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Top scientists offer grim ‘Supervolcano’ warning as one could erupt at any time

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Scientists admit there is no easy way of predicting when a deadly supervolcano will erupt.

The scary reality is that while the world's 12 supervolcanoes only spew ash and magma once every 100,000 years, there are no agreed warning signs to help prepare us for the next one.

An ice age was triggered by Indonesia's Toba supervolcano when it blew 74,000 years ago with the ash almost wiping out the human race, evidence suggests.

Experts say supervolcanoes are defined by having at least one eruption of magnitude 8 on the Volcanic Eruption Index (VEI) which includes Yellowstone in the US.

Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, a team of scientists warned on Tuesday that trying to predict supervolcano eruptions is extremely challenging, reports.

Eruptions of magnitude 8 and above release more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of material, which is enough to possibly disrupt the climate for decades to come.

During Yellowstone's three big eruptions between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, the volcano released enough ash to cover much of the western half of North America.

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According to study co-author Dr George Cooper, from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, geologists need to understand what is "normal" for these volcanoes so that we are better prepared when they start to exhibit unusual signs of activity.

He told "Another supervolcanic system where we see these non-eruptive unrest episodes is Taupo Volcano, New Zealand.

"Recent work using the locations and patterns of earthquakes and ground deformation has allowed scientists to infer the current location of the magma reservoir containing molten rock.

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"New magma feeding the reservoir has led to cracking of the surrounding rock (causing earthquakes).

"Therefore, careful monitoring of these systems needs to be carried out to better understand the processes occurring at depth beneath the volcano.

"The more we monitor these systems, the easier it will be to educate the public on what the ‘normal’ situation is."

Better understanding how these systems behave and may behave in the future could save lives.

Thankfully, there is no reason to believe a supervolcano eruption is waiting to happen just around the corner.

Yellowstone volcano, in particular, often falls prey to misinformation and claims of an imminent disaster – claims scientists fight on an almost daily basis.

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Dr Cooper said: "The issue is that these large silicic volcanoes often undergo periods of unrest, consisting of elevated seismicity, ground deformation, and gas emissions.

He added: "Whilst I believe that research into supereruptions is pressing, I don’t think that it supersedes research into smaller volcanic systems.

"What we highlight in the manuscript is that there isn’t one particular set of conditions that cause an eruption to become so huge.

"There is a huge diversity in how these past events operate and many share similarities with smaller, more frequently erupting volcanoes.

"Therefore we can still learn a lot from smaller volcanoes that can help us understand the largest events.

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