Isn’t the Apocalypse pretty?
This is part three of a series (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 4) (Part 5) covering several ways that humanity’s time on Earth could conceivably come to an end. The study of the apocalypse, known as eschatology has been a pervasive force in religion, science, and popular culture since the development of the first cultures on Earth. Some of the theories about the end of days are more plausible than others, but all are thought-provoking nonetheless. In Part Three, I describe some of the ways our world could end due to Natural Disasters Caused by the Earth. Cheers to the end!
Two days left people. In less than 72 hours, our world will come to an end. Probably not actually (unless you’re a Jets fan and Tebow requests a trade) but I couldn’t resist a little drama! In Part One of this series, I talked about why the Maya think that the world will end on Friday. In Part Two, I described several deadly (and highly unlikely) natural disasters from space that could end our time on Earth. Now, I will talk about a few natural disasters originating from Earth that would end human civilization; however, unlike some of the rare cosmic disasters described before, we know that some of these have definitely occurred before…and we expect them to occur again very soon.
Mt. Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mt. St. Helens: All famous volcanoes that have erupted within the past 2,000 years and have had disastrous effects on local civilization. However, as terrifying as these large eruptions were due to their effect on humans, they were not even close to some of the largest volcano eruptions in history. Volcanoes are essentially cracks or holes in the Earth’s crust that gas, ash, and magma to escape from pockets within the crust. The pockets are usually linked to deeper inlets from the Earth’s mantle, which is essentially molten rock and metal. But even deadlier than the roughly 1,500 active volcanoes on land are the 40 super volcanoes known to be lying dormant all over the world.
What makes a volcano deadly isn’t just the effects that the explosion and lava flows can have on the local population (indeed, the Krakatoa eruption in 1883 completely blew the island apart), but instead the amount of ash and debris that it can propel into the atmosphere. This is what sets a super volcano apart: it has the potential to throw at least 240 cubic miles of material into the air. That is almost a tenth of the volume of water found in Lake Superior. Consider this: the map here shows the ash deposits from Mt. St. Helens; it caused about $2.5 billion in damage, but it didn’t even eject one cubic mile of ash into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the United States is sitting right on top of one of the most active super volcanoes in the world – right in our very own Yellowstone National Park.
Beneath this picturesque location is a HUGE underground magma field with the potential to end most of humanity. Were the Yellowstone caldera to erupt, everywhere within 600 miles would be blanketed with about a yard of ash. Buildings would collapse, transit would be impossible, and electricity would be gone. The force of the eruptions would most likely trigger earthquakes and a few major tsunamis around the world. The worst part, though, is that the millions of cubic miles of ash shot into the air would form a gigantic cloud that would circle the Earth; light from the sun would be reflected back into space, and Earth’s temperatures would drop as much as 20º C. Crops would fail worldwide, and nothing would probably grow in the Midwest for a decade., livestock would die, and billions of humans would starve.
Mostly alarmingly, geological evidence points to Yellowstone having eruption about every 600,000 years. The last one to occur? 640,000 years ago. As a native of the Pacific Northwest, the prospect of Yellowstone erupting even in the next hundred years terrifies me: Seattle may lie right on the edge of that 600 mile radius but it will still be devastating for everyone in the Pacific Northwest nonetheless.
As mentioned in Part 2, a giant asteroid collision has the potential to wipe out all life on Earth. The last major one nearly did – although it probably could not have done it alone. Although that collision had devastating effects on its own, scientists have struggled to explain what could have killed off so many species worldwide. One hypothesis points to a atmospheric storm the size of a continent known as a hypercane.
Hurricanes form over water when they are at a high enough temperature to create an atmospheric disturbance and sustain convection currents. This is the reason why these storms begin around the equator as a “tropical depression”. As long as these storms stay over warm water, they will continue to gain strength. For a storm of the magnitude that scientists have categorized as a hypercane, however, ocean temperatures would have to be at least 48º C (120º F) – much warmer than any ocean temperature ever recorded on Earth. However, a disaster such as an asteroid impact or a super volcano eruption could possibly create temperatures of this magnitude.
If a storm like this were to form, the effects would be nothing short of apocalyptic: wind temperatures could reach as high as 500mph as the hypercane grew to cover all of North America. Sustained ocean temperatures could even allow more hypercanes to form simultaneously, potentially covering the globe. The storm would be so massive that its clouds would reach into the stratosphere, damaging the ozone layer and allowing massive amounts of UV radiation to reach the Earth. Needless to say, our civilization as we knew it would be over.
Cataclysmic Rapid Pole Reversal
This one is a little fringe. In fact, there is little, if any, evidence to support that it has or could ever happen, but it is still worth a look. Everyone know that there is a North Pole and a South Pole; one is geographic, as in they are located on the axis of Earth’s rotation, and the other is magnetic, as related to the magnetic field that surrounds our Earth, courtesy of our spinning metal core. Well, this theory says that one or both of these types of poles could rapidly reverse in the future, creating worldwide cataclysm.
In the case of there being a magnetic shift, the effects could be awful, but not apocalyptic: the Earth would become susceptible to increased cosmic radiation because of the instability of our magnetic field, and many of our electronics would be useless. But as far as the major effects, that is about it.
In the second case, where the crust of the Earth literally slid around like in the movie 2012, the effects would be nothing short of catastrophic. Massive earthquakes would level cities and spontaneous elevation changes would cause horrific damage. Worse of all, mega-tsunamis would basically cover the globe and wipe out most life – sort of like how if you have a bowl full of liquid and you push it along a counter in a pulsating fashion, the water will slosh back and forth. Well, the bowl would be land, and the water would be our ocean.
Seriously though, don’t even stress about this. It probably won’t ever, ever, ever ever ever happen because science says it hasn’t and can’t happen. Magnetic reversals occur regularly but they have taken hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Same with the continents drifting; a sudden change in either simply won’t happen, so at this point you still only have to worry about super volcanoes, hypercanes, and megaquakes. No big deal, right?…Sleep tight everyone!
Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back tomorrow for some ways in which the things living on Earth could cause their own destruction in what could ironically be my last blog post ever!