Monitoring super-volcanoes: geophysical and geochemical signals at Yellowstone and other large caldera systems
Earth's largest calderas form as the ground collapses during immense volcanic eruptions, when hundreds to thousands of cubic kilometres of magma are explosively withdrawn from the Earth's crust over a period of days to weeks. Continuing long after such great eruptions, the resulting calderas often exhibit pronounced unrest, with frequent earthquakes, alternating uplift and subsidence of the ground, and considerable heat and mass flux. Because many active and extinct calderas show evidence for repetition of large eruptions, such systems demand detailed scientific study and monitoring. Two calderas in North America, Yellowstone (Wyoming) and Long Valley (California), are in areas of youthful tectonic complexity. Scientists strive to understand the signals generated when tectonic, volcanic and hydrothermal (hot ground water) processes intersect. One obstacle to accurate forecasting of large volcanic events is humanity's lack of familiarity with the signals leading up to the largest class of volcanic eruptions. Accordingly, it may be difficult to recognize the difference between smaller and larger eruptions. To prepare ourselves and society, scientists must scrutinize a spectrum of volcanic signals and assess the many factors contributing to unrest and toward diverse modes of eruption.