Did you know that Yellowstone Supervolcano was covered by some 4,000 feet of ice during the last ice age?
According to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), the hydrothermal system at the volcano really “lit up” after all that ice melted away.
But what would have happened had the volcano erupted while a glacier sat on it?
It’s probably anyone’s guess, if it had been a supereruption. But Yellowstone also has “normal”-sized eruptions, and to see what happens in one of those, all we have to do is check out Iceland’s volcanoes, some of which are Hawaiian-style, while others are explosive.
Many Icelandic volcanoes have the word “jökull” in their name; it means “glacier.” Part of all of the volcano is actually under ice when it erupts!
Here is an expert but not overly technical video on Iceland’s explosive volcanoes. At the end, he discusses in detail the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjalljökull, which disrupted air travel over the North Atlantic so badly.
At first, Eyjaf had pretty lava fountains. But the second part of that eruption happened at the summit, which was covered by a glacier. Heat melted the ice; magma came into contact with the resulting water; and “boom!”
Today Yellowstone is quiet. YVO reports that any eruption at Yellowstone is likely to be “normal” in size; we should be glad, then, that no ice covers the caldera today.
Featured image: Glacier-covered Yellowstone figure, by USGS/YVO/Joe Licciardi/Ken Pierce