If the Yellowstone Supervolcano did happen to erupt within the next ten years or so, what benefits would there be to humanity? I understand that there would probably be many extinctions to other animal species, but could this eruption possibly counteract global warming due to the ash in the air? Would an eruption like this be big enough to kill of some people? Apologies if this is morbid, but wouldn't that be good for the Earth in general, if our population was lowered enough?

In short, would the benefits of a Yellowstone eruption, on a long scale, be better for the earth and its ecosystems and outweigh the negative effects?

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    $\begingroup$ Actually you don't solve overpopulation by randomly extinguishing people, a healthy demography depends on many factors. In most countries the birth rate is as high as its mortality due to lack of contraceptive measure, corruption plays a bigger role therefore your Yellowstone maybe spectacular but not beneficial. (Purely my opinion) $\endgroup$ – user6760 Sep 20 '16 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't have to go to work tomorrow. $\endgroup$ – GaboSampaio Mar 20 at 20:09

If Yellowstone decides to erupt, which is very unlikely, some people have looked into what would happen. They've found some very interesting things.

The Damage

According to this paper (which is free), North America will see a lot of ash in a super eruption. Some cities will get a lot of ash, such as Billings, Montana which is projected to get at least 1 m of ash. Other cities may see no ash, such as Portland or Flagstaff. The following map shows where ash has been found from previous eruptions.

Previous Ash Deposits

The authors cites others about the negative effects of even a millimeter of ash, which can make rails too slick for trains, prevent electrical transformers from working, and even cause respiratory problems. Centimeter-thick ash covering the land would cause cattle and crop failure in addition to making many buildings potential unsafe and clogging streams and sewers.

Obviously, the ash cloud alone would kill people. Lowering the population of the world may or may not be "helpful" to humanity as a whole. The US still exports a lot of food to the world, which means that agriculture shutting down in the USA means a lot of hungry people elsewhere, especially in Europe and (surprising to me, at least) China. These are major economic and scientific centers of the world. I would guess that starving those places is generally not a good thing for humanity. I'm going out on a limb, but I think a Yellowstone eruption would cause us to lose many people, and the survivors would suffer a lower quality of life because of it.

The Benefits

These authors point out that the Pinatubo eruption of 1991 cooled the planet by ~1 degree C for several years. A Yellowstone super-eruption has spewed out about 280 ${km}^3$ about 1.3 million years ago. Pinatubo, in comparison, spewed forth only 5 ${km}^3$. Oh yes, Yellowstone would cool the planet by quite a bit; the USGS claims it would cool the planet for some years, possibly decades.

Killing off people would also drop the ability of humanity to produce greenhouse gases, just because the remaining people would have to pollute a lot more to compensate. This is unlikely to happen. A dramatic reduction in people may help us reach some of the carbon-emission targets. It may not fix the underlying problems with human-driven climate change, though, and remove some of the urgency of the change, which means this eruption would be a mixed blessing.

Back to That Paper

That first paper I mentioned ends with the statement that an eruption of this scale isn't likely. In fact, they say that any eruption from Yellowstone will be on a small scale, such as a new lava flow. This kind of tiny "eruption" has happened many times, but poses no real risk to the country or humanity as a whole.

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    $\begingroup$ Forget about people starving in Europe. We can easily grow enough food, if we cut down on the meat a bit. As can China, as can most of South America. Africa will starve to death, however. We (= the idiots who have made a religion out of two principally very wholesome concepts named "capitalism" and "free trade") have kept them from building a sustainable agroeconomic system very thoroughly. $\endgroup$ – Karl Sep 20 '16 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ The overall economic impact would be very positive, i believe. The US would kick off a huge infrastructure program and stop wasting billions in military projects around the globe. That alone might be worth blowing the fuse on Yellowstone, weren't it for a million or so of dead people in the midwest. $\endgroup$ – Karl Sep 20 '16 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Karl The outcome you propose for the US is very debatable. I don't feel comfortable going on to that level of speculation. I can see some US citizens saying that the US would need more defense, as the proposed eruption has made the US weak. Find me a political scientist who agrees with you, and I may put it in. Otherwise, I'm leaving those comments here. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Sep 25 '16 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ Handling internal trouble with external aggression is a typical reaction of autocratic regimes. Argentina & Falklands, etc. I don't think this would happen with the US. $\endgroup$ – Karl Sep 25 '16 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnWDailey The article in the first link of that post says an eruption from Yellowstone would do as the paper here proposes and cause cold weather for about a decade. (The paragraph under "A Smelly Climate Shift"). This article isn't from the US Geological Survey, like my link in "possibly decades". The content of our posts seem to more or less agree: I just focus on North American effects and the changes in food supplies for the world, whereas Avernium focuses on Europe of over 1,000 years ago. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Mar 3 '18 at 14:07

The longer the eruption is delayed, the more damage it does, so a benefit of it happening today is that there's less pressure build up than tomorrow. If we could have regular micro eruptions, that would keep it from being a supervolcano. So that might be a reason to trigger the blast now.


"In short, would the benefits of a Yellowstone eruption, on a long scale, be better for the earth and its ecosystems and outweigh the negative effects?"

The long-scale benefit for the Earth would obviously be beneficial, no more monkey brain wankers mucking up the planet for everyone else ? Yes please! says Earth and all who sail on her.

There's a lot of ecosystems, almost all will benefit "long-scale", can you narrow down your question a bit ?

This atmospheric cooling effect is called global dimming and it's been around for over a hundred years, it's the reason why initial predictions about greenhouse gasses and global warming were off by a few years. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/may/11/global-dimming-pollution

For the planet, for the flora and fauna, for the grandchildren of the human survivors, yes it'd be a good thing. No one sane would argue otherwise. For the rest of us, not so much.

  • $\begingroup$ The follow on effects of a large scale ash and particular ejection to the upper atmosphere are complex. Just talking about the cooling effect is fine, except that global warming in some areas is associated with increased crop yields due to higher growing degree hours. Since an analysis of which areas will get colder and which won't isn't included, you aren't even accounting for the cooling effects properly, not to mention any of the other effects (ash fertilization, acid raid, etc). -1 for pure speculation. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 23 '18 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ nonsense answer based solely on the utterly mistaken idea that an ice age and human extinction would be good for 'the planet'. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Mar 21 at 9:35

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