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Biggest Volcanic Eruption: Yellowstone Caldera Eruption

The Ultimate in Volcanoes

Volcanoes have been around on earth since the very beginning of earth's long, 4.5 billion year history. When it comes to extremes in nature, there's not much else that compares to the violent eruption of the blood and guts of the earth that is a volcano. With enough destructive force to level mountains, or build new ones, volcanoes are the undisputed champions of the extreme forces of nature.

Volcanoes are rarely minor incidents of geology in action. As destructive and powerful as even the smallest volcanoes are, there have been even bigger, really gigantic eruptions in earths past that have dwarfed the most awesome volcanoes we've seen during our brief history. Even small volcanoes can pack a seriously destructive wallop, but they can't compare to the most awesome earth force ever wielded by nature - the Extreme Volcanoes.

Yellowstone Caldera ashfall areaGeologists estimate that 2 million years ago a cataclysmic series of volcanic eruptions in the Yellowsone Caldera was 2,500 times more powerful than the Mt. St. Helens eruption and perhaps was the largest, most violent volcanic eruption in the history of earth. Enough ash and volcanic debris exploded from the eruptions to cover the entire western half of the United States with about a four-foot deep layer of ash (see map, above). Roughly 600 cubic miles of material were thrown into the atmosphere. Two more periods of extremely powerful pyroclastic eruptions have occurred since that time, evacuating an estimated 6,000 cubic kilometers of earth. After the series of violent eruptions ceased, the ground collapsed, leaving an enormous caldera 28 by 74 miles wide. The magma chambers that were responsible for the Yellowstone volcanic activity are still active beneath the surface today. The bubbling mud pools, the sulfur springs, heated pools and geysers you see in the Yellowstone Nationa Park are all the result of continued volcanic activity in the area. The most recent eruptions from this caldera system were over 70,000 years ago. Scientists have periodically recorded 'earthquake swarms' beneath the caldera that may indicated the magma is still on the move.

Scientists have traced the volcanic activity in the middle of the North American continent to a 'hot spot in the earth's crust. Learn more about hot spots and plate tectonics ->

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