Researchers Believe Africa Has Begun the Process of Returning Our Continents to One Single Supercontinent
Remember Pangea? Well, no, you probably don’t. Pangea, a supercontinent that included most of the Earth’s current landmasses, broke apart during the Mesozoic era. Over millions of years, plate tectonics opened up rifts and shifted and moved sections of the continent to new locations around the planet. Those locations — and the size and shape of the continents we know today — are not final, however. Geologists predict that in the next 250 million years, the continents will shift again, bringing Africa and the Americas back together with Eurasia. This spring, it became clear that the process has already begun.
In early 2018, catastrophic rainfall flooded communities and farms in Kenya, causing buildings to collapse and highways to wash out. The floodwaters also caused a deep rift, several miles long and 65 feet across, to open up, sucking in homes, cars, and farms. Eliud Njoroge Mbugua watched the crack open up across the floor of his home, and narrowly escaped before it collapsed. Another family was having dinner when their home cracked in two. Area residents are moving away from the rift. “Staying here is like courting death,” said Mary Wambui, whose house was destroyed.
A Massive Supervolcano Underneath Yellowstone National Park Is Due to Erupt and NASA Has a Bonkers Plan in Case It Does
It sounds like something out of a bad blockbuster movie: A supervolcano erupts, spewing hundreds of cubic miles of magma, incinerating everything within 60 miles, and creating such a massive cloud of ash it blankets most of North America, blacks out the sun, and fills the air with toxic gases. Day becomes night and three feet of ash coats every possible surface, clogging roads, choking out crops, making it nearly impossible to breathe.
This kind of disaster is not just the hallmark of Hollywood, but the potential of an actual supervolcano eruption. Supervolcanoes are actually calderas—enormous craters deep in the ground—with a magma source capable of erupting 240 cubic miles or more. Most of these volcanoes are actually minimally active but they can produce “intensely explosive blasts registering at the upper end of the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI),” according to IFLS.
It turns out that Antarctica is just as hot as it is cold. While most of the continent lies beneath a thick — albeit quickly melting — sheet of ice, a volcanic field containing at least 138 dormant volcanoes has been discovered deep underneath the surface of this polar continent. If they erupted, the consequences could have a dramatic impact on life on Earth.
Two kilometers below the surface of west Antarctica, scientists have discovered a vast field of volcanoes, the largest as high as Mt. Eiger in Switzerland, which comprise what is likely the largest volcanic region on earth. A survey conducted by Edinburgh University researchers discovered 91 previously unknown volcanoes in the region this year, and there may be even more.
An undergraduate student obsessed with volcanoes wanted to explore beyond the tips visible through the West Antarctic’s giant ice sheet to see how many more were hidden underneath. The resulting study may have uncovered the largest area of volcanoes on the planet. Scientists are watching closely to determine what effect nearly 100 volcanoes sitting under Antarctica could have on climate change.
The Earth has more than 1,500 potentially active volcanoes, quietly simmering under the surface or even along the ocean floor. Some, such as Hawaii’s Kilauea, are in a continual state of low-level eruption. Others, like Oregon’s Mount St. Helen’s, have erupted more destructively in the past century. It’s the supervolcanoes, however, that cause scientists the most concern. Supervolcanoes are large volcanoes with the potential to cause catastrophic damage on a continental, even global, scale if they erupt. In Italy, the Campi Flegrei supervolcano may be getting ready to show us exactly what that looks like.
The contiguous United States has not seen a major volcanic eruption since 1980, when Mount St. Helens in Oregon erupted, killing 57 people and blanketing thousands of miles under a cloud of ash. But that could change. Scientists have identified 169 active volcanoes in the country, including ones in Alaska and Hawaii that experience minor eruptions every year. One volcano has captured the interest of scientists and the public alike: a vast, underground area of Wyoming known as the Yellowstone Caldera or the Yellowstone Supervolcano.
Some volcanoes hem and haw, spew gas, cause earthquakes and generally make a big show about their impending eruptions. But others erupt with little warning. Scientists have finally uncovered an explanation for these sudden eruptions.