Supervolcano (film)

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Cover art
Genre Docufiction
Science fiction
Directed by Tony Mitchell
Produced by Sara Cropley
Victoria Goodall
Michael Mosley
Ailsa Orr
Fiona Scott
Rosie Taylor
Written by Edward Canfor-Dumas
Julian Simpson
Starring Michael Riley
Gary Lewis
Shaun Johnston
Adrian Holmes
Jennifer Copping
Rebecca Jenkins
Music by Ty Unwin
Budget US$5.5 million
Country United Kingdom, Canada
Language English
Original channel BBC One
Release date 13 March 2005
Running time 115 minutes

Supervolcano is a science docufiction disaster television film that originally aired on 13 March 2005 on BBC One, and released by the BBC on 10 April 2005 on the Discovery Channel. It is centered on the speculated and potential eruption of the volcanic caldera of Yellowstone National Park. Its tagline is "Scientists know it as the deadliest volcano on Earth. You know Yellowstone."


The film begins with a group of hooded people in caribou parkas riding through snow on snowmobiles. Arriving at a nearly buried building, inside they find a video recorded journal of a man who appears to be dying. The man in the video reports that the Yellowstone Caldera eruption has affected nearly everything in the United States, burying much of the country under several feet of volcanic ash.

The film then goes back to five years before the incident, where tourists are seen viewing Old Faithful and exploring the hydrovolcanic features of the Yellowstone National Park. Inside the visitor's center, the same man from the video journal, Rick Lieberman, a USGS scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), is seen presenting to a crowd on Yellowstone's seismic activity. He states during the presentation, using a fictional holographic projector known as Virgil, that Yellowstone is on the verge of an eruption, though neither major nor hazardous.

Later throughout the film, more and more signs of seismic activity occur, all pointing towards the imminent eruption of Yellowstone (such as geyser explosions, earthquakes, Old Faithful going silent, and a mass exodus of wildlife from Yellowstone), though Rick and most of his colleagues try not to cause public panic by saying that these seismic activities do not necessarily indicate an imminent volcanic eruption. However, when Jock Galvin's sarcastic mockery of the situation sparks constant media speculation, it raises public alarm, helped in part by a woman from CNN constantly pressing Rick to confirm the eruption for her reports, and by Rick Lieberman's brother-in-law, who is selling a book on supervolcanoes called 'Super Bangs'. As seismic activity increases, a leaked government news report acknowledging a possible eruption causes widespread panic. Rick is forced by the Secretary of Defense to make a public statement saying that the eruption will be moderate to calm the masses, despite the fact that Virgil has simulated that even a moderate eruption can cause a chain reaction and become much more cataclysmic.

Rick's team is caught by surprise while researching at the USGS field office next to Yellowstone when the Yellowstone Caldera violently erupts, spewing tonnes of rock and pyroclastic material into the sky. Two of his colleagues, Nancy and Matt, are killed when their car is obliterated by the pyroclastic flow, and only an injured Jock survives the Yellowstone supereruption, escaping via helicopter. Rick and his brother-in-law are flying back from a conference when their plane flies through the ash cloud, flaming-out the engines and are forced to do a dead stick landing in Cheyenne, Wyoming. When the ash starts raining down on them on the ground, they take shelter in a nearby U.S. airbase.

Tension begins to rise at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as more and more vents open above the underlying magma chamber throughout the eruption. On Day Three the ash destroys the second Y.V.O. base in Bozeman, killing another colleague, Dave. People are literally being drowned in the volcanic ash and the death toll rises to hundreds of thousands. Slowly, thermal images begin to reveal a contour of the new caldera produced by the vents and authorities are at a loss as how to deal with the thousands of people caught in the ashfall, as their previous advice was to stay and stock up supplies for up to three days, and the volcano will continue to erupt longer than three days. At FEMA, Jock raises tension by saying that even after 2,500 cubic km of magma had come out, that it could still go on because Yellowstone has a maximum capacity of 25,000 cubic kilometers, ten times the amount already ejected. And Rick, while in contact with F.E.M.A., mentions that the entire volcanic system could completely rupture after the collapse. His final suggestions to F.E.M.A. are that they should guide wandering survivors to safety after the eruption and have supplies dropped to them along the way. Luckily, things take a better turn just as all hope is nearly lost: after 1 week of eruption the crust above the magma chamber collapses, as a result of -and therefore indicating- the decrease in pressure within the magma chamber. The crust collapse seals the chamber, and a titanic blast is prevented. Following on Rick's advice, F.E.M.A. is able to rescue 3 million people, including Rick and Kenneth.

As it turns out, the film ends with three-quarters of the United States covered in nearly one centimeter of volcanic ash on average as a looming cloud of sulphur dioxide gets carried over the globe, engulfing the northern hemisphere of Earth, and as a result, plunging it into a volcanic winter. It is even mentioned that society has changed their designation of years to coincide before and after Yellowstone's eruption.

The film ends the same way it started, only this time, the man is revealed to be Rick, shown with his brother-in-law and a USAF Airman. He later flies in a helicopter back to Yellowstone to see what has happened to the volcano that he has been studying all his life. What he sees is a frozen landscape resembling Antarctica, where no vegetation or animals are visible; but he optimistically says that although it is the ending of much life, life would also begin as a result of this event.

Finally, the last scene shows the camera panning out from the area where Yellowstone erupted in a series of satellite images, eventually showing the North American continent now a tundra, and the gargantuan resulting landform caldera relative to the size of Wyoming.


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