A lot of geology news has circled around the possibility of a supervolcano eruption that could wipe out humanity. And a new analysis is not very comforting, as scientists discover that the apocalyptic scenario may be much closer than they previously thought.
The largest super-eruptions are capable of covering entire continents in volcanic ash and changing weather patterns around the world for decades. And a new study suggests the next eruption of this magnitude could be sooner than was previously assumed.
Regular volcanic eruptions, such as the recent activity of Mount Agung in Bali, might be enough to close airports, but a super-eruption would have the potential to destroy human civilization as we know it. Like Mount Agung, one of the last known super eruptions also took place in Indonesia.
Scientists previously estimated that super-eruptions happen every 45,000-714,000 years, a length of time Professor Jonathan Rougier, statistician and lead author of the new study, describes as “comfortably longer than our civilization”. (Civilization is often dated to the time humans moved away from hunting and gathering and towards agriculture, around 12,000 years ago.) In the new Earth and Planetary Science Letters study by Professor Rougier and his team at the University of Bristol, they used a database of geological records to produce a new estimate of between 5,200 and 48,000 years, with a “best guess value” of 17,000 years. Although still a while from now, it could be much sooner than the 45,000 years conservative estimate from before.
“On balance, we have been slightly lucky not to experience any super-eruptions since then,” said Professor Rougier. He also took care to note that just because it’s already been roughly 20,000-30,000 years since the most recent super-eruption, doesn’t mean the next one is “right around the corner.”
“Nature is not that regular,” he said. “What we can say is that volcanoes are more threatening to our civilization than previously thought,” said Professor Rougier.