A new study conducted by a group of scientists with Pascal University in France, the United States Geological Survey and the University at Buffalo is providing insight into what may happen when a supervolcano explodes suggesting volcanoes 18.8 million years ago were slow and not fast as previously thought. The findings were published on March 7 in the journal Nature Communications.
The research focused on the Silver Creek caldera, which sits at the intersection of California, Nevada and Arizona. This supervolcano erupted 18.8 million years ago flooding parts of all three states with river-like currents of hot ash and gas called pyroclastic flows.
The research combined recent laboratory experiments with field data from the 1980s to show that pyroclastic flows emanating from the Silver Creek caldera likely traveled at modest speeds of about 10 to 45 miles per hour. A speed that could be had to sustain, but it’s certainly possible by car.
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone try to outrun a volcano, but there’s a few of us that could,” Greg Valentine, a volcanologist at the University at Buffalo in New York said.
Valentine added how interesting such a violent eruption could be. They devastate a huge area producing such slow-moving flows.
Pyroclastic flows are not so fast as previously considered
The new study suggests that pyroclastic flows from the ancient eruption took the form of slow, dense currents and not fast-moving jets as some experts previously thought.
Study co-author Olivier Roche explained that intuitively most of us would think that for the pyroclastic flow to go such an extreme distance, it would have to start off with a very high speed, but the study proves the opposite.
Valentine said research on pyroclastic flows is important because it can help inform disaster preparedness efforts. He added that understanding these pyroclastic flows would help to forecast the behavior of these flows when a volcano erupts. The character and speed of the flows will affect how much time we might have to get out of the way.
Scientists explain pyroclastic flows are the real volcanic killer, not lava, as they are the most common reason 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. The safest way to deal with any rumbling volcano is to get as far away as possible.
Source: Live Science