Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth Science

Yellowstone Supervolcano Larger Than First Thought 451

Posted by timothy
from the even-superer dept.
drewtheman writes "New studies of the plumbing that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park shows the plume and the magma chamber under the volcano are larger than first thought and contradicts claims that only shallow hot rock exists. University of Utah research professor of geophysics Robert Smith led four separate studies that verify a plume of hot and molten rock at least 410 miles deep that rises at an angle from the northwest."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Yellowstone Supervolcano Larger Than First Thought

Comments Filter:
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:00PM (#30445028) Homepage Journal

    University of Utah research professor of geophysics Robert Smith led four separate studies

    Abstract:

    The first time I saw lightning strike, I saw it underground.

  • and probably seeing the sun.

    If that goes off, waiting for a world killing asteroid won't be necessary.

    • by jameskojiro (705701) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:04PM (#30445120) Journal

      Yellowstone has gone off in the past and it didn't kill off all the large land animals, sure it screwed up North America for a whiel and lowered global temps several degrees, but it isn't the end of the world.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 3.5 stripes (578410)

        Meh, doesn't have to kill off everything to doom the human race.

      • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:08PM (#30445186) Homepage
        In what weird alternative reality is screwing up North America not the end of the world? You're either with us, or with the volcanoes.
      • People seem to feel that any major setback in our society means that the world and humanity are both done. Even if society totally collapsed, there would be enough information left over for people to rebuild eventually. Sure, things would be a mess for a while. Even if it took a few hundred years for us to bounce back, that would be a tiny blip on geological and historical time. We are social primates that gravitate toward organization, society would rebuild itself eventually as long as there are enough hum
        • by localman57 (1340533) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:31PM (#30445574)

          Even if society totally collapsed, there would be enough information left over for people to rebuild eventually.

          The problem as I see it is that the Earth we've created isn't the Earth it was 100 years ago. Asssume for a moment that the population is reduced to 10% of what it is now. Would there be enough resources to keep all of our nuclear reactors, chemical plants, etc from leaking unprecidented amounts of poison into the environment. While the orignal volcano/virus/starvation/flood/PickYourCatastrophe probably wouldn't finish us off, perhaps the slow rotting of our own creations would.

          • So far I don't think we've done or created anything that comes near to the effect of natural disasters such as a volcano or meteor strike or tsuname or... If humans are gone, the nuclear reactors left won't have any significant effect on wildlife I think, other than a few fishes with 3 eyes.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              From what I hear, life is doing BETTER around Chernobyl than in other comparable, non Nuclear Disaster areas. This is probably due to the lack of humans in the area, but it goes to show how resilient life is -- living things really, really, really want to keep living and will do whatever it takes.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Chyeld (713439)
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by sabt-pestnu (967671)

                  Curiously, I could not locate the paper referred to in the link you pointed out.

                  I did find this paper [royalsocie...ishing.org] talking about two particular bird species that seemed to avoid nesting in highly contaminated sites, which factor might be reflected in the study your article quoted.

                  Your study quoted "some areas with hundreds of animals per square meter, others with none". I can think of examples of both: right on an ant hill; and the middle of an abandoned paved lot. Without actually looking at the study, it's hard to

          • The amount of poison that all of our chemical plants and reactors would be able to put into the atmosphere is absolutely nothing compared to the Earth's machinery for correcting such things.
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Wyatt Earp (1029)

            If this went off and killed, say 65% of the North American population (I won't go 90% because not even an all out nuclear exchange with the USSR would have killed 90%). Yes, there would be enough resources to keep things in check.

            Chemical plants aren't the issue, its the nuclear cooling ponds from what I've read and seen on TV. There isn't much around Yellowstone to be consumed by lava, its going to be the ash fall out that is the real killer here. I have faith, the big chemical, nuclear and power companies

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by RobertM1968 (951074)

              If this went off and killed, say 65% of the North American population (I won't go 90% because not even an all out nuclear exchange with the USSR would have killed 90%). Yes, there would be enough resources to keep things in check.

              I wonder how correct you are... probably not at all. It's not just the explosion (to which our nukes pale in comparison - I mean, c'mon, really... nukes dont reduce mountains to nothing... Yellowstone has, on more than one occassion, leaving basins and lakes where there were mountains at one time).

              It's much of the other factors that will kill off more than 65% of life worldwide (not just in North America). We've had smaller eruptions by other volcanoes that we are pretty sure have accounted for 65% worldw

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by RobertM1968 (951074)

              You do realize that at least two of Yellowstone's previous eruptions are more powerful than every nuclear weapon we have times TEN. Or a "measly" 875,000 Megatons...

              Check this out for some great comparisons [statemaster.com] of the relative power of volcanoes, nukes, bombs, etc...

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        Definately will be the end of the world as we know it, and at a far much larger scale that it happens every second. If you thought that Katrina, 9/11, WWII, black plage or most (all?) events in the written history changed everything, just wait till this happens.
      • sure it screwed up North America for a whiel and lowered global temps several degrees, but it isn't the end of the world.

        In fact, it will actually help with the global warming problem!

      • by wall0159 (881759)

        Well, it sure is good to know that not "all the large land animals" will necessarily be killed off. I think it's a good bet that such an eruption would mean at least the end of human civilisation (if not human extinction).

        But no, the Earth would still keep orbiting the sun, if that comforts you ;-)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I think it's a good bet that such an eruption would mean at least the end of human civilisation (if not human extinction).

          It won't mean human extinction. Period.

          It may or may not mean the end of human civilization (for the time being). Whether it actually does depends on just how dependent the rest of the world is on the USA. If the collapse of the USA disrupts the rest of civilization enough to bring the whole house of cards crashing down, then civilzation falls.

          If, on the other hand, the world has su

      • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @02:50PM (#30447992) Homepage Journal

        Actually, that's not quite true. An eruption of the magnitude of some of Yellowstone's earlier ones is believed to be a mass extinction event.

        So, yes, it wont kill off all the large land animals... it will only kill off most of them (studies show figures speculating 70-90%). Sadly, I have yet to see a study that shows how much more of the human population will be killed off by each other in the fight for resources.

        It is also believed that such an eruption will kill off most plant life on the planet, which will then take years to regenerate. While the initial explosion may only kill off millions or hundreds of millions, it is the subsequent damage that will cause the mass extinction event. Once the plantlife near entirely dies out, so do most of the livestock, and thus us (those of us who survive the initial explosion). In addition, our current infrastructure is not designed to filter out the massive amounts of sulfides that will rain into the water for many years... ie: very little drinking water for most. If you have drinking water provided by ground wells in deep aquifers, great! But most drinking water is provided by reservoirs, which will become highly contaminated.

        Keep in mind, Yellowstone has had numerous "violent" (understatement) eruptions... most people forget about the truly "violent" ones such as the one 600,000 years ago.

        Two of Yellowstone's caldera forming eruptions are among the largest eruptions ever known to have occurred on Earth. Smaller eruptions by other volcanoes have accounted for mass extinction events hitting the 65-70% extinction level.

        Most people don't have the slightest clue just how explosive an eruption Yellowstone can have (or has had in the past). A simple look at the geography (or lack thereof) of the region that Yellowstone's caldera sits in and that the hotspot has moved through will reveal this though. As a matter of fact, that lack of geography is what originally led explorers to not notice the massive caldera... it wasnt until one realized that the lack of specific geological features (and realizing the massive lake he was observing were the rest of the geological features) was indeed the volcano itself.

        For instance, what you will find missing along the Yellowstone hotspot's line of travel are... oh, such minor things as... an entire section of the mountain range it sits in.

        Unlike "conventional" volcanoes, Yellowstone does not build mountains... it reduces them to near nothingness, leaving depressions in the earth where they used to exist. The hotspot alone is bigger than some of our smaller states, and the caldera is big enough to fit whole towns and small cities in it - or even decent sized cities/boroughs... like Brooklyn - IN the caldera. 34 MILES by 45 MILES in size... and that doesnt count the hotspot below it which is much more massive - that's just the size of the "opening" created in the last volcanic eruption.

        I guess, technically, you are correct... it wont be the end of the world... but it will be the end of almost all land dwelling life on it. Then again, there are theories that a truly catostrophic eruption may be the end, or close to it, of the world, as the stresses shift the planet's orbit and/or create severe damage to the tectonic plates...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      You should stop getting your science facts from news outlets.
      It won't destroy the world, or even come close to killing a significant percentage of people.
      It might kill, maybe, 100 Million people with another 20 million as the results of disruption of service.
      And that's worse case, OMG I can't believe we were this unlucky scenario.

      Unless of course we are bombarded by magic neutrinos from the sun.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by RobertM1968 (951074)

        Studies, by scientists who have studied Yellowstone for years, disagree. An eruption like the one 640,000 years ago, is expected to be a worldwide mass extinction event. The fallout effects (acid rain, no sunlight for years, etc) are also expected to be quite global. The effect to plant life is expected to be near extinction. The effect to animal life (especially when you realize there is little plant life to sustain the herbivores and omnivores) is thus near extinction.

        Current estimates, by people far mo

  • IF this thing will eventually blow (spewing movie credits all over the northern hemisphere, some might say), is there a way to stop it from happening? Can the volcano be "tapped" to allow the molten rock to ooze out and relieve some of the pressure? Can underground formations be "cracked" with explosives to, perhaps, add additional room underground for all this hot rock?

    While we all go on about climate change, this is something that (from what I understand) could pretty much wipe out North America, and may

  • So is it even theoretically possible to, say, dig a big shaft into it to slowly release the pressure under controlled conditions over decades or centuries?

    • by Tlosk (761023)

      Theoretically? Yes. Realistically? Not in our lifetime.

    • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:04PM (#30445134)

      So is it even theoretically possible to, say, dig a big shaft into it to slowly release the pressure under controlled conditions over decades or centuries?

      Likely, if you forget about Murphy...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JDeane (1402533)

      A better solution would be to install several large geothermal power generation plants...

      But this would "ruin" the park.

      Ahh well who wants to save the world and get nearly free electricity out of the deal.

      • by Aeros (668253) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:15PM (#30445276)
        wouldn't the volcano blowing kinda ruin the park as well? im just sayin..
    • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:12PM (#30445242)
      Probably not. Imagine this as being like a new oil well... A real gusher, stuff flies up hundreds of feet into the air.

      Now imagine that oil is hot enough to melt the rock you're standing on, and the machinery you just used to dig the well.

      Oh, and there's 800,000 cubic miles of it. (rounded from D x W x W (410*45*45) from article, not accurate).
    • Thank God, the US has developed a device that will penertrate rock, currently we can not reach a depth of 410 miles, but here is a good reason to try and the Russians and Chinese will no be able to bitch.
    • We can drill 12km down and that is a very small hole indeed, the distances involved here are a bit larger. And that is DRILL, not dig. If you drilled into lava/magma the drillbit would melt, get stuck and the hole be plugged with your drill. Even if could drill a hollow hole, the moment the magma flowed in it would cool and get stuck on its way up. It would be like trying to bleed to dead from a needle puncture. (which doesn't happen by the way, before I start a new internet scare)

      Digging that deep, well t

  • Pretty deep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:02PM (#30445082)

    That is pretty deep, it extends well below the earths crust which is about 30 miles thick below the continents, so it goes well into the mantle of the earth. This could be a similar hotspot feature to hawaii, however may manifest in a different way on the thicker continental crust compared to the oceanic crust beneath hawaii. Other similar features of this kind are the New England Hotspot which produces a series of volcanos in Quebec which have become series of hills including the one Montreal is named after. That hotspot is now inactive and off the coast of africa (the crust moved, not the hotspot).

    • by Kingrames (858416)
      Interesting. Makes me wonder if Olympus Mons really is the biggest volcano. I mean, if you looked at it from the side and took into account how deep the source went, instead of just looking at the height measured from the air-exposed base.
  • by assemblerex (1275164) * on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:04PM (#30445138)
    at the precipice of become spacefaring people. Mega volcano? Mega landslide in Hawaii? Defrosting Russian permafrost? Global warming? Comet? Meteor? Gamma ray burst? Solar flare?
    Pick one and we're screwed. Sadly all we care about it the latest trinket to amuse our monkey brains while we imagine we are safe from all danger. somehow. maybe.
    • by inKubus (199753)

      Bacteria will survive and we'll be back again some other day. The wheel can be a ho, but the world keeps spinning around.

      • Except the earth has a shelf life, and the expiration date is approaching.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nizo (81281) *

        Of course one problem is that all of the easily obtainable resources will have already been strip mined by us, so that by the time something crawls back out of the muck it will be considerably harder to advance past the club and stick phase.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by snooo53 (663796) *

          Of course one problem is that all of the easily obtainable resources will have already been strip mined by us, so that by the time something crawls back out of the muck it will be considerably harder to advance past the club and stick phase.

          Assuming a civilization ending destruction occurs, that doesn't necessarily mean all the resources are gone. Instead future generations will be processing garbage from landfills, electronic waste, decrepit buildings, seawater and the like. If anything it seems like they will have a head start with all sorts of processed metal prevalent in cities. Cars, wires, pipes, cans, coins, etc..

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by agrif (960591)

      Yes.

      People need to realize this right now. What are we still doing here? Doesn't it seem a little stupid to keep all this intelligence on one tiny, tiny planet? We're the only conscious things we know of, but any number of frequent, devastating events could end that forever. You'd think getting off this rock would be humanity's first priority.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by FTWinston (1332785)
        Well, to pick the most significant one from the OP's list, if there's a GRB that threatens Earth, I'd like to see the spaceship that's gonna take you far enough away to escape its effects.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by geckipede (1261408)
          Depending on what type of burst you were dealing with, there might be several worlds in our own solar system that could provide enough shielding. All you need is for it to be rotating slowly enough that you can use the ground beneath your feet as shielding. I'm not sure how long the longest duration gamma ray bursts are, I think it's on a timescale of months. If so you could hide on venus, and for a shorter duration burst, mercury too.
      • by danbert8 (1024253) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:32PM (#30445592)

        I don't know if you've noticed, but we have managed to get off this rock. The problem is finding another rock that we can survive on. So far, even the most catastrophic disaster short of the sun blowing up will still leave the earth more likely to support humans than any other planet (or moon) we've discovered.

        • by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:49PM (#30445904) Homepage Journal

          In practically anthing shy of an extinction-level event, the biggest danger won't be the event - it'll be ourselves. No doubt enough heavy weapons will survive the event that the next round of major death will be the survivors duking it out. We won't be able to begin the business of survival, let along climbing back, until the heavy weapons are spent, or at least until the long-distance delivery mechanisms are.

          The other thing to realize is that we've used up the easy resources building our civilization. If we destroy our technological base, it'll still be easy getting basics like iron and aluminum, but the only easy petrochemicals will be those in storage tanks. Even peak-oil deniers would agree that the oil that is left requires higher technology than Jed Clampett had, in order to reach it. Climbing back would be a tough process.

          As for other rocks, they may not be as inherently survivable as Earth, even considering a disaster, but presumably the survivor-violence would be removed. The real problem is building a local technology base sufficient to sustain life in a hostile environment, absent help from Earth.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by danbert8 (1024253)

            Well if you mean the easily accessible resources that the government will let you get at, then yes... There is still plenty of easily accessible oil in places the government won't let us tap (ANWAR, West Coast, etc) and coal will likely be available in very large quantities that can't be used today because of environmental regulations, but in a post-apocalyptic anarchy period, would be burned like there's no tomorrow.

        • by gmuslera (3436)
          Probably terraforming another rock will be harder, and will take far more time and resources, than building a self-sustained IIS. Not all needed technology is done yet, but odds that it happens should be bigger.
    • If we had been scared we would still be in our tree screaming "the ground is lava!"

      There are two kinds of monkeys, those that cower and those that say "here kitty kitty" to the tiger... oh and the third is the one who runs the fastest once the tiger pounces. The heroes are the first to land on Omaha, the ones who had sons were in the second wave.

    • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:30PM (#30445550)
      To be fair, most of the things you mentioned would not be extinction level events -- it would take quite a bit to fully extinguish humanity from this planet -- we have more knowledge and technology to help us survive than any other species in history. We can build underground bunkers powered by nuclear reactors and grow plants by the soft glow of UV lamps, for instance. For humans to become extinct, something will have to hit us really hard and really fast. I do agree with your main thesis though -- we need to get our asses into space while we still have the chance. In any of these cases, we would, at best lose hundreds to thousands of years of potential progress. If we had kept up the momentum we had in the 1960's, 2001 would have been a pretty accurate depiction of the year in question, methinks. It's a pity, really.
  • by realsilly (186931) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:13PM (#30445256)

    Several have suggested that we try to come up with a way to release pressure from the Super Volcano, but I can't see that helpful. The life of this planet depends upon this changes in the mantel and the crust, and trying to divert what happens in nature may cause larger problems for our population on this planet later. It amazes me that we think as a people that our lives on this planet are somehow more significant than other life forms. Yes we are evolved, and that would lead many to argue this point, but the reality is we are like ant to this planet. We've infested it with our population growths. The planet will do what the planet will do, and we're really just along for the ride.

    I'm not a volcano expert nor am I any renound scientist, I'm an average person looking at the possiblity of life as I know it ceasing to exist. I don't look forward to a massive kill-off of the many life-forms on this planet. I don't, but I do feel that by messing with nature we will cause more problems than if we don't. But hey, this is only my take on the situation described. Meh!

    • It amazes me that we think as a people that our lives on this planet are somehow more significant than other life forms. Yes we are evolved, and that would lead many to argue this point, but the reality is we are like ant to this planet.

      Thats a bit of an underestimate of our impact on the planet. We've spread across and drastically altered much of its surface far quicker than any other lifeform I can think of. The original oxygen-producing bacteria, mosses, trees, and grass may all have had more significant effects than we have, but we've been rushing to catch up pretty well so far.

      but I do feel that by messing with nature we will cause more problems than if we don't. But hey, this is only my take on the situation described. Meh!

      Well, in the face of extinction, its usually ok (as far as I'm concerned) to mess with stuff you don't understand in the hope of avoiding it. If said extinction

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sznupi (719324)

      It amazes me that we think as a people that our lives on this planet are somehow more significant than other life forms.

      How is that amazing? It's perfectly natural for any species to act that way, for one simple reason: those which don't have such trait, don't survive long.

    • Are you actually suggesting that given the choice between an explosion 10 times larger than all the worlds nuclear arsenal combined or the possibility that maybe defusing it would cause a problem thousands or millions of years down the road, you would actually choose the civilization ending explosion? Ok, maybe not civilization ending, but it's surely going to kill a good half billion people almost instantly, and another 4 billion on top of that due to food shortages, tidal waves, and warfare (limited reso

    • by mpe (36238)
      Several have suggested that we try to come up with a way to release pressure from the Super Volcano, but I can't see that helpful.

      Any significent change is going to involve dealing with amounts of energy which make nuclear weapons look like toys.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jayme0227 (1558821)

      It amazes me that we think as a people that our lives on this planet are somehow more significant than other life forms.

      Then it would amaze you that my life is more important than yours, at least to me? I think most people operate under the belief that humans are more important than animals because, well, we evolved.

      Here's my list of most importance:
      Me, my (future)progeny, and my spouse
      My family and friends
      People closely sharing my culture, ideals and/or geographic area
      Human beings in general
      Animals (especially domesticated animals)
      Plants

      Basically, I'm willing to sacrifice the well-being of any item on the list in favor of w

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shotgun (30919)

      It amazes me that we think as a people that our lives on this planet are somehow more significant than other life forms.

      I'm not that concerned about "our lives on this planet". I'm concerned about MY life on this planet. In fact, I am VERY concerned about MY life on this planet. It is one of my greatest concerns, everything else being in a very far second. Most of the people I've talked with feel the same way.

      We all do agree, though, that your selflessness is very touching.

  • Not if, but when is it going to blow? That's what matters most. Are we any closer to understanding that?

  • Well, that's great. We'll get the CO2 balanced and spend the trillions to do that, deal with overpopulation, and then the Earth will open up a Siberian traps style lava flow and kill 90% of all life on the planet.

  • by swanzilla (1458281) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:23PM (#30445426) Homepage
    I did my undergrad approximately an hour from Yellowstone...the big buzz in 2003 was a 100 foot tall "bulge" under Yellowstone Lake. This was dismissed as a not-issue since it was geothermal activity, not volcanic activity. While this finding is volcanic in nature, it hardly makes much of a difference as far as the public safety is concerned. As the article points out, the real mystery lies in the region between 10 and 50 miles below the surface...this has yet to be modeled.
  • by Snaller (147050) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:07PM (#30446226) Journal

    So I can mod you insightful!

    (Oh wait...)

  • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:33PM (#30446740)
    One thing this new extended magma body explains is the vigorous eruptions in the Craters of the Moon [wikipedia.org] region in central Idaho. This is a series of basalt eruptions over the past 14,000 or so years. What's significant about them is that basalt is very hot magma. It demonstrates some sort of relatively quick outlet for hot magma below. Given that the magma plume flattens to the west as it nears the continental crust, these series of eruptions are now explainable as being convenient exits near the western end of the magma plume.

    I wonder if such eruptions help to vent pressure from the underlying magma body postponing a eruption or contrarily are indications of building pressure in the underlying magma body that will only be released with a supervolcano eruption.

Bus error -- please leave by the rear door.

Working...