Fear-Mongering About Yellowstone

Posted: July 22, 2014 in science
Tags: , , , ,

It’s rare that something I talk about in my Exposing PseudoAstronomy blog is also something I talk about on this blog due to WND picking it up. It happened with the whole “Blood Moon” think (which, by the way, WND is still trying to promote with near-weekly stories about it, I’m just not talking about it anymore because it’s the same drivel).

In this case, it’s WND’s story posted yesterday by Steve Elwart, “Prediction: 2/3 of U.S. Could be Devastated.” I haven’t seen stories by him before, so here’s his blurb: “Steve Elwart, P.E., Ph.D., is the executive research analyst with the Koinonia Institute and a subject matter expert for the Department of Homeland Security.” For those like me until 15 seconds ago who don’t know what a “P.E.” is, it’s a Professional Engineer licensure / certification by a state board which generally requires at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. He doesn’t have a personal website I can find, but he does have a LinkedIn page. His articles for WND seem to focus recently on Fukushima doom and gloom.

Anyway, Steve’s story reports on what I reported, though with a more conspiratorial twist. Here’s my take on it:

This post falls under the pre-emptive part for bad media reporting in the charter of this blog. Many media sources are reporting that roads are melting in Yellowstone National Park, in this particular case, closing one of the more popular areas off.

The obvious implication for any “Earth Changes” conspiracy person is that the Yellowstone supervolcano (supervolcano being a term invented just a few years ago in a TV special) is gonna blow. Which means that most of North America will be completely uninhabitable after people within a several hundred kilometer radius die very, very quickly from the event. And worldwide severe weather changes because of the massive amounts of ash.

I want to nip that in the bud, so to speak. At issue is statistics and probability. The Yellowstone area is the site of a massive volcano (for Earth, with a caldera 10s of miles across. Just for the record, that would be a somewhat small volcano on Mars, where for example the Arsia Mons volcano has a caldera that is about 100 km in diameter (~65 miles). Last year, it was reported that the magma chamber under Yellowstone – which is responsible for all the thermal features – is twice as large as previously thought (which isn’t as dangerous as it seems).

The large “supervolcanic” eruptions took place 2.1 Mya, 1.3 Mya, and 0.64 May (millions of years ago). And OHMYGAWD if you take an average of 3 WE ARE OVERDUE FOR A MASSIVE ERUPTION AMIRIGHT!!!!!

Except there’s the rub. We have never observed a supervolcano erupt. I hate to bring in Ken Ham’s “Were you there?” thing, but this is really a case where it’s very difficult for volcanologists to understand how these erupt, the frequency with which they erupt, how to predict when/if they’ll erupt, and what the precursors are to an eruption. It should also be noted that Yellowstone has had smaller eruptions more recently than 640,000 years ago, such as flows that have been dated to 70,000 years old.

Anyway, Yellowstone is an active thermal feature. Hydrothermal because water is involved. It’s no secret that it could explode again. What is lesser known is that it may never explode again. We just don’t know. But what is also clear is that we have no way to predict it. And not knowing means that there’s a certain argument from ignorance fallacy that can be invoked — because scientists don’t know (or won’t tell us because of the conspiracy), then the doomsday guy making the definite claim can clearly know better and tell us what’s gonna happen. (FYI, that’s sarcasm.)

But why don’t the latest thermal melting of roads mean that it’s gonna erupt?

Because it happens frequently. Earthquakes happen there frequently. Sulfur dissolving away metal grates happens there frequently. Like, every year. And that whole video thing last year of bison all stampeding out of the park because they knew it was gonna erupt? That was a video of bison running INTO the park, but that didn’t stop conspiracy and doomsday websites.

I think that the only reason we’re hearing about this particular example is that it melted a road to a popular feature. Keep in mind that very little percentage of the park is a road. So if a capricious thermal feature is going to migrate around and warm a part of the ground to the melting point of asphalt, the likelihood of it being a road is very small. Meaning the likelihood of it being a popular road is even smaller. Meaning the likelihood of it being something that’s widely reported is even smaller.

So … is Yellowstone gonna blow? Maybe. But this latest event should NOT be construed as an increase in activity that indicates an imminent eruption.

WND commenters, as is typical with a science story, seem to not want to talk about the science. I, in my more cynical and not polite and exaggeration moments may say that’s because they’re not smrt enough to comment on the science, but I won’t say that here.

No, instead, the majority of the top-rated of the 287 comments are all about Obama and how he needs to move to Yellowstone. Yup, that’s the level of comments on World Net Daily. Good job, guys.

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