Russian Pundit's Idea of Nuking Yellowstone Volcano Wouldn't Work

A nuclear blast anywhere in the U.S. would be disastrous, but the comments of a Russian pundit have sparked fears that if one were to hit Yellowstone National Park, it could trigger the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera or Supervolcano.

Retired Russian naval officer Konstantin Sivkov said on the Russia-1 program—Evening With Vladimir Solovyov—that Russia could make Yellowstone erupt with a nuclear Sarmat missile.

nuclear blast and yellowstone
Stock image of a nuclear bomb blast (left) and a pool in Yellowstone National Park. Russia has claimed that it could fire a nuclear warhead to trigger the park's Supervolcano to erupt. iStock / Getty Images Plus

"The Sarmat is a special weapon. It's a weapon that can, first of all, in addition to delivering a large number of nuclear warheads to the target, it is also capable, with a small block warhead, of striking across the South Pole, a global missile," Sivkov said. This was according to the translation by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's minister of internal affairs.

"It is impossible to build an all-looking missile defense system, which means that the United States is vulnerable. That is the first point," Sivkov added. "And the second point is that the Sarmat poses a threat to the most-feared facility on U.S., the Yellowstone volcano.

"And these faults, if activated, they can trigger the activation of the entire arc of fire of the Pacific Ocean," Sivkov said, according to Gerashchenko's translation. "Which includes these faults, then comes the Yellowstone, then comes the Aleutian Grid volcanoes [80 of which extend for 1,550 miles along the southern edge of the Bering Sea and the Alaskan mainland]."

"First of all, these very rifts will blow, they will bring down the entire east coast of the United States, and then, secondly, it could blow up this volcano," Sivkov said.

So is this really something that the U.S. should be worried about?

"No one has ever tried [to fire a nuclear warhead at Yellowstone], so the effect should be numerically modeled in a computer before any conclusion is reached," Luca De Siena told Newsweek. He is an associate professor in geophysics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany.

"In general, if you remove mass instantaneously from the top of a caldera, this creates a mass imbalance that moves magma upward, producing eruptions.

"However, the effect of a nuclear explosion is way bigger, with radiation increasing temperatures at surface and changing overall pressure. My guess would be that the primary problem would not be an eruption, but the rapid extinction of humanity caused by the U.S. reaction."

Yellowstone is a supervolcano, meaning that, when it erupts, it releases significantly more energy than other volcanoes.

National Geographic reports that the last Yellowstone eruption was 1,000 times greater than the Mount Saint Helens blast in 1980. Around 70,000 years ago, it plunged one-third of North America into darkness, because of the amount of ash sent into the atmosphere. Some material from a Yellowstone eruption has even been found as far away as Louisiana, 1,700 miles to the southeast of Yellowstone's Wyoming home.

geyser in yellowstone
Stock image of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park. The park's last volcanic eruption was 1,000 times greater than the Mount Saint Helens one in 1980. iStock / Getty Images Plus

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) also states that it is very unlikely that a nuclear blast could trigger an eruption of Yellowstone. The now-dormant volcano has been undisturbed by much greater releases of energy in the form of earthquakes. According to National Geographic, Yellowstone National Park records between 1,000 and 3,000 earthquakes every year.

The largest one recorded near Yellowstone was the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, which had a 7.3 magnitude. It happened at a depth of around six miles, right next to the solid magma body of the volcano. This meant that a lot of the earthquake's energy was released into the volcano's rock.

This earthquake in particular released more energy than a 2 megaton nuclear weapon, equivalent to 100 times more energy than the atomic bomb that hit and destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. However, the earthquake caused only some changes in hot springs and geysers because of the shaking.

Also, if a nuclear bomb were to be detonated at Yellowstone, it would release most of its energy into the air. They are usually detonated before they hit the ground.

The USGS says that, despite multiple powerful earthquakes occurring over the past tens of thousands of millennia, there have been no Yellowstone eruptions for 70,000 years. This is unlikely to change anytime soon, too: Yellowstone has only between 5 and 15 percent liquid magma. For an eruption to occur, a volcano needs a large amount of liquid magma and enough pressure to make it ascend to the surface.

While nuking Yellowstone may not cause it to erupt, a nuclear blast on U.S. soil will inevitably be very damaging to both animal and human life.

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