The supervolcano under Yellowstone is a beast that hasn't erupted in more than 630,000 years, so this development is interesting to note. That could blanket most of the United States in a thick layer of ash and even plunge the Earth into a volcanic winter. It has the ability to expel more than 1,000 cubic kilometers of rock and ash at once - 250,000 times more material than erupted from Mount St. Helens in 1980, which killed 57 people.
Researchers believe the last eruption happened after two influxes of fresh magma flowed into the reservoir below the caldera, and they now believe a similar critical build-up could take just decades instead of centuries, NatGeo said. Previous estimates assumed that the geological process that led to the event took millenniums to occur.
The Arizona State study follows research in 2013 that showed the magma reservoir that feeds the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park may be about 2½ times bigger than originally believed.
"It's an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high", the University of Utah's Bob Smith, an expert in Yellowstone volcanism, told the magazine at the time.
Given that eruptions of supervolcanoes buried on our planet-and there are several-are thought to occur every 100,000 years or so, however, the likelihood of such an event during your lifetime is small, reports the New York Times.
Much like reading a set of tree rings, Shamloo and her team were able to record temperature and composition changes by analyzing crystals found beneath the earth's surface.
In 2012, other scientists reported that at least one of the past super-eruptions may have really been two events - suggesting that such large-scale events may be more common than thought.
"We expected that there might be processes happening over thousands of years preceding the eruption", Christy Till, a geologist at Arizona State who is Shamloo's dissertation adviser, told the paper.
Based on the latest study, it appears the magma can rapidly refresh - making the volcano potentially explosive in the geologic blink of an eye.
"It's shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption", she told the NY Times, noting more research is necessary before a definitive conclusion can be reached.