…and the apocalypse gathers momentum

Posted: August 17, 2011 in SciFi

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park was America’s first national park. Located across the borders of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world’s most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

It had been known for many years that Yellowstone National Park had a volcanic origin, but only recently was it recognised that Yellowstone constituted what experts term a ‘super volcano’. Virtually all of the National Park’s 9000 square kilometres was part of an ancient caldera. The original eruption of the volcano had left a crater which formed the bulk of the National Park and was some 65 kilometres across, dwarfing other famous calderas such as Ngorongoro in Northern Tanzania.

Yellowstone sits on top of a so-called ‘hot spot’, which is the source of all the geysers and hot springs in the park and is the reason why the park has more geysers and hot springs than the rest of the world combined. It is estimated that the magma chamber beneath the surface is some 72 kilometres across. This has had the effect of pushing the surface of the park some 500 metres higher than what it was originally. This phenomenon was noted to be accelerating in recent times.

The blasts of super volcanoes such as Yellowstone are known to trigger mini- as well as major climatic shifts and ice ages. The last such super volcano blast took place in Toba, Sumatra 74 000 years ago. Ice cores drilled in Greenland show that the Toba blast was followed by at least six years of volcanic winter. It had caused a major extinction of humans as they existed at that stage, on the planet.

Geologists at Yellowstone recently noted ominous changes to the surface of the park in some areas. The lake at the one end had lifted, causing the water to run out on the other end, much like the tilting of a saucer. It was clear that the magma chamber was setting itself up for a massive eruption. It only needed a trigger to do so.



“Naked swords, as we swam along,

we held in hand, with hope to guard us against the wales.

Not a whit from me

could he float afar o’er the flood of waves,

haste o’er the billows; nor him I abandoned.

Together we twain on the tides abode

Five nights full till the flood divided us,

Churning waves and chillest weather,

Darkling night, and the northern wind

Ruthless rushed on us: rough was the surge.”

(from Beowulf, ibid)


Northern Tanzania, Africa

Oldoinyo Lengai is a volcano in the Eastern Rift Valley, North Tanzania. Its name means ‘Mountain of God’ in the language of the Maasai people who inhabit this area.

Oldoinyo Lengai is of particular interest to geologists because it is the world’s only active volcano that spews natrocarbonatite lava. It is also the only active volcano in this part of the East African Rift Valley, though there are many older extinct volcanoes such as Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro. It rises steeply to about 2000 metres above the Rift Valley floor to a height of approximately 2886 metres above sea level. It is situated close to one of the few geophysical features discernible from outer space, the Great Rift Valley which is a dramatic 9700 kilometres long wrinkle in the earth’s crust and was formed by immense underground stresses in the tectonic plates over a period of some 20 million years. The Rift is still considered to be an unstable area with some 30 active or intermittently active volcanoes located between northern Ethiopia and the world’s second deepest lake, Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.

Near the edge of the Rift Valley at Mt. Hanang, the inhabitants of one of the small tribal villages of the Barabaig people were gathered. They are concerned and perplexed by what the herd boy, Severinus had to say. Normally, the young people keep very much to themselves and do not address the community or elders, but Severinus’ story concerned every one of them. Ten cattle had disappeared in broad daylight. How could this be?

“I was sitting beneath a Kigali tree minding the herd,” he related. “It was hot.” Heads nodded in agreement.

“The herd was grazing about two stone throws from me, and I could sense no danger. The cattle were resting. I dozed for only a minute.” A rumble emanated from the gathering and Severinus looked in fear about him at the headman.

“Continue, boy,” the headman ordered sternly. Sleeping while looking after the tribe’s cattle was a serious offence but he would rule on that later.

“It was only for a moment, no more than it takes for a leaf to fall from a tree,” he insisted.

“Then I heard it.”

He started shaking and moaning in terror.

“What did you hear?” an elder shouted impatiently. The boy needed a whipping, losing ten cattle was a crime and should be punished, he thought.

“I heard it, a voice coming from below me in the ground,” he responded through tears of shame and fear.

The gathering shifted uncertainly. They did not like this. Thieves they understood and could deal with. Witchcraft conjured up images and thoughts which few of them could handle. What if the ancestors are angry? What will befall them then?

“The voice shook the earth and trees. Dust rose around me. I could not see the cattle but I heard them bellowing. They started running and as I started to run after them, the tree I was sitting under grabbed my legs and I fell to the ground.”

The gathering responded with shouts of amazement and disbelief.

“It is so!” the boy cried, tears coursing down his dust-streaked cheeks.

“Where are the cattle? What did you do to lose the animals? Where are they now?”

“I ran after them and… ” the boy shouted.

“Yes?” they roared angrily.

“.. and when I found them there were many missing. I looked and looked for the missing animals but saw no tracks. It was as if a big hand had reached out from the sky and picked up ten cattle and spirited them away! That is the truth! I swear by the spirits of my ancestors,” he cried in desperation.

The crowd was quiet. Swearing on the graves of ancestors was a serious business not to be taken lightly.

The headman stood up and swiftly instructed 20 young men to accompany Severinus to the place where these strange things are said to have happened. Somehow he could not believe that the boy could have lost ten cattle so easily. There had to be some explanation.

The search party reached the spot indicated by Severinus within an hour, and started casting about to find evidence of the missing cattle, their remains or at least tracks, which they could follow. They were all expert trackers and had spent many years in the veldt looking after the herds of the village.

They found nothing.

On the way back to the village, they passed a Kigali tree. It was uprooted. Its large roots pointed skywards, clutching the air like so many arms. The terrain around the fallen tree looked as if a large hand had scratched furrows through the upper crust in long straight lines from north to south. Boulders had popped out of the raw earth, leaving scars like those made by spears. The birds had left and the veldt was quiet, as if waiting.

The search party hurried home as the sun started setting behind the brooding mountains in the distance. Their report to the elders was disquieting. It was clear that the ancestors were angry and that they are being punished. Their offerings and prayers had gone unheeded. It was clear that they would have to consult the spirits tomorrow.


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