘out there,’ astronomers point to standard abiotic elemental creation, followed by standard chemical reactions, to get hydrocarbons, because Occam’s Razor. Yet on Earth, geologists have become convinced that all hydrocarbons found must come from biological sources, no matter where said hydrocarbons are found, how deep, or anything else.”

          Those are just my thoughts on the matter. That and $5, can probably get you a cuppa at Starbux.

      • This is asking nicely… PLEASE!

        • anytime Steph has time.

          • Sarah, then as soon as I get A Short Medium At Large out of the way, I will rest a while (4 books and several short stories, plus something like 3 galley proofs and as many book releases in 8mo. is wearing, I’ve found). And then I will start gathering my thoughts and organizing them. I expect it will be a short series of blog articles, because there’s a lot of material there.

            It will also cut you some writing slack, too.

    • I too would like to hear/read more on the New Madrid fault. A post… or series even.

  20. Clueless medical person asks: molten carbon, 300 miles down. Isn’t that where diamonds come from?

    • To be honest, we don’t know, exactly. We do know that diamonds come from Really Deep.

    • Diamonds are found in kimberlite igneous rock which is closely associated with volcanos. Diamond is in fact crystalized carbon formed under intense heat and pressure.

      • Not necessarily, Uncle Lar. That was the prevailing notion when you and I were taught about it. But much more recent data indicates that diamonds are being BROUGHT UP, from VERY far down — as in Mohorovicic Discontinuity or below — and are being brought up INTACT, EXTANT. Meaning they were already diamonds and were just carried up in the eruptive process.

        That’s one I don’t pretend to understand. I haven’t had time or reason to dig into it any farther than that, or I might be somewhat more knowledgeable on the matter.

        But I do find it fascinating.

        (Yes, I know I sound like Spock at the moment. But I always wanted to be like him as a kid. It wasn’t until much later that I wondered if the multiple science degrees were a subconscious effort to emulate.)

        • Dang. I was gonna make a quip about diamonds being made by Kryptonians eating coal and crapping diamonds but y’all went all eruditey.

        • Vulcans have a long life-span, Stephanie. So do Humans like us (and Huns / Hoydens in general), if you count by the years we stay fascinated by new things.

          I did read all of that paper by Dave Middleton, even though geology is not really my “geek-out” thing… (Hopefully, you have seen that comment by now – dang it, I forgot the one-link limit.)

      • And upon rereading, I realize I completely misinterpreted your post. You said nothing about the volcanoes creating the diamonds, which is what I took it to mean. My bad. I apologize.

  21. Makes you wonder how many people would escape to other countries if one of these super volcanoes blew? Few people have a positive net worth. Their credit would be useless, and planes unlikely to be flying from where you want to leave…I’m picturing a massive scramble for the Gulf coast and Florida. I might be better off heading north if Canada allowed refugees.

    • Currently we are. :/
      Although right now it’s more a political slap in the face of Trump then anything else.

    • Which raises the question of how quickly the ash clouds would spread and whether anyone could drive clear before their vehicles broke down from ash.

      • If you’re inside the blast radius, forget it. David Johnston was nearly 5 miles from Mt. St. Helens when it blew, and he had just enough time to make the call to the Vancouver station and get out 11 words before he died. It was moving at Mach.

        If you’re inside the pyroclastic flow radius, if you can get out before the ash column collapses, maybe.

        For those farther out, if you recognize what’s going on as soon as you hear the shock wave, and you drop everything and head out, possibly.

        Keep in mind also, the ash is HOT. They never show that aspect of it in movies, because there’s not a good way to create the FX and have the actors remain safe. (Heck, their approximation for volcanic ash is burned paper fluff.) But the reason tuff usually forms is because the ash is still hot enough upon landing to be semi-molten, and it welds together under its own weight before it can cool.

        • With something this size, I was thinking more in terms of places as far away as Nebraska. Far enough away that pyroclastic flow isn’t a danger, but close enough that the ash gets there before anyone can drive clear.

        • Oh, and when someone says pyroclastic flow, I think of Herculaneum, where it was so hot people died instantly and skulls exploded.

          • That’s pretty much a close-in pyroclastic flow, or nuee ardente (“burning cloud,” Fr. — that’s what they look like at night).

            I know that when I was poking around St. Helens, Johnston Ridge (the first ridge to the north, about 4.5 miles away) was completely devastated — there was nothing left on the south-facing slope, not even soil. Everything was obliterated and the mountainside scoured right down to bare bedrock — and even that was busted up.

            It is worth noting that Spirit Lake was actually almost 90deg from the slope that failed and blew out. The blast hit what is now known as Johnston Ridge, and enough of it deflected up the valley that it knocked the LAKE ITSELF something like 400yd up the mountainside, if memory serves. You could see the “high tide” mark on the mountain spur that jutted into the valley, at the foot of which was this swamp of debris and detritus that used to be Spirit Lake. There was no sign whatsoever that there had ever been buildings along the lakeshore.

            At this close distance, the blast wave impact, and the maelstrom of boulders, pumice, and ash, are the biggest forces to reckon with. And it tends to be moving at supersonic speeds, though this rapidly diminishes as it interacts with the terrain.

            I turned around and looked north from the top of that ridge…and the pyro flow had sort of skipped over the valley (though later, slower flows got it) and hit the next ridge over. All the trees were laid down, pointing away from St. Helens, the trunks completely stripped of branches and burned to carbon. The THIRD ridge over, the tree trunks were still standing, but again had been stripped of all branches and the trunks carbonized. I’m not gonna go look it up, but I’m estimating that was anywhere from 15-30 miles away, and while the thing was slowing down and losing force, it was still hot enough to char the trees.

            At this distance, the blast wave is weakening in force, but it is still plenty hot to kill.

            Taken far enough away, however, and it becomes a smothering blanket of ash. The ash is still hot enough to burn, but the heavy material has fallen out, and the heat has diminished — though it may still be hot enough to ignite flammable materials.

            • For those interested, here is a time-lapse video of a pyroclastic flow as seen at night (hence its original name, nuee ardente).

            • And here is a real-time video of a pyroclastic flow on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, which has a long history of such things.

              • and FBM procedural noise was created in an effort to reproduce this for Dante’s Peak. They ended up with an impractical render time and they used a cloud tank instead.

            • Even a small eruption, such as Lassen in the 1920s, does some impressive stuff. There’s an interpretive trail about a mile and a half northeast of the peak that has things like ejecta about eight feet in diameter, and one such was still hot several days after the eruption according to its label. And like I said, that was *small* compared to St. Helens—which is also fairly small in terms of volcanic eruptions.

        • Wouldn’t be surprised if we’re within the blast radius–about 150 miles SW, but there are some mountain ranges in the way, which will have some effect, which would be quite interesting to see modeled. But bearing in mind that Yellowstone’s ‘due to erupt real soon now’ is on the order of a couple hundred thousand years, it’s the least of my geologic worries. Cascadia Subduction Zone seems a lot more likely to act up in my lifetime, as does New Madrid.

          • Yes, and yes.

            But still not impossible.

            Also if you’re interested, I can show you about what Yellowstone thinks of mountain ranges…

            • Here is a depiction of the track of the Yellowstone hotspot as determined by the sequence of calderas produced.

              • This one doesn’t tell you as much about the terrain but it shows a much longer track, all the way to California.

                • Now I’m curious—the Sutter Buttes, sometimes called “the smallest mountain range in the world”, are the remains of an ancient volcano that has nothing at all to do with the Cascades. (The rock is, therefore, unique in its age and provenance, hence the “small mountain range” designation.) It’s far too south to be part of the Yellowstone Caldera path, so I wonder what caused that one.

                  For the non-geologically-inclined, bring up Sacramento on Google Maps, go a little bit north until you see Sutter Buttes marked, then go into the satellite/Earth view. They’re an almost perfect circle, and it’s eerie.

                  • Or why I didn’t think of typing “Sutter Buttes” into Google and zooming out… *facepalm* Anyway. OBVIOUS volcano shape from the air, but we’re talking so far extinct that half of it was buried by the inland sea sediment prior to the last Ice Age…

    • You’re heading the wrong way.

  22. Fascinating. Thank you. another vote for New Madrid discussion.
    Also wondering about the Santorini explosion about 1450 BC. The layers of ash I have read about on Crete were 8 ft deep as I remember it. There were refugees fleeing down the coast of Syria etc. Should be able to get a time line on recovery of the area from Greece and Turkey areas. Sounds like it was small compared to most of the speculation here, but …

    • I know more about the historical reactions to the eruption than I do the actual geology, although I do know there’s not a lot left of the original island. It isn’t a place I’d want to live, though visiting would be interesting.

  23. OK, here’s a silly question: Would it be possible to drill down and relieve the pressure on these bubbles before they blow? We have some really deep drilling techniques available, and access to that amount of energy ought to be useful for something if it can be tapped into and released in a controlled manner.

    Or am I still just not grokking the absolute *scale* of the thing?

    • You realize I read this as relating to today’s post? It made it very funny.

    • You might find it informative entertaining to go to National Review Online and search for “Volcano Lancing.”

      Volcano Lancing Watch
      By John J. Miller — March 2, 2013
      My church is without a pope. My country is broke and sequestered. And now the vulcanologists have chosen this awful moment of vulnerability to launch a provocative attack upon the fledgling science of volcano lancing:

      Erupting volcanoes offset recent Earth warming, according to a team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder. Researchers arrived at this conclusion after searching for clues about why Earth did not warm as much as climatologists expected between 2000 and 2010. …

      According to Neely, tiny amounts of sulfur dioxide emissions from Earth’s surface eventually rise 12 to 20 miles into the stratospheric aerosol layer of the atmosphere, where chemical reactions generate sulfuric acid and water particles that reflect sunlight away from the Earth and back to space.

      The study’s findings reveal that it is emissions from small to moderate volcanoes that have been offsetting recent Earth warming, according to Neely, a researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. …

      According to Toon, larger volcanoes can have an even bigger effect than small and moderate volcanoes. He noted that when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it sent millions of tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, cooling the planet for the next several years.

      Caution: Do NOT Try lancing volcanoes yourself. Leave it to the pros!

      • So in this case, ‘greenhouse gases’ *reduce* Global Warming? But of course, these are naturally-produced gases given to us my Mother
        Gaia, not those icky man-made gases put out by SUVs and powerplants.

    • Not really. The problem with supervolcanoes is that the eruption is triggered by the rupture of the bubble, if you will. Once the caldera starts to crack open even the smallest bit, it starts to rip, and suddenly the cork crumbles and thar she blows.

      And yes, the scale of this thing is just unreal.


      “The hot rock in the newly discovered, deeper magma reservoir would fill the 1,000-cubic-mile Grand Canyon 11.2 times, while the previously known magma chamber would fill the Grand Canyon 2.5 times, says postdoctoral researcher Jamie Farrell, a co-author of the study…Hot and partly molten rock rises in dikes from the top of the plume at 40 miles depth up to the bottom of the 11,200-cubic mile magma reservoir, about 28 miles deep. The top of this newly discovered blob-shaped magma reservoir is about 12 miles deep, Huang says. The reservoir measures 30 miles northwest to southeast and 44 miles southwest to northeast…The 2,500-cubic mile upper magma chamber sits beneath Yellowstone’s 40-by-25-mile caldera…”