A supervolcano by definition is one which has had an eruption of magnitude 8 – the highest and most violent possible – on the Volcano Explosivity Index in the past. The US is a hotspot for supervolanoes, with four currently located in the North American country, while Europe only has the one – but it is one which could destroy the continent – Campi Flegrei in Italy. A 2017 study from Jonathan Rougier, a professor of statistical science at the University of Bristol, found that a super eruption occurs roughly every 17,000 years.
The last super eruption came 26,000 years ago, when Taupo, located in New Zealand’s North Island, burst into life shoving 1200 cubic km of pumice and ash into the atmosphere.
By Prof Rougier’s reasoning, we are overdue a super eruption, and he said we are “slightly lucky not to experience any”.
However, some are warning that time is running out, calling it nothing short of a miracle that humans are still here.
Journalist Brian Walsh, author of the new book End Times, which examines the existential threats to humanity, said it is a matter of when, not if.
Mr Walsh wrote: “Sooner or later – and on a geologic timescale at least, much sooner – we will face a super eruption.
“Yet of all the risks we’ll explore in this book, natural and man-made, it is the one for which we’ve done the least to prepare.
“Volcanoes have caused mass extinctions on this planet before; in fact, they are the serial killers of life.
“We have been lucky – our existence after 3.5 billion years of evolution is nothing short of a cosmic miracle, even if it was a miracle that had to happen.
“But that luck may not hold.”
There are 20 known supervolcanoes in the world which have the potential to cause a super eruption, including Yellowstone and the Long Valley Caldera, both in the US, Toba in Indonesia and Aira Caldera in Japan.
A super eruption could cause a dramatic climate shift which would effect humanity.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said: “Such a giant eruption would have regional effects such as falling ash and short-term (years to decades) changes to global climate.”
They would also effect the landscape of the planet.
The USGS continued: “Such eruptions usually form calderas, broad volcanic depressions created as the ground surface collapses as a result of withdrawal of partially molten rock (magma) below.”