Doomsday prophesies have been around for as long as mankind has been able to form words. None of them have come to pass yet. There is no way to know when, how or where an extinction event may occur, but modern science has certainly been able to pinpoint a few areas that could produce the doomsday we’ve all been talking about for so long.
Yellowstone Super Volcano
I’m going to start this piece with the one I think is the most likely – the Yellowstone Super Volcano. Beneath Yellowstone Park a super volcano slumbers…for now. An eruption could very well spell the end of civilization as we know it. It’s been estimated that Yellowstone is capable of producing an eruption 1000 times more powerful than the Mount St Helens eruption. It would spew poisonous gas into the atmosphere that would circle the globe and block out sunshine. Some scientists think it could create another ice age.
Yellowstone’s caldera is estimated to be 40km by 60km and scientists estimate that it erupts every 640,000 years or so. It’s been longer than that since its last eruption and in a recent National Geograghic article, Yellowstone is bulging with magma:
But beginning in 2004, scientists saw the ground above the caldera rise upward at rates as high as 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) a year. (Related: "Yellowstone Is Rising on Swollen 'Supervolcano.'")
The rate slowed between 2007 and 2010 to a centimeter a year or less. Still, since the start of the swelling, ground levels over the volcano have been raised by as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in places.
"It's an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high," said the University of Utah's Bob Smith, a longtime expert in Yellowstone's volcanism.
A Meteoric Catastrophe
The Earth – our home – is a small pebble in the ocean of space. There are other pebbles in that space and eventually, one might strike our planet causing an extinction event.
Why not? It’s happened before.
According to some scientists and this report, meteors have already touched down on Earth that caused untold damage. Fortunately, we weren’t around to experience it first-hand. We might not be so lucky the next time.
A huge meteor, between 12 and 30 miles in diameter, smashed into the Earth 3.5 billion years ago with the energy of 1 billion atomic bombs, vaporizing the surface where it struck and creating a tsunami more than half a mile high that raced around the world at 500 miles per hour.
This cataclysm is the earliest known meteor strike to hit the Earth, and one of at least four that have been identified in a geologically brief 300-million-year period. The strike is the subject of an article published in the current issue of the journal Science by LSU geologist Gary Byerly and others.
Byerly and Xiaogang Xie, also of LSU, and Donald Lowe and Joseph Wooden of Stanford, identified traces of the event in some of the oldest known rocks on Earth -- in South Africa and Northwest Australia.
Besides Earth, all we have to do is look at our own moon to see craters left behind from meteors. However, the chance of a meteor large enough to do significant damage striking our planet in our lifetimes is fairly remote. But if it ever does come to pass, we might find ourselves going the way of the dinosaurs.
We’ve had some scares lately, like the Avian Flu. It would be catastrophic if something like the HIV virus were to mutate and become transmissible like the common flu. Of course, there is also the scientific threat that we create a virus deadly enough to wipe our species out and then (like the dumb humans we are) release it.
It’s unlikely that a Pandemic would wipe out all of humanity, but it could certainly lead to the end of civilization and set us back in the Stone Age.
Climate is a-Changin’
We’ve been bombarded by global warming predictions and in the 80’s some scientists were saying we were heading towards another ice age. One thing is for sure, whether global warming is man-made or not, we are at the mercy of our climate. If the Earth gets too cold or too hot, we die. It’s really that simple. And the Earth has undergone some drastic climate changes in her past and will probably do so again.
As an example from Wiki:
In the history of the Earth, 12 ice ages have occurred. More ice ages will be possible at an interval of 40,000–100,000 years although engineers working for Posiva, a Finnish company involved in the underground storage of nuclear waste, have built their facility to withstand an Ice Age starting as 'soon' as 20,000 years. An Ice Age would have a serious impact on civilization because vast areas of land (mainly in North America, Europe, and Asia) could become uninhabitable. It would still be possible to live in the tropical regions, but with possible loss of humidity/water. Currently, the world is existing in an interglacial period within a much older glacial event. The last glacial expansion ended about 10,000 years ago, and all civilizations evolved later.
Like the Hulk we get Gamma Rayed
We look up in the sky every day and thank our lucky stars (or suns) that we have a glowy ball in the sky that allows us to exist comfortably. But one of these suns could spell the doom of our species as well. According to Wiki:
Most observed GRBs are believed to consist of a narrow beam of intense radiation released during a supernova event, as a rapidly rotating, high-mass star collapses to form a neutron star, quark star, or black hole. A subclass of GRBs (the "short" bursts) appear to originate from a different process, possibly the merger of binary neutron stars.
The sources of most GRBs are billions of light years away from Earth, implying that the explosions are both extremely energetic (a typical burst releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime) and extremely rare (a few per galaxy per million years). All observed GRBs have originated from outside the Milky Way galaxy, although a related class of phenomena, soft gamma repeater flares, are associated with magnetars within the Milky Way. It has been hypothesized that a gamma-ray burst in the Milky Way, pointing directly towards the Earth, could cause a mass extinction event
Something like that wouldn’t just give us a fine tan or turn us into angry green monsters, but instead might lead to our extinction. In the meantime, we can rest safe in the knowledge that this type of extinction event is fairly unlikely.
When the Creator Un-Creates
I couldn’t resist. Hell, no doomsday article can be complete without the Camping effect being discussed. However, I’m going to expand a bit on the religious angle. For some, the end-times belong to whatever God they believe in. For example, some people believe that Jesus will return.
Others may believe that our planet was seeded by an alien species. Or that a hostile alien species capable of interstellar travel finds us and decides they want to borrow our blue marble called Earth. At this point in our evolution, an alien species capable of that level of technology would probably be our doom.
Of course, there is also the artificial intelligence angle. Kind of like the movie Terminator – where the very machines we build become more intelligent than we are and decide to wipe us out of existence.
Maybe one of these possibilities will lead to mankind’s extinction. Or maybe it will be something we haven’t even thought of. The point being that life is fragile. We are mostly at the whim of uncontrollable events and what we take for granted every day could come crashing down around us tomorrow. This makes it even more important that we cherish the time we have and make the most of every day.