73,000 years ago a super-volcano erupted at what is now Lake Toba in Sumatra. The energy released was at least 20,000 greater than the largest man-made (fusion) explosion, and plunged the earth into volcanic winter. That event, scientists believe, led to such a catastrophic decline in the human population that our ancestors were reduce to between several hundred to a few thousand breeding pairs worldwide; our species coming to within a hair’s breadth of going extinct.
I mention this cheery thought because over the past two weeks more than 250 earthquakes have shaken the Yellowstone Valley. Additionally, the valley floor, which sits atop a magma chamber that is less than five miles below the surface, has been rising at a rate more than triple its average since measurements were begun in 1923.
For those of you who do not keep up with such things, Yellowstone Valley and Park are in reality the caldera of a super-volcano eerily similar to the one at Lake Toba. Research indicates that Yellowstone’s volcano has exploded catastrophically at least seven time, at an average rate of once every 600,000 years. The last eruption? Just over 600,000 years ago.
When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980 it expelled an estimated 1.4 billion cubic yards of ash that not only rained down over an area of 22,000 square miles but, because much of it floated cloud-like in the jet stream around the northern hemisphere, is credited for reducing global temperatures by more than a full degree and effecting our climate for over a year.
The last Yellowstone explosion, by comparison, expelled 2,500 time more ash and debris than the St. Helen’s eruption. While it is impossible to predict the timing or full magnitude of the next one, we can say with some certainty
- It will occur – the probability of a future incident is a full 100%;
- It will be massive – likely to cover up to half of the United States in a layer of ash as much as three feet deep;
- It will have catastrophic consequences, both in the U.S. and world wide – a million or more may die in the original blast, with tens of millions or possibly hundreds of millions more perishing due to rapid, dramatic cooling that interrupts normal agricultural cycles as well as transportation and the delivery of goods and services; and
- This grisly scenario does not include the minor but real possibility of the initiation of a new ice age, claiming an additional billion or more victims.
I must repeat…the explosion of Yellowstone along with its concurrent and/or longer-term consequences is not a maybe. It absolutely will occur.
Frankly, this scares the bejeebers out of me. My family is lucky – we have the resources to migrate away from what will surely be the worst of the aftermath; but we will not go unscathed…not by a long shot. No one will.
Which leads to some important questions: What does such a certainty say to the claims of so many about an omnipotent and benevolent sky god? How do such events square with a creator god who supposedly designed a universe, solar system, planet, and laws of nature just for us? And what sick, pathetic excuses will the faithful offer for such a tragic turn of events when it comes to pass?