June 30 is Asteroid Day, a global awareness effort to promote asteroids and discussion around what can be done to protect our planet from impacts, but there may be a more likely natural threat.
While an asteroid impact with Earth may make for great drama in the movies, no human in the past 1,000 years is known to have been killed by a meteorite or by the effects of one impacting our planet, according to NASA. That is just one reason Robert Mohr, Ph.D., instructor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Physics, says energies might be better spent on the super volcano under Yellowstone.
“If the Yellowstone super volcano erupts, it will take out anywhere from 20-30 percent of the continent,” Mohr said. “And the effects will be felt basically everywhere in the United States and in places beyond, potentially for years.”
Aside from giant asteroid strikes, super volcanoes are considered to be the most devastating of all natural disasters. Super volcanoes have been known to cause mass extinctions and long-term climate changes.
he last known super volcano eruption, believed to have occurred around 70,000 years ago on the site of today’s Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia, caused a “volcanic winter” that blocked out the sun for six to eight years.
The super volcano that erupted in Wyoming 600,000 years ago, in what is now Yellowstone National Park, ejected more than 1,000 cubic meters of lava and ash into the atmosphere — enough to bury a large city several kilometers deep. By comparison, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which caused a 0.4 degree drop in average global temperature for the following year, was 100 times less forceful than the Yellowstone eruption.
“A Yellowstone eruption would alter life as we know it for a long time,” Mohr said. “Sunlight would be blocked for long periods of time, which would affect crop growth and food supply. Preparing for something like that, which is a lot closer to a likelihood than an asteroid’s hitting Earth, would seem to me to be more prudent.”