After nearly 30 years of geological research, a team from BYU said they have found evidence of some of the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of the planet.
Around 30 million years ago, when large mammals roamed North America, Utah was the site of 15 super eruptions. Head researcher Eric Christiansen said one of the largest eruptions happened near Wah Wah Springs in central Utah.
“Compared to what erupted out of Mount St. Helens in 1980, it’s about 5,000 times bigger,” Christiansen said.
Christiansen said eruptions of this magnitude would have had an effect across the western United States.
“It also threw ash high into the atmosphere and that ash fell as far away as Nebraska,” Christiansen said.
Millions of years of erosion and deformation have made the super-volcanoes of the past nearly invisible today.
Christiansen said the sheer size of the volcanic flows from the Wah Wah Springs eruption and other similar events, which blanketed central Utah and Nevada, is what made identifying the super eruptions so difficult.
“By working from range to range to range and looking at the details of the chemical composition and ages and magnetic properties, we were finally able to correlate from one range to another range to another range these large deposits,” Christiansen said.
Deposits from a single eruption measured 13,000 feet thick in some parts of Utah.
The Wah Wah Springs volcano is thought to be similar in size to the active super-volcano located beneath Yellowstone National Park, though new research from the University of Utah suggests that magma chamber may actually be more than twice as large as originally suspected.