Supervolcano (film)

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Cover art
Written byEdward Canfor-Dumas
Julian Simpson
Directed byTony Mitchell
StarringMichael Riley
Gary Lewis
Shaun Johnston
Adrian Holmes
Jennifer Copping
Rebecca Jenkins
Theme music composerTy Unwin
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Sara Cropley
Victoria Goodall
Michael Mosley
Ailsa Orr
Fiona Scott
Rosie Taylor
Running time115 minutes
BudgetUS$5.5 million
Original networkBBC One
Original release13 March 2005 (UK)
10 April 2005 (Canada)

Supervolcano is a 2005 British-Canadian 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."


A group of hooded people in caribou parkas ride through snow on snowmobiles. They find a video recording a man who appears to be dying. He tells he is Richard Lieberman, the scientist who was in charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

Five years earlier, a press conference shows Rick and his colleagues Jock Galvin, Dave, Matt and Nancy with their boss, Michael Eldridge present their new virtual imagery simulator VIRGIL, which the latter claims will greatly aid in their research. Maggie Chin asks about the possibility of an eruption, which Rick dismisses as the possibility of this is slim.

The next day, the USGS witnesses an earthquake, which causes a tsunami wave to slam into the Fishing Bridge area of the park. This prompts Maggie to press again, asking Rick if an eruption is possible. She then appears with Kenneth Wylie on KTCU news to discuss Ken's new book on volcanoes. Rick, who is observing the interview, is upset at Ken's words and it is revealed that the two are brothers-in-law.

The USGS are swarmed with calls, to which all say that the eruption is not imminent. Rick and Ken argue about Ken's appearance on TV, which Rick passes off as Ken creating a mass panic in order to sell his book. Their argument is interrupted by Fiona Lieberman, Rick's wife and Ken's sister. She reflects that Rick is cautious of what he says in public due to the press convincing people Yellowstone was going to erupt due to the discovery of a bulge in Yellowstone Lake some years before.

Wendy Reiss, the undersecretary of FEMA, visits and asks Rick about the worst-case scenario if Yellowstone does release a super eruption. He shows her a model, revealing devastating results of the ash fall over the US.

A hydrothermal event at the Norris Geyser Basin draws yet another calamity with the press. Specifically, Maggie tries to press Rick into saying the event is an indicator of volcanic activity. Rick leaves, and he runs a simulation with his team of possible eruptions on VIRGIL, and they learn that even a moderate eruption may destabilize the rest of the magma chamber under Yellowstone and trigger a super eruption. They go to the field office cabin in the park that is 25 km from Norris and begin to gather information.

Earthquake swarms, hydrothermal activity and ground uplift continues to occur, while rising levels of carbon dioxide cause scores of trees to die. Knowing that it could be indicators of volcanic activity, they close the park. Despite closing the park, people continue to come to Yellowstone to see it for themselves, including Maggie Chin. In response, Rick sends his colleague Matt over to give her a personal tour of the park and give an understanding of the true scale of the caldera. Matt tells her that once Yellowstone erupts nobody will be alive to reward her for being the first to provide coverage. To their horror, they find harmonic tremors near Norris, indicating that an eruption is imminent, though the scale of this eruption is still unknown. Shortly after the harmonic activity is detected, animals begin to flee the park. Rick, worried about what is happening, sends his family to London to visit Fiona's mother.

Later, KVCZ news reveals from a leaked email that the USGS suspects an eruption anytime soon. FEMA, in wake of the national panic, flies Rick to DC to hold a conference to deny the possibility of an eruption. However, Rick is unable to make that statement due to the model telling them otherwise of the magma chamber. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Joe Foster, pressures Rick into saying that the eruption will not be large, and Rick has no choice when the time for the conference comes.

Rick flies back to San Francisco, and sees his brother-in-law on the same plane. Meanwhile, the USGS in the field office in the park has finished plugging in the data for the eruption. They are horrified to discover that the top of the magma chamber alone has more than enough eruptable magma to destabilize the chamber and trigger a super eruption. As they realize this, the volcano suddenly erupts violently, severely damaging the field office and injuring Jock.

FEMA picks up the eruption on satellite feeds and begins to handle the disaster. The team at the field office monitor the eruptive column, but abandon the office and flee due to pyroclastic flows. The flow kills Nancy and Matt who were fleeing by truck while Jock escapes via helicopter. Rick manages to contact Dave, another team member who has left earlier from the eruption to set up a backup office in Bozeman. They coordinate to figure out the vent's size and Dave connects with FEMA. Meanwhile, FEMA manages to get a jet close to the vent, and discover that it is blowing ash not only eastern across the US, but also across major commercial air routes, prompting them to clear airspace over the USA and put everyone on standby. They also advise all federal buildings to seal up and recycle their clear air and protect any power generators from the heavy ashfall. Rick's flight goes directly into the ash cloud, and they make an emergency landing in Cheyenne. They get caught under the ashfall, and go to find a military installation.

However, Dave with his link to FEMA, is horrified to find more vents beginning to open in the caldera. Before he can observe more than five vents opening up, the motel he is staying in collapses due to heavy ashfall, destroying the backup office, and killing him.

Rick manages to make contact with FEMA, where he determines that the vents are going to merge into one massive caldera. He then says that the eruption is on the scale of one of Yellowstone's previous - The Huckleberry Ridge Eruption. However, before he can say more, the signal is cut off as Cheyenne loses electricity because of the ash.

After three days, FEMA meets with Joe Foster of Homeland Security, and they try to come up with a plan to save the 25 million trapped by the ashfall. Rick, who manages to get a link back to FEMA, says that they cannot possibly hope to do so; the ash will make it impossible for planes to safely pick up people or make drops of supplies. He suggest that FEMA tells people to walk through the ash to safety before his link is lost.

Rick, still stuck at the military installation, records his journal, and reflects if he could have done something different. FEMA finally determines it has no choice but to follow Rick's advice, and they follow through with the Walk to Life program. Rick convinces his brother-in-law and the man named Johnson they are trapped with to walk through the ash to safety.

One week after the eruption, the ground above the magma chamber begins to fall into the empty space left by the ejected magma, thus signalling the end of the eruption. This scale of what Yellowstone has done has thrown the world into a volcanic winter. The US has been rendered uninhabitable, up to 80% covered by ash, and of that, 20% is totally unusable even after extensive clean up operations. FEMA reveals that Rick's Walk to Life program saved 7.3 million people of the 25 million trapped by the ash.

The film then returns to the hooded people, which reveal that among them is Rick Lieberman himself, alive and well. He tells the audience that he chose to come back to the bunker so that he could face the reality of what nearly happened. He also wanted to see Yellowstone park, and he reflects that this is not only how life ends, but how it begins. Nature would recover from this disaster. And one day, Yellowstone would erupt again, "but not on his watch."

The film then ends with a satellite view of Yellowstone's caldera, zooming out until the Pacific coast is revealed for scale reference.


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