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See Inside June 2006

The Secrets of Supervolcanoes

MIcroscopic crystals of volcanic ash are revealing surprising clues about the world's most devastating eruptions

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Lurking deep below the surface in California and Wyoming are two hibernating volcanoes of almost unimaginable fury. Were they to go critical, they would blanket the western U.S. with many centimeters of ash in a matter of hours. Between them, they have done so at least four times in the past two million years. Similar supervolcanoes smolder underneath Indonesia and New Zealand.

A supervolcano eruption packs the devastating force of a small asteroid colliding with the earth and occurs 10 times more often--making such an explosion one of the most dramatic natural catastrophes humanity should expect to undergo. Beyond causing immediate destruction from scalding ash flows, active supervolcanoes spew gases that severely disrupt global climate for years afterward.

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