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Volcanic Winter – Would Humanity Survive & How Long Would it Last?


Yellowstone Park is located in Wyoming within the United States. It might seem like an unassuming place, but it actually houses a super volcano that poses an immense risk of volcanic winter. This article will briefly discuss what a super volcano is and then go further in-depth with the discussion of what a volcanic winter entails and the threat it poses to life on this Earth.

What is a Volcanic Winter

A volcanic winter is when the eruption of a volcano is so massive (as witnessed with super volcanoes) that it results in immense levels of ash. This ash being shot-up in the sky will make it so that for anywhere from a few years to several decades, there is a drastic reduction in the climate’s temperatures. This is due to the great deal of ash literally blocking-out rays from the sun.

The magazine, “Science,” has an article discussing how one of the biggest eruptions and longest-lasting volcanic winters ever occurred about 74,000 years ago. This happened when a massive volcano located in Sumatra that was known as Toba had the most massive eruption on Earth within the last 2 million years.

Within weeks it caused a global volcanic winter that could have gone on for decades. This possibly led to animals dying-off and humanity almost going extinct. Essentially, Toba may have resulted in a reverse version of the greenhouse effect, cooling Earth till it wiped-out a good deal of crops, resulted in massive extinctions of animals, and otherwise nearly ended humanity.

That was long ago, so how bad could things possibly get today? Much, much worse.

What is a Super Volcano

Yellowstone Supervolcano

Simply put, a supervolcano is a volcano capable of immense eruptions that can devastate the local area; and due to enormous volcanic ash drastically affect the world’s climate.

The USGS has a helpful chart that discusses volcanic levels, and it illustrates how Yellowstone has one of the bigger super volcanoes present.

Basically, a super volcano poses a threat not only to the region where it explodes, but it can also devastate the entire Earth.

“An eruption could end humanity. Scientists are in agreement it is not likely to happen anytime soon, but an eruption would put so much ash into the air it would darken the skies of the United States and creating a volcanic winter over the planet,” according to a science correspondent Dan Cohen who was interviewed by UK’s Daily Express (credit). This leads to our discussion of the process known as volcanic winter.

How Long Could a Volcanic Winter Last?

A volcanic winter brought about by the volcano at Yellowstone erupting could possibly last 70 years or longer, as the Star-Tribune (credit) discusses all major volcanic winters in recent history have lasted longer than anticipated.

Yellowstone has had small eruptions off-and-on but is generally due for a major eruption every 600,000 years. It has been about 630,000 years since the last big eruption, as an article from the Star-Tribune points out.

A volcanic winter brought about by a major eruption from Yellowstone now would be cataclysmic. Even if our planet has been demonstrated to be suffering from global warming, a sudden shift in the other direction will NOT be helpful; and in fact, this jarring back-and-forth in the global climate will bring a great deal of ecologic collapse Worldwide. The world’s population 74,000 years ago was a fraction of what it is today.

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Our planet relies on a large number of agricultural and farming resources to stay fed. Should a volcanic winter occur it is feasible to think that for decades there could be mass-starvation and dying among humans due to there just not being enough food production.

As Alan Hall of Quora (credit) points out, there is a large deal of power in the world, but food is an issue. We can’t grow crops when it is winter. Meat would become a highly-expensive and rare thing; the focus would be crops.

He goes on to say that things could get so drastic the rain-forest would be mowed-down to assist with crop production. And it isn’t unthinkable to assume people could turn to cannibalism to both control the population and keep themselves fed.

With almost no recorded history of a major volcanic eruption leading to a volcanic winter, it is difficult to know what might happen precisely, but it surely wouldn’t be anything good.

Would We Survive Volcanic Winter?

Humanity would most likely NOT perish from an extended volcanic winter, but there would certainly be tough times ahead. There have been some minor instances of volcanic winters before that were weathered by humankind.

In 1815 the Indonesian volcano Mount Tambora exploded and caused global temperatures to drop so much it made 1816 the so-called. ‘Year without a summer,’” according to Live Science.

Humanity would survive an extended volcanic winter, but it would never be the same. Drastic changes in climate and where food can be grown would result in countries that once had minimal political power suddenly wielding a great deal of influence. Tropical regions would now be ideal and cool enough for growing crops. Other locations would have wide-swaths of their land rendered uninhabitable (cold regions would become wastelands).

Resources that for centuries have inspired wars such as oil would become secondary to things like livestock or crops. International cooperation would become an important focus for much of the World as without countries being able to rely upon one another a large chunk of the planet will literally face the possibility of starving to death.

The most powerful weapon that inspires respect won’t be a nuclear bomb; it will be being able to grow food and getting others to grovel for it.

How to Prepare for a Volcanic Winter

Were a volcanic winter to occur due to an eruption at Yellowstone certain demographics would be better prepared than others. People who consider themselves, “Preppers,” for doomsday-level events would most likely have an ample supply of nonperishable foods (All you need to know about food storage)

Nonperishable foods would literally become worth more than gold in a world where there is a genuine possibility there won’t be enough food for everyone to eat.

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Survival in a World dealing with a volcanic winter will entail the careful distribution of resources for those who prepared for the possibility of such a cataclysmic event and being willing to defend said resources against those who would challenge them for it.

Crime would undoubtedly rise in a world suffering from a volcanic winter, but instead of people stealing jewelry or cash they’d be trying to snatch cans of fruit or freeze-dried meals.

Martial law would most likely have to be imposed in highly-populated areas where there would simply be too many people and not enough food to go around. It would be a difficult time, but humanity would survive (albeit quite possibly with many lives lost).

Eventually, as the volcanic winter ended, things would return to some degree of normalcy as they were the decades before the climate suddenly went awry.

Let’s Be Optimistic

There has been some research into such super volcanoes as Toba. Some data has concluded that its volcanic winter was possibly not as bad as some scientists previously thought.

One article from The Guardian discusses how even a massive eruption such as Toba’s may have been a lesser catastrophe and, “…with archaeological evidence from India, which shows that our ancestors survived the mega-eruption…another eruption may be due. It is, however, somewhat reassuring to think previous ones were not as bad as at first discussed.

The main concern is arguable that 74,000 years ago, there was a lot fewer people, technology, and the general need for resources. It isn’t far-fetched to think that what was a “Minor catastrophe,” long ago would be a major world-decimating one today.

Closing Observations

When it comes to super volcanoes one that poses a high risk is the one located in Yellowstone National Park. There is a very real danger that it could explode and lead to a volcanic winter. A winter that lasts for decades and throws the world into chaos.

Even if the volcanic winter turns out to be relatively mild, it would still have a significant impact on crops and food consumption. A volcanic winter may limit resources for everyone to a minor degree. Or put a massive number of people at the risk of starvation and lead to a surge in crime and war.

Those who prepare for the risks of a sudden change in climate will be better off than many. They will need to conserve and defend their resources carefully. Many lives would be lost and major changes around the world would occur. I still believe, however, that humanity would survive a volcanic winter should a supervolcano erupt.

We’ve lasted thousands of years upon this planet and will continue to do so, even when things aren’t easy. The most crucial aspect of all this to prepare yourself.

There really is little warning of when the next volcanic winter may occur. Other than that Yellowstone’s volcano looks like a prime candidate to cause it.



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