How Supervolcanoes Work

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Author's Note: How Supervolcanoes Work

Supervolcanoes present a fascinating subject, but a difficult one to write about. On the one hand, we marvel at the tremendous scale revealed through their vast calderas and high-piled deposits, and we can intuit their climate-shifting capacity via ice cores, tree rings and microbes that alter their structure in response to climate changes. On the other, there's just so much we do not know about the contents of their magmas and the dynamics that drive their deep-welling plumes. Even seemingly harmless chemicals and materials might cause untold perturbations in the climate if dumped into the atmosphere in sufficient amounts. We just don't know.

And that's what's terrifying about these behemoths. Despite all our knowledge about volcanic and tectonic events, and even though supervolcanoes exist right here on Earth, in some ways they might just as well be extinction-level meteors from outer space. Our ability to predict them, or to do anything about them, is equally small, and in both cases we are left clinging to the cold comfort of long odds.

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