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These eruptions took place in Idaho about 8 to 12 million years ago, and they happen to be much more fantastic than what was once theorized, even more so than already-documented major eruptions in Yellowstone’s history.
Researchers used several methods to track the “fingerprints” of individual eruption deposits and compare them against each other. Based on the researchers’ correlations, they were able to reduce the number of eruptions thought to have taken place by the central Snake River Plain in Idaho quite drastically, slicing the count by more than half. This led to the conclusion that some of the eruptions in Yellowstone were much more destructive than scientists had previously believed they were.
As an example of an ancient catastrophic event, the researchers singled out the Castleford Crossing eruption, which took place about 8.1 million years ago. This eruption’s volume may have exceeded 1,900 kilometers, while its volcanic sheet measures over 14,000 square km in southern Idaho, with a thickness of over 1.3 km in the super-volcano’s caldera. This is one of about 12 super-eruptions reported by the researchers in their study.
“While it is well-known that Yellowstone has erupted catastrophically in recent times perhaps less widely appreciated is that these were just the latest in a protracted history of numerous catastrophic super-eruptions that have burned a track along the Snake River eastwards from Oregon to Yellowstone from 16 Ma to present,” said researcher Tom Knott of the University of Leicester. “The size and magnitude of this newly defined eruption is as large, if not larger, than better known eruptions at Yellowstone, and it is just the first in an emerging record of newly discovered super-eruptions during a period of intense magmatic activity between 8 and 12 million years ago.”
Yellowstone had last seen an eruption about 640,000 years ago, and while scientists have assured people that another super-eruption may still be far off, some remain worried that the area’s super-volcano may erupt again in the near future, due to the cycles of these eruptions fitting in with the last such event in the area.
“Three super-eruptions at Yellowstone appear to have occurred on a 600,000-700,000 year cycle starting 2.1 million years ago,” read one such concern on a BBC report. “The most recent took place 640,000 years ago – suggesting Yellowstone is overdue for an eruption.”