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Disaster movies are a mainstay of the film industry. From classics like “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” to more recent films such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012” and “San Andreas,” movie goers flock to theaters to see historic landmarks destroyed, cities annihilated and the world end in a spectacular CGI bonanza. Some screenwriters set the plot to focus on a small area, such as the 1997 film “Dante’s Peak,” while other directors gleefully level the entire planet. The movies often involve soap opera character dynamics, melodrama, explosions and aerial shots of the end of New York City. Movie goers enjoy the destruction and cheerfully follow scientists’ rants about the impossibility of the events shown on screen. This, of course, is part of the appeal of disaster movies. They are over the top and impossible, which allows movie goers to enjoy the wanton destruction without being forced to confront any true fears. The reality is, however, that humanity’s existence is far more fragile than most people realize. 

Advances in technology have enabled humans to detect and predict disasters before they occur. Coastal cities have days or weeks of warning before a hurricane comes ashore, many active volcanoes are under constant surveillance and tornadoes do not simply appear out of the ether anymore. These advances have made it possible for humans to prepare for upcoming disasters and build accordingly. Strict building codes near fault lines have “earthquake proofed” many buildings, and tsunami warning sirens have been installed in numerous coastal cities. What can humanity do, however, when faced with events capable of worldwide devastation? Some of the most destructive potential events are not slim possibilities either, but certainties. It is not a question of if they will bring the world to its knees but when. Here are seven world ending disasters guaranteed to occur.

Yellowstone Supereruption

Yellowstone National Park is famous for its scalding hot geysers and brightly colored geothermal pools of steaming water. The reason for this incredible activity, however, is not something most park visitors want to consider. Yellowstone sits on top of a dormant supervolcano. This massive volcano contains more than 13,500 cubic miles of magma, enough to fill the Grand Canyon 14 times. This supervolcano erupted 15 to 20 times in the past, and each supereruption was about 600,000 to 800,000 years apart. The most recent of these supereruptions spewed out more than 240 cubic miles of rock and ash before the earth collapsed into the magma chamber to create the 40 mile wide Yellowstone caldera. This occurred around 640,000 years ago. In other words, the time is right for another supereruption.

The next Yellowstone supereruption will affect every living thing on the planet. When Yellowstone erupts, scientists believe the entire magma chamber will be emptied. Just before that happens, the ground around Yellowstone National Park will rise, and the water in the park will become extremely acidic. Earthquakes and rising magma will cause the rock above the magma chamber to collapse and a column of ash will explode 16 miles up into the atmosphere. Pyroclastic flows, walls of superheated gas and ash that move at speeds of up to 300 miles an hour, will level everything up to 60 miles from the actual eruption site. Falling ash will mix with water to create lahars, volcanic mudslides that can be 400 feet deep and move at more than 120 miles an hour. 

The most dangerous part of any volcanic eruption is the ash fallout, and Yellowstone will be no exception. The falling ash will bury most of the United States, collapsing roofs, shorting out electrical grids, contaminating water supplies and forming a lethal cement in the lungs of those who breathe it in. The combination of the rapidly spreading ash cloud and volcanic gases will begin to block out the sun. The earth will cool, and the monsoon would fail. This will add drought and starvation to the list of catastrophes to be laid at Yellowstone’s doorstep.  

To make Yellowstone even more terrifying, scientists recently discovered that Yellowstone needs far less time to prepare for a supereruption than previously believed. The supervolcano will only need decades to go from sleeping giant to destructive colossus rather than the centuries that scientists originally believed.   

Cumbre Vieja Megatsunami

Tsunamis are massive walls of water capable of leveling anything in their path. These “tidal waves” gained worldwide attention following the catastrophic Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 and the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. Both of these tsunamis were, like most tsunamis, triggered by earthquakes that caused enormous waves to spread outward from the quakes’ epicenter.

Megatsunamis are similar to traditional tsunamis in that they are walls of water pushed forward by energy that extends down to the ocean floor. They are largely harmless in the open ocean but become devastating when they reach shallow water. The base of the wave stops, but the rest of the water simply roars inland ripping up trees, collapsing homes and carrying off cars, boats and any living creature unfortunate enough to be in its path. As the name implies, megatsunamis are larger versions of a traditional tsunami. These giant waves, however, are not caused by earthquakes but landslides. When large masses of land slide into the ocean, massive amounts of water are displaced. It is a much larger version of what happens when a person throws a stone into a pond. The stone causes ripples. In the ocean, however, those ripples can be hundreds of feet high. The largest tsunami on record was 1,720 feet high and occurred in 1958 after an earthquake dropped 30.6 million cubic meters of rock into Lituya Bay.

The Cumbre Vieja Megatsunami will be caused by an eruption on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands. When the volcano erupts, the blast will all but split the island in half and send 500 cubic kilometers of rock hurtling into the water at 220 miles per hour. This will create a megatsunami up to 330 feet high that races across the Atlantic Ocean to slam into Spain, Portugal, France, Great Britain and the African coast. The megatsunami will also contain enough energy to speed across the entire Atlantic and smash into the United States causing destruction from Manhattan to Miami. 

Asteroid Collision

Asteroid collisions are common motifs in disaster movies, but the danger is very real, just ask the dinosaurs. Large asteroids routinely hurtle past Earth, and some of them in recent history have passed between the earth and the moon. Eventually, however, Earth’s luck will run out and a large asteroid will collide with Earth. When that happens, every living thing will be fighting simply to survive. Anything close to the actual impact site will be more or less vaporized. The dirt, rock and ash propelled into the atmosphere will block out the sun killing plant life across the globe. As a result, many species of plants and animals will die off. 

Massive asteroids collide with Earth roughly every 50 to 100 million years. The last such asteroid strike occurred at the site of the Chicxulub Crater in Mexico 65 million years ago. This event, called the K-T extinction, is credited with killing off the dinosaurs, but this downplays the massive impact of the asteroid. Nearly 80 percent of all animal species were killed in the K-T extinction, and when history repeats itself, there is no guarantee that humans will be part of the lucky 20 percent that survives.

Comet Impact

Like asteroids, comets come close to Earth on a regular basis. These masses of ice and rock, however, will be even more disastrous when they hit Earth. Two comet impacts have occurred during the existence of the human species. One of those two comets hit toward the end of the Ice Age and caused the extinction of millions of animals, including mammoths and mastadons. 

Comets travel nearly three times faster than asteroids and so would release nearly nine times the destructive energy of an asteroid of the same size. Since both are massive rocks hurtling through space, comet impacts are similar to asteroid collisions just bigger. Like with asteroids, a comet that impacts Earth will throw debris into the atmosphere and block out the sun. Comets, however, contain large amounts of carbon and gas. The mix of gasses released by the impact of the comet and the vaporization of its tail will cause the earth to cool very rapidly due to massive amounts of sulfur dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Then, the carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses will kick in causing the earth to warm dramatically. This sudden shift between mild, cold and hot will kill off massive numbers of species. Like asteroid collisions, it is only a matter of time before Earth runs out of luck.

Sun Death

Stars eventually die. This means that the Sun will eventually die as well. The death of the Sun will begin with the star expanding. It will slowly swallow Mercury, Venus and likely Earth. During this stage, the Sun will dim and become what is known as a red giant. As the expanding Sun approaches Earth, the oxygen in the atmosphere will ignite and the other gases will be stripped away. The oceans will evaporate, and Earth will be rendered lifeless. Then, the swelling star could swallow what is left of the Earth. Eventually, however, the Sun will collapse in on itself leaving behind a ring of gas around a white dwarf star. Scientists recently found the shattered remains of what was once a water-bearing planet orbiting a white dwarf. After the sun dies, this is the fate that awaits Earth if it is not swallowed whole.

Galactic Collision

Like everything else in space, galaxies move. Sometimes, these moving galaxies collide. This is the fate that awaits the Milky Way galaxy. In approximately four billion years, the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda galaxy, its next closest neighbor. When this happens, both galaxies will be warped and stretched. They will slam into each other, fly apart and hurtle back together for roughly a billion years before they form a new elliptical galaxy out of the two spiral galaxies. The next nearest galaxy, Triangulum, might also get sucked into the mix.

Assuming humans still exist, they will witness something truly extraordinary as the galactic collision creates a spectacular light show. As galaxies are mostly empty space, it is unlikely that the Sun will collide with another star, but the constantly shifting gravity could wreak havoc on the planets of the Solar System. Planetary orbits could be altered as the Solar System passes closer to other stars than usual leading to planetary collisions or Earth being wrenched out of the life-giving “Goldilocks Zone.”

Pandemic

In modern history, humanity has done the impossible: wiped out entire diseases. Smallpox, polio, whooping cough and more have been all but eradicated, and measles is following behind them. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that mankind will forever be one step ahead of the next plague. Bacteria and viruses are always evolving, and recent attention on superbugs has brought concerns about antibiotic resistant germs back into the spotlight. Some of these superbugs are due to natural mutations in bacterial strains, but antibiotic resistance is also believed to be caused by patients failing to complete their full course of antibiotics. These supercharged diseases are then passed from person to person. Modern travel has made the spread of diseases even easier since one infected person could transmit the disease to multiple countries as they travel.

While stubborn strains of old diseases continue to spread, previously eradicated diseases are making a comeback as increasing numbers of parents refuse to vaccinate their children. Either one of these causes of re-emerging diseases could spell global disaster. While neither Bird Flu not Swine Flu amounted to the pandemic that was predicted, the truth is that humanity could at any point find itself fighting a new and lethal disease. Viruses and bacteria are always mutating, and new diseases routinely jump from species to species in a process called zoonosis.

Diseases are not only caused by bacteria and viruses, however, those are the two best known culprits. Fungal infections are not as well understood as bacterial infections, so treatments are often less specialized and can be less effective. To make matters worse, certain strains of fungal infections are becoming resistant to treatment. Regardless of whether diseases are fungal, bacterial or viral, doctors and researchers are engaged in a constant war against pathogens. So far, humanity has been winning this war, but a single slip is all it would take to lose the battle. Eventually, there will be a disease that modern medicine fails to contain. Whether this is a bacteria-based plague or a condition such as cancer, humans will not always win the evolutionary arms race.

Eventually, the world will end. There is no doubt about that fact. The question is just how humanity or even Earth itself will cease to exist. Will the end come from a viral disease or volcanic dust? Will death come from above or roar out of the sea? No one can say for certain which end of the world scenario will happen first, but the very real catastrophes the world is guaranteed to suffer would make for excellent disaster movies. They would also linger with audiences far longer because unlike most movie Armageddons, there is no explaining these disasters away as impossible. They will happen. The only question left is when.
 

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