An expert has warned it is the quiet volcanoes which could pose the biggest danger as the magma could have been building up for thousands of years. Take for example the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, which completely destroyed the nearby towns of Pompeii after the volcano had been dormant for thousands of years.
A study published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research from Russian researchers found that dormant volcanoes should be closely monitored.
Lead author Ivan Kulakov told the newspaper Science in Siberia that a volcano which has been dormant for a long time could be “catastrophic” when it firsts erupt.
He said: “A large amount of ash is thrown into the air, it is carried far away, and not only the surrounding settlements, but also large territories all over the planet can suffer.
“Recall Pompeii: the awakening of Vesuvius was preceded by a lull for several thousand years. And the eruption in Peru in 1600 led to a cooling in Europe and famine in Russia.”
There are several supervolcanoes across the planet which have remained dormant for thousands of years and could pose a threat to life on Earth if they were to blow.
For example, the Lake Toba, located in Sumatra, Indonesia, last erupted 74,000 years ago saw 2,800 cubic km of material ejected into the atmosphere.
Following the eruption, global temperatures plummeted for a decade, covering huge areas of Indonesia and India in ash.
An island in the middle of Lake Toba, Indonesia, is slowly rising and is thought to be a sign the Earth is bulging due to magma pressure below the surface.
Another is the much feared Yellowstone, located in the US state of Wyoming, which last erupted on a major scale 640,000 years ago.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the chances of a Yellowstone eruption is around one-in-730,000.
With 640,000 years having passed since the last major eruption, Yellowstone is edging closer to exploding – but it could still be thousands of years away.
However, experts are preparing for the worst now and are studying how a major eruption, which could instantly wipe out large swathes of the US, could be prevented.
One NASA employee believes he has found a unique way to stop a major eruption – by feeding cold water into Yellowstone’s magma chambers.
NASA engineer Brian Wilcox hopes to stave off the threat of a super-eruption is to cool down the magma in the chambers inside the volcano.
Around 60 to 70 percent of the heat generated by Yellowstone seeps into the atmosphere but the remainder builds up inside. If enough builds up, it can trigger an eruption.
By drilling 10 kilometres into Yellowstone, the NASA employee believes it would be possible to pump high-pressure water which will allow the cool liquid to absorb some of the heat, before it is pumped out again.
Mr Wilcox told journalist Bryan Walsh in the latter’s new book End Times the plan could cost $3.5bn (£2.9bn).
The proposal would have the added benefit of using the steam from the water and magma combo to create carbon-free geothermal electricity at a much cheaper rate than any alternative energy currently available on the market.
Mr Wilcox told Mr Walsh: “The thing that makes Yellowstone a force of nature is that it stores up heat for hundreds of thousands of years before it all goes kablooey all at once. It would be good if we drained away that heat before it could do a lot of damage.”
Others, however, are not so convinced about the feasibility of Mr Wilcox’s idea. USGS scientist Jake Lowenstern told Mr Walsh: “It all seems a bit fanciful.”
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