By Becky Oskin, Contributing Writer | March 07, 2016 09:49am ET
Yellowstone hot spring Pin It When a supervolcano like Yellowstone erupts, residents may have a few hours to escape once the disaster has started, a new study suggests.
Credit: "Windows into the Earth," Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel
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Can you outrun a supervolcano? New evidence from an ancient eruption suggests the answer is a surprising yes.
"I wouldn 't recommend anyone try to outrun a volcano, but there 's a few of us that could," said Greg Valentine, a volcanologist at the University at Buffalo in New York.
By analyzing rocks trapped in volcanic ash, Valentine and his colleagues discovered the …show more content…
"It 's really interesting how you can have such a violent eruption producing such slow-moving flows," said Valentine, co-author of the new study. "They still devastate a huge area, but they 're slow and concentrated and dense," he told Live Science. His collaborators include Olivier Roche, of Blaise Pascal University in France and David Buesch, of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Of course, the safest way to deal with any rumbling volcano is to get as far away as possible. Lots of distance can prevent the most common cause of death associated with volcanoes: being trapped and suffocated by a torrent of ash, rocks and superhot gas that explode out at speeds of up to 300 mph (about 480 km/h). These "pyroclastic flows" are the real volcanic killer, not lava. A pyroclastic flow wiped out the Roman town of Pompeii, and in 1902, Mount Pelée on Martinique unleashed a pyroclastic flow that killed some 29,000 people. [Preserved Pompeii: Photos Reveal City of Ash]
You should still …show more content…
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The Peach Springs Tuff covers parts of Arizona, Nevada and California, from Barstow, California, to Peach Springs, Arizona. Geologists use the creamy white and pink rock as a unique marker in the region.
The western United States suffered at least 100 of these huge eruptions starting about 40 million years ago (a consequence of shifting tectonic plates). It 's not clear whether every one of these supervolcanic blasts sent out slowly moving ash flows, but Valentine said he sees similar evidence in other areas.
The powerful Peach Springs eruption ejected 72 cubic miles (300 cubic km) of pulverized rock into the air. For comparison, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington blasted out 0.24 cubic miles (1 cubic km) of material. And the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed 2.4 cubic miles (10 cubic km) of