Yellowstone Supervolcano Case Study Gcse In Uk

Supervolcanoes are on a much bigger scale than normal volcanoes and an eruption would have global consequences.

A supervolcano is a volcano capable of producing a volcanic eruption which emits over 1,000km3. This is massive compared to normal volcano eruptions (Mt St Helens erupted 1km3 volcanic material). Supervolcanoes are also different to normal volcanoes as they form depressions called calderas, they are usually surrounded by a ridge of higher land and they erupt a lot less frequently. This video explains the basics of supervolcanoes and introduces Yellowstone (video)


Supervolcanoes are on a much bigger scale than normal volcanoes and consequently have much bigger impacts. Once they have erupted supervolcanoes create calderas.

Calderas are the huge depressions created after the supervolcanic eruption.

Formation of a caldera video

Caldera formation diagram

The Yellowstone caldera measures approximately 55km by 72km.







Scientists predict there are six or seven supervolcanoes in the world. Yellowstone is one of the most famous supervolcanoes. Here the caldera is so big that scientists had to use satellite photos to check it was a caldera. About 6.5km below Yellowstone is a 64km-wide magma chamber. This volcanic activity powers Yellowstone's hot springs and geysers.


Old Faithful Geyser Live webcam

USGS website







Potential Impacts

If a supervolcano erupted its impacts would be felt around the world. If Yellowstone erupted again magma would be flung 50km into the atmosphere and virtually all life up to 1000km away would be killed by falling ash, lava flows and the force of the eruption. Over 1000km3 of lava would pour out of the volcano which would be enough to cover the whole of the USA with a layer 12.5cm thick. The amount of ash and gas thrown up into the atmosphere would dramatically reduce the level of radiation from the sun reaching the Earth's surface. This would trigger a freezing cold volcanic winter across the planet. This would mean crops wouldn't grow and people would starve. Economies would collapse and society would not survive. However, supervolcanoes are rare and Yellowstone is constantly monitored to check for signs of activity. Yellowstone last erupted 640,000 years ago and the the last supervolcanic eruption was Toba 74,000 years ago.

This video explores a potential supervolcanic at Yellowstone and its potential impacts. BBC supervolcano video

  1. Destroy 10,000km squared of land
  2. Kill 87,000 people
  3. 15cm of ash would cover buildings within 1,000 km 
  4. 1 in 3 people affected would die
  5. Lahars (mudflows)
  6. Transport, electricity, water and farming would be affected by ash
  7. Global climates would change
  8. Crops would be affected leading to possible food shortages 
  9. Within 3-4 days, a fine dusting of ash could fall across Europe 
  10. Buildings would be crushed - 30cm of dry ash is enough to collapse a roof

Supervolcanoes key terms

Supervolcano: A mega colossal volcano that erupts at least 1,000km cubed of material 

Caldera: The depression of the super volcano marking the collapsed magma chamber 

Geothermal: Water that is heated beneath the ground, which comes to the surface in a variety of ways

Geyser: A geothermal feature in which water erupts into the air under pressure

Hot Spot: A section of the earth's crust where plumes of magma rise, weakening the crust. These are away from plate boundaries. 

Past exam questions:

Describe the size and shape of a super volcano

Much bigger than volcanoes, e.g Yellowstone magma chamber is 80km wide; they emit 1,000km cubed of material; they do not have a cone shape but a depression called a caldera with a rim around the edge. 

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