Jim Urquhart/Reuters/FILE
Supervolcano under Yellowstone Park: The Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest in the United States and third largest in the world, is seen in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 22, 2011.

Supervolcano blowing smoke? Young scientist says so.

Supervolcano reports in the news are capturing the attention of many parents, but plugged-in kids might find a supervolcano of little surprise after what science fare they find online.

While scientists trumpet the potential catastrophic results of a supervolcano causing planetary extinction, parents should not be too quick to jump on the story as science fair fodder for their kids, because this news could be a snooze thanks to YouTube science fare.

The annual rite of passage for parents and kids – the school science fair – is coming up later this month. So, when I read the BBC News report this morning stating that it is much more likely than once believed that a “supervolcano” – like the one underneath Yellowstone National Park – could explode and wipe out civilization as we know it, the first thing I did was tell my son Quin, 10.

None of my sons have ever wanted to build a science fair volcano, like the one my dad and I made together years ago, because it seems they have become so cliché.

Quin’s project is on making a “true mirror” by placing two mirrors at right angles in order to counter the reversal that a common mirror makes of our reflection. He’d seen a Vsauce video on YouTube about why people don’t like what they see when looking at photos or videos of themselves. That’s because the mirror shows us a reverse or “untrue” image of ourselves, which we come to know and accept.

“I’d rather see how I really look than make some boring, goopy red mess all over the table,” Quin explained.

Maybe I was being a little childish in offering the supervolcano news this morning, hoping he’d see mom’s idea wasn’t lame after all.

Because this is about something I believed was cutting edge, I expected him to erupt with excitement, amazement, scientific curiosity, and wonder.

“Meh,” he said with a shrug. “When you think about it, it’s not nearly as scary as the ones on Mars. If the biggest one on Mars erupts it could turn the planet inside-out.”

Okay, but we don’t live on Mars.

And, according to a recent study published by ETH Zurich, cited in the BBC report, a supervolcano doesn't need additional factors other than its size to erupt.

"Once you get enough melt, you can start an eruption just like that," the study's lead author Wim Malfait told the BBC.

There are about 20 known supervolcanoes on Earth – including Lake Toba in Indonesia, Lake Taupo in New Zealand, and the somewhat smaller Phlegraean Fields near Naples, Italy.

None of this impressed Quin, because he is a modern geek-child with Internet access and an insatiable hunger for science factoids.

The child looked me straight in the eye and said the word, “Yawn!”

“Mom, seriously, Mars has the largest supervolcano in the SOLAR SYSTEM, called Olympus Mons,” Quin said heatedly. “THE SOLAR SYSTEM! It’s actually three-times taller than our planet’s biggest one, in Hawaii!”

Embarrassingly, I had to look that up. He was talking about Mauna Loa, and he was right.

You’d think an extinction-level event for our species would be a revelation to a child of 10, yet I was the one who got schooled as Quin spewed volcano facts at me.

Apparently, he’s not spending as much of his time online gaming as I thought, but rather has become a skilled researcher, and has even modeled a Martian supervolcano on Minecraft.

His volcanic-fact spew was often punctuated with verbal footnotes referring to a science video from The Discovery Channel on YouTube and the website Stumbleupon.com, which directed him to a host of “deadliest space phenomenon” videos.

Supervolcanic cataclysm had been news to Quin 10 months ago.

I suppose the lesson I learned this morning is that the science of parenting is ever evolving. As Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

I saw my child on the computer for long stretches and dragged him away because I thought I was looking at a kid wasting time and rotting his brain.

Apparently what I needed was a “true mirror” to see how my perception of my child’s interests differed from what was right in front of my eyes.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Supervolcano blowing smoke? Young scientist says so.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today