Researchers studying at Yellowstone National Park believe a supervolcano resting beneath the popular Wyoming destination could erupt sooner rather than later — and the results could be devastating.
A team of scientists from Arizona State University have analyzed the minerals in fossilized ash from the most recent eruption and discovered the changes researchers once believed took centuries to achieve — such as temperature and composition shifts — actually only took a couple decades to occur, according to National Geographic.
In fact, some of the park's most popular attractions, like the Old Faithful geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring, are actually signs that an enormous magma reservoir is roaring underground.
Some 630,000 years ago, a massive eruption rocked the region, spewing the rock and ash that created the Yellowstone caldera, a 40-mile-wide bowl that forms most of the park. And the eruption before that occurred in roughly the same time frame, according to ZME Science.
Furthermore, a 2011 study found that the ground above the magma reservoir in Yellowstone had bulged by roughly 10 inches in seven years, per National Geographic.
“It's an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high,” Bob Smith, a Yellowstone expert at the University of Utah, told National Geographic at the time.
Researchers, according to The New York Times, believe the resting supervolcano has the ability to spew more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash, which is 2,500 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980.
It's important to note there's a big difference between volcanoes and supervolcanoes, as ZME Science reported. While volcanoes can certainly have far-reaching implications for millions of people, supervolcanoes are capable of impacting the entire planet.
Though the lava wouldn't spread too much, mostly remaining within the confines of the park, the airborne ejecta would likely cover the entire planet and could send the earth into a volcanic winter.
The theory that an eruption could be coming sooner rather than later was developed by Hannah Shamloo, an Arizona State University graduate student, and several of her colleagues who spent weeks studying at Yellowstone.
Much like reading a set of tree rings, Shamloo and her team were able to record temperature and composition changes by analyzing crystals found beneath the earth's surface.
“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” she told the NY Times, noting more research is necessary before a definitive conclusion can be reached.