End-of-the-world eruption still a ways off

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Real-life worries need more attention than Internet alarmism

Turns out “fleeing” bison are not harbingers of the end of civilization, or even life on Earth.

That was what was speeding around the Internet recently following an earthquake near Yellowstone National Park, which sits atop a supervolcano with a 50-by-30-mile mouth that, if it fully erupted, very well could snuff out most of the life on our planet.

An anonymous survivalist posted a video online that purports to show bison fleeing in which he described as an attempt to escape from impending calamity. Always out for a good end-of-the-world fright, Web surfers clicked and shared the video to viral status, prompting dozens of calls and emails to Yellowstone to see if there was any truth to the video, or even a potential ETA on the end of all mankind.

It turns out the bison were merely enjoying a day with spring-like weather. And they weren’t fleeing, in any event.

“It was a spring-like day and they were frisky. Contrary to online reports, it’s a natural occurrence and not the end of the world,” park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett told Reuters News Service.

More to the point, park officials noted, the video doesn’t show bison trying to get away from the park. They are galloping down a paved road that goes deeper into Yellowstone.

Meanwhile, park officials and government geologists have tried, unsuccessfully in many cases, to assure alarmed people who apparently don’t have enough real-life problems to take up all their capacity for worrying that there’s no indications that the supervolcano is about to blow. Their best estimates are that such an eruption is most likely eons in the future.

According to Reuters, the recent earthquake, while the biggest since February 1980, was a 4.8-magnitude one, which is seen as relatively benign. It occurred near a spot where molten rock is pushing upward. Geologists said it resulted in no injuries and no damages and left no noticeable alterations to the landscape.

Peter Cervelli, associate director for science and technology at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Science Center in California, told Reuters that none of the hundreds of smaller quakes that have struck near the geyser basin in the last seven months indicated an eruption is coming earlier than tens of thousands of years from now. The uplift area has been rising at a rate 4-6 inches a year since August, he said, and geologists who watched that same area for seven years starting in 1996 had also seen the area elevating.

“The chance of that happening in our lifetimes is exceedingly insignificant,” Cervelli, a scientist with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, said in the Reuters news report.

And, whether it’s a supervolcano erupting, a planet-killer-sized asteroid slamming into Earth or some other cataclysmic event of the magnitude that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, that’s about as good a reassurance as you’re going to get. The best advice? Don’t blow the house payment on an elaborate trip to the beach. Looks like next month’s mortgage or rent is going to come due after all, regardless of where the bison were headed.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board