Environmental Studies Program


Date of this Version

Spring 2010


Abstract Yellowstone National Park is located over a hot spot under the North American tectonic plate and holds a potentially explosive super-volcano that has the ability to cause deadly consequences on the North American continent. After an eruption the surrounding region would see the greatest devastation, covered by pyroclastic deposits and thick ash fall exterminating most all life and destroying all structures in its path. In landscapes of greater distance from the event the consequences will be less dramatic yet still substantial. Records of previous eruption data from the Yellowstone super-volcano show that the ash fall out from the eruption can cover areas as large as one million square kilometers and could leave Nebraska covered in ash up to 10 centimeters thick. This would cause destruction of agriculture, extensive damage to structures, decreased temperatures, and potential respiratory hazards. The effects of volcanic ash on the human respiratory system have been shown to cause acute symptoms from heavy exposure. Symptoms include nasal irritation, throat irritation, coughing, and if preexisting conditions are present some can develop bronchial symptoms, which can last for a few days. People with bronchitis and asthma are shown to experience airway irritation and uncomfortable breathing. In most occurrences, exposure of volcanic ash is too short to cause long-term health hazards. Wearing facial protection can alleviate much of the symptoms. Most of the long-term ramifications of the eruption will be from the atmospheric changes caused from disruption of solar radiation, which will affect much of the global population. The most pertinent concerns for Nebraska citizens are from the accumulation of ash deposits over the landscape and the climatic perturbations. Potential mitigation procedures are essential to prepare our essentially unaware population of the threat that they may soon face if the volcano continues on its eruption cycle.