How do the giant eruptions in the Yellowstone National Park region compare to other large historic eruptions?

The diagram below shows that the three largest Yellowstone eruptions emitted much more material than the eruptions of Mount St. Helens (1980), Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (1991), Krakatau in Indonesia (1883, incorrectly known as Krakatoa), and Tambora in Indonesia (1815).

The largest eruption in the last two million years was about 74,000 years ago at Toba Volcano on the island of Sumatra. The volume of that eruption is estimated at 670 cubic miles (2,800 cubic kilometers).

Volumes of Yellowstone's giant volcanic eruptions compared with vol...

Volumes of Yellowstone's giant volcanic eruptions compared with volumes of other major eruptions. Graphic used with permission from "Windows into the Earth, The Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park", Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel, Oxford University Press, 2000.

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What is a supervolcano? What is a supereruption?

The term "supervolcano" implies a volcanic center that has had an eruption of magnitude 8 on the Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI), meaning that at one point in time it erupted more than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of material. In the early 2000s, the term “supereruption” began being used as a catchy way to describe VEI 8 eruptions...

How far would ash travel if Yellowstone had a large explosive eruption?

Knowledge about past eruptions of Yellowstone combined with mathematical models of volcanic ash dispersion help scientists determine where and how much ashfall will occur in possible future eruptions. During the three caldera-forming eruptions that occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, tiny particles of volcanic ash covered much of...

What would happen if a "supervolcano" eruption occurred again at Yellowstone?

If another large, caldera-forming eruption were to occur at Yellowstone, its effects would be worldwide. Such a giant eruption would have regional effects such as falling ash and short-term (years to decades) changes to global climate. Those parts of the surrounding states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming that are closest to Yellowstone would be...

How big is the magma chamber under Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is underlain by two magma bodies . The shallower one is composed of rhyolite (a high-silica rock type) and stretches from 5 km to about 17 km (3 to 10 mi) beneath the surface and is about 90 km (55 mi) long and about 40 km (25 mi) wide. The chamber is mostly solid, with only about 5-15% melt. The deeper reservoir is composed of basalt...

Could a large Yellowstone eruption significantly change the climate?

If another catastrophic, caldera-forming Yellowstone eruption were to occur, it would probably alter global weather patterns and have enormous impacts on human activity (especially agricultural production) for many years. At this time, however, scientists do not have the ability to predict specific consequences or durations of possible global...

How much ash was there from the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens?

During the 9 hours of vigorous eruptive activity on May 18, 1980, about 540 million tons of ash from Mount St. Helens fell over an area of more than 22,000 square miles (57,000 square kilometers). The total volume of the ash before its compaction by rainfall was about 0.3 cubic mile (1.3 cubic kilometers), equivalent to an area the size of a...

How far did the ash from Mount St. Helens travel?

The May 18, 1980 eruptive column at Mount St. Helens fluctuated in height through the day, but the eruption subsided by late afternoon. By early May 19, the eruption had stopped. By that time, the ash cloud had spread to the central United States. Two days later, even though the ash cloud had become more diffuse, fine ash was detected by systems...

What are some examples of supervolcanoes?

Volcanoes that have produced exceedingly voluminous pyroclastic eruptions and formed large calderas in the past 2 million years include Yellowstone, Long Valley in eastern California, Toba in Indonesia, and Taupo in New Zealand. Other 'supervolcanoes' would likely include the large caldera volcanoes of Japan, Indonesia, Alaska (e.g. Aniakchak,...
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Aerial view of the caldera of Mt Tambora, island of Sumbawa, Indonesia.
January 18, 2017

Aerial View of Mt. Tambora Caldera

Aerial view of the caldera of Mt. Tambora, island of Sumbawa, Indonesia.  

May 26, 2016

Forecasting Ashfall Impacts from a Yellowstone Supereruption

  • Yellowstone is one of a few dozen volcanoes on earth capable of "supereruptions" that expel more than 1,000 cubic km of ash and debris.
  • The plumes from such eruptions can rise 30 to 50 km into the atmosphere, three to five times as high as most jets fly.
  • Yellowstone has produced three supereruptions in the past 2.1 million years. The most recent was
Attribution: Yellowstone
January 22, 2014

The Yellowstone Volcano: Past, Present and Future

Public Lecture on Yellowstone Volcano by Jake Lowenstern at Menlo Park, CA on January 23, 2014. The Q&A at the end of the talk can be found on the original source video (Source URL).

video thumbnail: Mount St. Helens: May 18, 1980
May 10, 2010

Mount St. Helens: May 18, 1980

USGS scientists recount their experiences before, during and after the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Loss of their colleague David A. Johnston and 56 others in the eruption cast a pall over one of the most dramatic geologic moments in American history.

May 10, 2010

Mount St. Helens: A Catalyst for Change

The May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens triggered a growth in volcano science and volcano monitoring. Five USGS volcano observatories have been established since the eruption. With new technologies and improved awareness of volcanic hazards USGS scientists are helping save lives and property across the planet.

video thumbnail: Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic features at Yellowstone: "How do we know Yellowstone is a
volcano?", "What is a Supervolcano?", "What is a Caldera?","Why are there geysers at Yellowstone?",
and "What are the other geologic hazards in Yellowstone?"

View

Attribution: Yellowstone
video thumbnail: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to provide a tour of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory: "What is YVO?", "How
do you monitor volcanic activity at Yellowstone?", "How are satellites used to study deformation?", "Do
you monitor geysers or any other aspect of the Park?", "Are

Attribution: Yellowstone
video thumbnail: Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone: When was the last supereruption at
Yellowstone?", "Have any eruptions occurred since the last supereruption?", "Is Yellowstone overdue for
an eruption?", "What does the magma below indicate about a

Attribution: Yellowstone
Large umbrella shaped cloud of volcanic ash viewed from a distance
June 15, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991 towering above farms and agricultural lands in the Philippines.

Volcano erupting and spewing a huge cloud of rock and ash into the sky.
May 18, 1980

Mount Saint Helens eruption

On Sunday, May 18, 1980 at 8:32 a.m., the bulging north flank of Mount St. Helens slid away in a massive landslide -- the largest in recorded history. Seconds later, the uncorked volcano exploded and blasted rocks northward across forest ridges and valleys, destroying everything in its path within minutes.