Essay Writing Samples

Surviving the Yellowstone Super Volcano

Here’s a sample paper on the eruption of the Yellowstone Super Volcano, and a general idea of how to approach this hypothetical disaster, which some scientists call a “extinction-level-event”.

What is an extinction-level-event?

An “extinction-level-event” is a distaster, often a natural disaster that has the potential to wipe out the majority of living creatures and beings on the planet. To date, there have been five extinction-level-events in the history if earth according the the calculations of scientists. Rold Schmidt, a palenontologist at the Melbournce Museum in Australia states

“We don’t always know what caused them but most had something to do with rapid climate change”.

The 5 mass extinction level events that have occured are:

  • End Ordovician, 444 million years ago
  • Late Devonian, 375 million years ago
  • End Permian, 251 million years ago
  • End Triassic, 200 million years ago
  • End Cretaceous, 66 million years ago

Surviving the Yellowstone super volcano

Though human beings have overcome a considerable number of dangers, the sheer magnitude and scope of natural disasters continues to challenge us. Earthquakes can rattle the foundations of skyscrapers and cause them to topple, tsunamis can engulf entire shoreline communities in water, and sometimes pits even open up in the earth to swallow the unfortunate. While technology cannot yet nullify such possibilities an awareness of the various natural disasters can allow a measure of preparation. Each disaster has certain dangers associated with it, and by understanding them it is possible to mitigate those dangers. This paper will explore the threat posed by the so-called Yellowstone super-volcano, offer a plan for preparing for it, and lay out a plan of action in the event of an eruption.

Volcanic eruptions a regular occurance at Yellowstone

The severity of a super-volcanic eruption can be so catastrophic that only distance and time can offer any level of safety. Volcanic eruptions can be small or large, with super volcanoes being the largest. The super volcano at Yellowstone is one of 6 known super volcanoes in the world. Yellowstone National Park sits above one of these potential super-volcanoes, as evidenced by a writing entitled Monitoring super-volcanoes: geophysical and geochemical signals at Yellowstone and other large caldera systems, which described the possible effect of a super volcano erupting. In that article it states that

“…the so-called super-eruptions, can destroy all living beings and infrastructure over tens of thousands of square kilometres, can disrupt agriculture over millions of square kilometres and can alter global climate for years or decades.” (Lowenstern et. al. 2056)

Obviously such a scale of devastation would be difficult to prepare for, but there is no guarantee such a massive explosion would ever occur. Even the possibility of smaller eruptions occurring is somewhat dubious.

While historically the Yellowstone caldera has been responsible for spectacular eruptions the evidence suggests that Yellowstone is not currently as dangerous. Extraordinary periods of time can pass between volcanic eruptions, and volcanoes can go entirely dormant. The amount of thermal activity underneath Yellowstone, responsible for the various hot springs in the region, is enough to suggest that Yellowstone isn’t dormant, but while it is

“plausible” that a “moderate volume” lava flow could erupt, “…seismic anomalies are not sufficiently large to allow for a larger, highly molten (and thereby eruptible) volume of magma beneath Yellowstone at this time.” (2056)

Thus, the main danger comes from a close-by lava flow, not from a super volcanic eruption.

Surviving lava flow

Since lava flow is the most immediate danger, it ought to be the most immediate concern for preparation. Distance is the key here.

“The Three Yellowstone calderas are the latest in a long line of caldera-forming volcanoes that began erupting 17 million years ago in what is now northwestern Nevada”

so living away from northwestern Nevada is the easiest way to prepare for the lava flows. Otherwise, one will need a non-motorized vehicle such as a bicycle to flee with. The ash given off by volcanic eruptions can interfere with motors, and aircraft are especially prone to this problem;

“More than 90 aircraft have flown through ash clouds in the last couple decades…experts say that damages to the aircraft probably total at least $250 million” (Perkins 168).

Ground-based automobiles can also get stuck in traffic during an evacuation, but a bicycle can avoid the roads. A bicycle should always be close at hand, along with a gas mask (available secondhand at many military surplus stores) to wear for filtering out the “…high concentrations of water vapor, sulfur dioxide, and other noxious gases” that can be emitted by the volcano. (168)

Once an eruption seems imminent it is best to take the bicycle that has been stashed away and find shelter to wait out the aftereffects.

“Atmospheric effects can linger for long after the initial eruption, as evidenced by an eruption at Mount Katmai in which Appreciable amounts of extremely fine ash blown into the stratosphere remained in suspension for months”. (Wilcox 427)

Once shelter is secured (having one in place already is ideal, but not always possible) the next priority is securing water and storing as much as possible before it is contaminated. Acid rain able to destroy cloth can be precipitated more than a thousand miles away from the blast site. (427) If shelter has been secured already, then laying in a stock of thirty gallon water storage barrels should have been acquired as well. Twelve full barrels will provide one gallon of pure water for 360 days. If atmospheric effects continue past then, a super-eruption has probably occurred, and realistic survival prospects are miniscule. Otherwise, the water storage should be sufficient, and food storage is not especially necessary since crops will not be appreciably contaminated, and any infrastructure outside the blast should be operating normally.


This paper has analyzed the likelihood of a super-volcanic eruption at Yellowstone and concluded that it is vaguely possible, but highly unlikely. Additionally, the destructive power of such an eruption would be so monstrously severe that surviving it is only an extremely remote possibility, and preparatory measures short of an emergency bunker stocked for several years of isolation would be insufficient, and unrealistic. Thus, the preparations advised by this paper assume a lesser eruption, and for that purpose recommend non-motor transportation for evacuation due to reliability. It further recommends filling twelve barrels with safe water, sufficient for one person’s needs for a year, at the evacuee’s shelter.

Works Cited

Breining, Greg.  Super Volcano: The Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park.

Voyageur Press, 2007. Google Book Search. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Lowenstern, Jacob B., Robert B. Smith, and David P. Hill. “Monitoring super-volcanoes:

geophysical and geochemical signals at Yellowstone and other large caldera systems.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 364.1845 (2006): 2055-2072. Web. 26 Nov. 2013

Perkins, Sid.  “Danger in the Air: Volcanoes Have a Long Reach.” Science News 164.11 (2003):  168-170. Jstor. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Wilcox, Ray E. U. S. Dept. of the Interior. Some Effects of Recent Volcanic Ash Falls with Especial Reference to Alaska. Washington: GPO, 1959. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

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