Yellowstone’s coming to kill us all.
It’s been said (by people who choose to think about really depressing things) that the Yellowstone Supervolcano—a portal of doom the size of Rhode Island that is capable of blasting hundreds of cubic miles of earth and ash into the atmosphere with 100,000 times the power of a nuclear bomb and could effectively end civilization on Earth with one sooty fart—is overdue to erupt. So, we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.
Of course, within the context of the current era—melting polar ice caps, rising oceans, one million animal and plant species threatened by extinction, and outrageous sandwiches made with fried chicken in place of bread—a nice little humanity-ending volcanic eruption seems sort of reassuring. It would certainly level the playing field—pun intended. It could also be the event that reunites our political system in the moments just before everyone dies. The right would crow with delight: “See, it wasn’t us and our profit-driven denial of science, fact, and common decency who destroyed the world—it was this big-ass volcano!” Meanwhile, the left could use the eruption and its ensuing eradication of humanity as an excuse for not having a single viable presidential candidate in 2020. Everyone wins. And by “wins” I mean dies horribly.
Of course, some would die more horribly than others. Here in southwest Montana, we’d probably hear a rumble, squint toward the south, and be incinerated like a campfire marshmallow before anyone could mention Bozeman’s affordable housing crisis in casual conversation one more time. Nice and clean. The poor suckers on the East Coast would probably have to deal with some kind of Cormac McCarthy–inspired hellscape for a few years, before slowly letting hope die like underpaid and perennially abused career Forest Service employees.
How likely is this eruption? Well, it’s hard to say, since budgets for scientific research (particularly in pesky national parks) have been reallocated to build the world’s largest nacho cheese fountain at Mar-a-Lago, complete with a gilded presidential trough. But there are a few indicators that point to a pending volcanic eruption.
Yellowstone experiences 1,500-2,500 small earthquakes a year, and while this isn’t unusual, we have learned that at least some of these are natural, and not induced by behemoth RVs carrying beer-swilling tourists. Scary stuff. It’s also troubling that the interval at which Old Faithful erupts has slowed over the last several decades, which could point to benign natural shifts in underground hydrologic systems, or could indicate that the famous geyser is planning something sinister.
Meanwhile, Steamboat Geyser reactivated last summer after years of dormancy. It erupted 47 times in one year—a new record—behavior that some (conspiracy) theorists might even call aggressive. Of course, it could just be that every geyser in the park is becoming clogged with crashed drones, and the pressure has to be released somewhere. Taken together, there’s compelling evidence that people are awful, and that the Yellowstone Supervolcano is almost certainly maybe someday going to erupt and kill us all.
Is there anything we can do to save ourselves from certain death and ridiculous summer traffic? Some people are trying. The Yellowstone Club has attempted to pay off the volcano—a strategy that has worked well every other time the Club has found itself in need of a golf course in a wetland, a sewage pond in a watershed, or a liquor license where there is none. Others have proposed a classic American approach: blow it up before it can blow us up. Drop a nuke on that g’damn volcano—shock and awe, bitches. Of course, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem would still be destroyed, but at least it’d be faster than the death by a thousand condos it’s experiencing now.
What do the scientists have to say? Well, the nerds at NASA have suggested that we could delay, if not eliminate, any eruption by injecting high-pressure water into the magma chamber to cool the volcano. Seriously—that’s a legitimate thing that very, very smart people have said. Our best and brightest are suggesting that we stop a supervolcano with a swamp-cooler. Somebody take away their Keurig machine immediately.
So, what’s a person to do? Well, I suggest a measured approach: Go for a hike deep into Yellowstone, kick back with a nip of bourbon, and enjoy the wildness and scenery before it’s gone. If you get lucky, you’ll be there for the ultimate show. If not, at least you saw some beautiful country. Or you could always move to Florida—nothing bad ever happens in Florida.