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2040 Asteroid Won’t Hit Earth

By: Amina Khan

For those of you disappointed that the world didn’t end last week, there’s more bad news: The world probably won’t be ending in 2040, either – not from a certain giant asteroid, anyway.

Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have found that the asteroid 2011 AG5 is no longer a major threat – it won’t be hitting Earth in February 2040, as had been earlier feared. That’s good to know, given that an asteroid that large – roughly 150 yards across – would have hit the Earth with several thousand times the combined energy of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II.

2011 AG5 was earlier thought to have a 1-in-500 chance of hitting Earth – alarmingly high, by planetary science standards. But a new analysis shows that the asteroid doesn’t have much chance of even grazing our planet. It won’t get any closer than 550,000 miles, far outside the moon’s orbit.

Plenty of folks are still worried about asteroids hitting earth, however. The B612 Foundation, headed by a former astronaut, looks to map smaller asteroids that could smash into Earth. They say NASA isn’t concerned enough with smaller asteroids, which may not be as big as 2011 AG5 but are still massive enough to inflict a hefty bit of property damage on Earth.

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Tsunami

El Hierro and La Palma, two volcanic islands located in the Canary Islands, are hotbeds of seismic shaking. Geographic records show that 50,000 to 130,000 years ago, earthquakes caused a landslide on El Hierro which sent 300 cubic kilometers of earth into the ocean and triggered a mega-tsunami. Some researchers fear that unstable landmasses and frequent earthquakes on La Palma will bring another tsunami disaster.

The tsunami, traveling at a rate of hundreds of miles per hour, would be a towering 300-foot wall of water by the time it reached the United States. New York City, Boston, and the rest of the east coast would be under water and tens of millions of people would be wiped out instantly. Florida, which sits only feet above sea level, would be erased by the water. With little time to prepare or get to higher ground, a mega-tsunami like this would devastate the US more than any hurricane or earthquake could. A 300-foot tsunami would completely submerge buildings up to 30 stories high. People, houses, cars, office buildings, anything in the water’s path would be drowned, smashed, and destroyed.

Fortunately for us, further research shows that this is unlikely to happen any time soon. La Palma’s structure is much more stable than previously thought. While it remains possible that parts of the islands will break off into the ocean, this would happen gradually without causing major tsunamis.

Don’t forget to check out the other Top 5 Ways Our World Could Actually End.

Sources: Modern Survival Blog, How Stuff Works

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ARkStorm

An ARkStorm is a massive storm that could strike and devastate California, and it is listed by scientists as one of the five most likely cataclysmic events that would destroy the Earth. ARkStorm is a winter storm scenario designed by the U.S. Geological Survey that stands for Atmospheric River 1,000 (ARk), because such a great storm occurs every 500-1,000 years.

ARkStorm is modeled after the historical 1861-1862 California storms that lasted for 45 days. They left a trail of destruction and caused the state of California to go bankrupt. The 1861-1862 storms are the biggest and most extended series of storms on record, but geological evidence suggests that storms of this magnitude could happen again.

A potential ARkStorm could bring heat and moisture from the Pacific to form a system of Atmospheric Rivers, similar in ferocity to hurricanes, which would strike California for weeks and weeks. If the storm occurred  it is predicted to be the most expensive event in history, with a projected cost of $725 billion through direct damages and loss of economic activity.

The ARkStorm project was not intended to throw people into a frenzy or add to the already lengthy list of doomsday predictions. Instead, the purpose of ARkStorm is to make visible to the public the very real threats to the environment, property, and most importantly, human life. Through this awareness comes preparedness, and hopefully solutions for emergency scenarios like the hypothetical ARkStorm.

Sources: DiscoveryUSGS, Urban Earth

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Polar Shift

A polar shift occurs when the Earth’s magnetic field reverses its polarity causing the planet’s outermost layers to move together as one piece. This phenomenon is often confused with plate tectonics, in which separate pieces of the Earth’s crust move toward, away from, or against each other.

The end results of polar shift and plate tectonics differ greatly. In the event of some form of plate tectonics, seas can be opened, mountain ranges produced, and continents can be rearranged. If a massive pole shift were to occur suddenly, it would cause a disastrous redistribution of land and water. Such an event would cause earthquakes, tsunamis, a change in weather patterns, ocean currents, and Earth’s heat balance, etc. Now, the question is: could a sudden destructive polar shift actually happen and result in the end of the world?

The reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field occurs naturally just about ever 250,000 years. Polar Shift, referred to as True Polar Wander by geologists, takes 1-100 million years to complete, and is happening now at a rate of about 4 inches per year. Some people fear that a polar shift would result in mass chaos because a magnetic change could affect credit cards and banking. Scientists say that dramatic effects that would result from a rapid polar shift do not happen as the process occurs very, very slowly.

Sources: How Stuff Works, Yale Scientific, Wikipedia

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How a supervolcano can threaten Earth

By Amanda Sealy, CNN

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (CNN) – It’s hard not to stand in complete awe of everything the Earth has to offer when you’re in the middle of Yellowstone National Park.

Its most famous geyser, Old Faithful, shoots up into the sky as crowds tilt their heads just to see how high it really can go. The saturated blues and greens of geothermal pools appear to be otherworldly.

Towering mountains wrap themselves around the park, providing shelter for wild animals to roam. But below the beauty of Yellowstone, is a volcano powerful enough devastate most of the United States and change the entire world.

“Yellowstone and other volcanoes around the world are called supervolcanoes and the reason is they’re like a super sized drink. It means it’s just big,” says Hank Hessler, a geologist at Yellowstone in the U.S. state of Wyoming.

Supervolcano describes a geological phenomenon never witnessed by man. Supervolcanoes are off the charts big when comparing them to a normal volcanic eruption.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in the northwest corner of the United States erupted. It killed 57 people and expelled one cubic kilometer of ash.

The first Yellowstone supervolcanic eruption 2.1 million years ago was at least 25,000 times larger than the Mount St. Helens eruption. Two other Yellowstone super eruptions 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago, though smaller than the first one, would still dwarf any normal volcanic eruption.

Few would expect the tranquil national park would actually be sitting on the mouth of a sleeping giant.

The physical characteristic of a supervolcano isn’t a typical cone-shaped mountainous peak.

Instead, supervolcanoes have what are called calderas. These are vast sunken areas that are formed after previous super eruptions as the ground was blown out and fell back to rest.

Geophysicist Bob Smith first called Yellowstone a “living breathing caldera” in 1979. He now heads the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory at the University of Utah.

“Yellowstone has been very important. It’s my laboratory,” says Smith.

He sees Yellowstone as more than a supervolcano, in fact he doesn’t even like that term. “I prefer to use the term hotspot because it reflects a zone of concentrated and active volcanism.”

Hawaii and Iceland are other examples of hot spots, but Yellowstone is the only hot spot located underneath land rather than sea which has made it easier for Smith to study.

His team has setup a series of different sensors around the park so that they can keep a close eye on its vital signs. They measure ground movement and record the frequent earthquakes that occur in the area.

The sensors have also helped Smith’s team figure out what they were dealing with. As little as eight kilometers below the surface is a shallow reservoir of solid rock and magma. And below the reservoir is an enormous 57,000-cubic-kilometer plume of very hot rock, the fuel behind every bubbling pool and geyser in Yellowstone.

With all of this heat just sitting, waiting beneath Yellowstone, what exactly would it look like if it were all to blow? Smith and other scientists all have scenarios and every one is bleak.

In Smith’s book, “Windows into the Earth,” he says, “Devastation would be complete and incomprehensible.” Before the super eruption, large earthquakes would likely swarm the surrounding areas until the huge blast that would erase Yellowstone completely off the map.

After the initial eruption, clouds of gas and rock would burn everything in its path with temperatures reaching to hundreds of degrees Celsius. Ashfall would cover the western United States and also enter the jet stream with the potential to cripple air transportation and threaten the world’s food supply.

There are some estimates that 87,000 people would die immediately.

You can imagine that with this kind of catastrophe on the line, the question Smith gets asked the most is, “When is going to blow next?”

The three Yellowstone super eruptions have occurred about 800,000 years apart, so people have started to speculate that another one is due.

Also, in 2004 Smith noticed that the ground had started to rise then lowered again in 2010. It was like the supervolcano was breathing.

However, Smith says there is absolutely no need to panic. “We create scenarios. We know roughly what to expect of the patterns of time and space of the earthquakes ground information. Again, acquired from other experiences around the world. We use that to interpret our own data in terms of what the potential threat or risk might be,” says Smith.

For him, the more immediate threat is earthquakes and smaller eruptions since the probability of one of those instances occurring is much higher.

Whether that may be comforting or not, millions of visitors will still make their way each year to the geological wonderland that is Yellowstone National Park.

Read more about a Yellowstone Eruption.

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Surviving the Volcano

While it is not really possible to prevent a volcanic eruption, you may be able to survive one. With some planning ahead, you might just make it through the eruption and nuclear winter that would follow.

The first thing to do is have a shelter. You’ll need to get as far away from the volcano as possible because of lava flow, vents, and earthquakes. Also, the shelter should not be anywhere near a fault line as earthquakes are a side effect of a massive eruption. Make sure that wherever and whatever your shelter is, you have the ability to recycle and recirculate air. There really is no telling how long you would be stuck there (think District 13 for those Hunger Games fans out there).

Once you have a shelter picked out and ready, you’ll need to stock up on water and non-perishable food. Make sure that you and anyone you take in could be self-sustained for at least a few months. Remember, even if you want to venture out in the aftermath to search for food, the plants and animals (if even still alive) will be toxic.

You’ll also need to have some basic survival gear like goggles and filter masks to protect you from the ash. Make sure to have plenty of towels so that you can dampen them and stuff them anywhere air might get in. The damp towels will work as a sort of filter for the outside air making sure that the ash does not inundate your shelter. Lastly, until the ash clears it will be very much like a nuclear winter. Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes and blankets. If for any reason you go outside, have an outer layer you can strip off before you reenter your shelter. Once the volcanic ash is in, you won’t be able to get rid of it.

It may not be a perfect solution, but if you have the above in place, you have a better chance of surviving a volcanic eruption than most. Is there anything else you can think of that you would need?

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Volcanoes in Hollywood

Volcanoes erupt. They provide little warning and there is not much you can do to prevent this devastating natural disaster. This is portrayed perfectly in our top movie about volcanoes, Dante’s Peak. This 1997 film featuring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, and Charles Hallahan is entertaining with great character development, romance, and suspense.

The movie begins with a volcanic eruption in Columbia during which volcanologist Dr. Harry Daltons’ fiancée is killed. The story then moves four years into the future to a little town called Dante’s Peak. The town is situated on a dormant volcano, but Daltons is there investigating some unusual activity. After some investigation, Daltons decides the town should be alerted, but his boss doesn’t think the danger is high enough to warrant the cost of an evacuation. Daltons goes directly to the mayor, Rachel Wando, to convince her of the danger.

Just in case there is someone out there who has still not seen this movie, we won’t reveal any spoilers, but it is worth the hour and half viewing time. I will warn you, this is not a feel good movie. They actually stayed pretty true to what would happen if an eruption occurred.

What do you think? Did you like the movie? Is there another volcano disaster movie that should have been our favorite?

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Interview with Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku

Check this great interview from CNN with Dr. Kaku about Yellowstone.

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What Are The Chances?

The Yellowstone supervolcano has erupted three times in the past 2.1 million years and some say we are overdue for another. What are the chances that it will erupt within our lifetime and leave the human race fighting for survival?

Scientists have noticed the land above the caldera rising slowly since 2004. In fact, over the last eight years the ground has risen as much as ten inches in some places throughout the park. While this may sound like a sign the volcano is destined to erupt soon, University of Utah geophysicist Robert B. Smith believes we are in no imminent danger.

“These calderas tend to go up and down, up and down,” Smith said.

For example, records show that between 1976 and 1984 the caldera rose 7 inches. Then, without a major eruption, the ground sank 5.5 inches through the next ten years, almost back to normal. While the ground rising could be evidence of a coming eruption, the more important fact is if the magma is rising.

“At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption,” Smith said, “but once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers we weren’t so concerned.”

The United States Geological Survey is not concerned either. They have officially stated that a devastating eruption is highly improbably within the next five to ten generations.

So while it looks like we have nothing to worry about, mother nature is still a very unpredictable force. Just in case, stay tuned for survival tips and necessary gear in case of a Yellowstone Eruption.

For more information, check out Questions About Future Volcanic Activity at Yellowstone.

Sources: National Geographic, Daily Sundial

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Yellowstone Eruption

A supervolcano is a volcano that erupts more than 240 cubic miles of lava and has the capability to destroy up to a billion lives. This is not a volcano that will disrupt the lives of people in surrounding cities, but a volcano that will disrupt the lives of people on multiple continents. This is not a volcano that will interrupt travel with a large ash cloud, this is a volcano that will make day-to-day life so difficult a vacation is not even an option. Most importantly, this is not a hypothetical volcano out in the middle of the ocean somewhere; this is a very real volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park.

The Yellowstone supervolcano is the largest known on the planet, and the magma chamber spans underneath the entire 37 by 25 mile park. Pressure from this chamber is released through earthquakes, smaller volcanoes, and geysers to keep the magma levels in check, but if there is not enough ventilation a massive eruption can occur.

First, a series of large earthquakes would break out around the Yellowstone area. One earthquake would finally shift the ground enough to create a vent from the magma chamber to the surface and would unleash all the pressure that had been building for hundreds of thousands of years. Magma would explode into the atmosphere with a force equal to 1000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every second. Within minutes, thousands in the surrounding area would be dead from the falling ash and the lava would destroy everything within miles of the eruption. The ash would coat most of the United States killing crops and livestock, almost instantly obliterating the entire nation’s food source.

After the destruction from the initial explosion, the ash cloud would coat the sky and block out the sun all over the world. Temperatures would drop a drastic 20 degrees or more globally and the earth would be cast in the equivalent of a nuclear winter for decades. Any rain that fell would be black with the poison and acid flung into the atmosphere and man would be pushed to the edge of extinction.

So What Are The Chances of an eruption of this magnitude happening? Could you Survive the Volcano? Stay tuned to find out! Don’t forget to check out the Top 5 Ways Our World Could Actually End.

Sources: Rense.com, Cracked.com, BBC

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