There has been some concern about the world’s largest volcano, the Yellowstone Supervolcano, lately. An increase in seismic activity, with nearly 300 earthquakes in one week, is what has triggered this concern. Since scientists say that the volcano is overdue for an eruption, any information such as this is not taken lightly, or is it particularly welcome to hear.
But according to the scientists that monitor the volcano, other signs that an eruption is about to take place are not present. More than anything, there is not enough molten lava underneath the ground. While the temperature of the volcanic rock under the surface is raised considerably, it isn’t enough to melt more than 40% of the subterranean rock. Apparently a level of 60% would be necessary before an eruption would be likely.
So while I don’t expect to hear of an eruption anytime in the near future, this does raise the question of how we could survive such an event. According to a map by the USGS (US Geological Survey) should the Yellowstone supervolcano decide to blow, volcanic ash would cover about 2/3 of the land mass of the 48 contiguous states.
While the lava itself would probably be limited to the area of the national park, significant quantities of ash would fall more than 1,000 miles away. That ash would destroy the crops in America’s breadbasket, leading to massive food shortages. Weather patterns would change and the world would likely enter into a period of permanent winter, which could last as long as ten years.
So how could we survive such a cataclysmic event?
First of all, those who live within about a 1,200 km radius (weighted towards the east) of Yellowstone National Park would need to evacuate. It is quite possible that nobody could survive within that distance. Death would not be because of lava, but rather the heavy layer of ash, which would destroy crops, contaminate water supplies and could even start fires.
Scientists tell us that there would be anywhere from a few days to two weeks worth of warning, before the volcano blew. That would give the government time to call for an evacuation. Sadly, many would ignore that order and quite possibly die for their choice.
The massive influx of displaced refugees moving eastwards would place an incredible amount of strain on communities east of the Mississippi River. There is a strong chance that law and order would break down in some cities, as people fought for the basic necessities for survival.
Severe food shortages will exist for a number of years, as it will take time to clean up the farmland in the Midwest and plant a new crop. In many cases, that will have to wait until the next year, especially if the eruption were to happen in the fall or winter.
But even then, ash and chemicals belched from the volcano into the upper atmosphere would lower the amount of the sun’s rays to reach the surface of the earth, cooling temperatures and providing less light for plants to use in photosynthesis. While some crops would still grow, especially in the southern states, the massive amount of food that the United States normally harvests every year would be severely curtailed.
We have pretty good evidence of this cool period because in 1816, New England experienced a year without a summer. Mount Tambora, located on an island in southern Indonesia erupted that year. Due to the lowered temperatures, a severe snowstorm nit New York and the rest of New England, with many localities recording more than six inches of snow.
Without a good stock of food to live on, you just won’t make it. Food will become scarce and will remain that way for several years. Nor will the standard prepping plan of growing your own work as we all plan, as we would face the same problems that the farmers do.
The only effective way that will exist to grow your own food in that time will be to move your gardening operations indoors, providing artificial light and heat.
While there would be no reason for the volcano to cause water shortages, there may very well be problems with water sources being contaminated by volcanic ash. This will probably make the water alkaline, as well as adding a high content of dissolved solids.
Standard water purification techniques will probably work, but you would probably be better off using a 5 micron pre-filter to remove ash, before the water enters your normal purification system. A check of the pH will be necessary to ensure that enough has been removed to make it safe to drink.
If your filtration system is unable to remove enough to make that water safe to drink, you’ll have to resort to distilling water, as that is the only effective means of removing that much dissolved solids fro the water.
While the majority of the electrical grid should survive the volcano and the falling ash, there will be transmission lines which are destroyed by it. Additionally, many power plants will go offline, as people evacuate the most severely affected areas. So we should be expecting blackouts and brownouts at least for a while, until repairs can be made and affected areas cut out of the grid.
With so much of the country affected and abandoned due to the falling ash, our normal chains of supply will be badly disrupted. Items that are manufactured in the most severely affected areas will simply disappear from store shelves. But even other items, which depend on parts or materials made in those affected areas will no longer be available.
The costs of imports will probably skyrocket, due to the damage that will happen to the American economy. So, while anything we can no longer manufacture here in the US will still be available from other countries, our reduced buying power will make them much harder to purchase.
Falling ash can be microscopic in size, much like most air pollutants. Yet the high concentration of it will cause breathing problems, and if too much is inhaled, it could cause severe damage to the lungs. For several months after the eruption it will be necessary to wear respirators or at least dust masks anytime you are outdoors. This should be enough to protect your lungs.
The good news is that even an event as major as this is survivable, especially on the individual level. Nationally, it will be a disaster, destroying the stock market and straining resources and the infrastructure to the extreme. But if we are prepared, we could even survive this, especially if we don’t live anywhere near Yellowstone.
So, what do you think? Should we prepare… just in case? I know this, I’m definitely keeping my powder dry and my survival equipment close at hand.