Ed Yeates ReportingYellowstone Park will blow its top this Sunday -- not really, but in a major television docum-drama. Though a Utah scientist was a consultant, he's warning viewers not to overreact to what they'll see on the air.
Yellowstone Park still boils and bubbles like an ancient witches' cauldron. But is this molten brew, peppered with geysers and mud pots, getting ready to boil over, blow its top like it's done three times over the past two million years?
Dr. Robert Smith, Geophysicist, University of Utah: “This is an extreme event with an exceedingly low probability. But the conditions that they have portrayed are, generally speaking, reasonably accurate.”
The docudrama "Supervolcano" portrays a catastrophic eruption like the one that occurred two million years ago that literally blew away 600 cubic miles of material. In fact, Yellowstone Park as we know it today is but a remnant of a collapsed caldera - all that's left after eruptions pulverized masses of mountains and rock, pitching debris and volcanic ash clouds over half the United States.
Dr. Robert Smith was a consultant for the BBC and the Discovery Channel, because as a scientist whose spent the past 30 years studying the Park and installing equipment there, he is Mr. Yellowstone. But he tried to talk the BBC out of doing this program.
Dr. Smith: “I was concerned that simply brining up this topic over again in a sensational portrayal could actually scare people. And I didn’t want that to happen.”
Besides, it may not even be Yellowstone this time. Nature's furnace underneath that keeps everything brewing actually began in Southeast Oregon 16 million years ago. It's under Yellowstone now, but the mantle above is still migrating.
Dr. Smith: "Maybe Yellowstone could be cooling down. Maybe we're going to have another fourth cycle as this system progresses to the northeast. And how many more million years is it going to take? We don’t know when the next large eruption will occur or if it will occur.”
What’s far more likely than a volcanic eruption is major earthquake - perhaps up to magnitude 7.5, like the one that tore everything apart at Hebgen Lake in 1959.
That, Smith says, could happen again in a number of areas surrounding Yellowstone, anytime.
"Supervolcano" will air on the Discovery Channel Sunday night at 6 pm our time.