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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."
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Yellowstone Supervolcano Larger Than First Thought

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  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:04PM (#30445136) Homepage
    Nope. The energies are so large that we have NO way to tap it. It has more energy than every single power plant on the face of the planet.

    Maybe in 400 to 500 years we will have developed the science. Right now, all we can do is pray.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:16PM (#30445308) Homepage
    More info. "The Yellowstone Caldera was formed by a massive volcanic explosion some 640,000 years ago that was 2500 times the size of Mount St. Helens. That is about 875000 Megatons (of TNT). This would have caused a mass global die-off as well. " [statemaster.com]

    A megaton (of TNT) is 4.184 × 1015 joules = 4.184 petajoules . You average Hydrogen bomb has about one megaton. The world has only about 70,000 nuclear bombs (rough estimate, USSR has about 16,000, the USA has about 33,000 - and most are much less powerful than an Hydrogen bomb). So the previous eruption was equal to more than 10 times ALL the existing nuclear bombs.

  • 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 Akaihiryuu (786040) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:28PM (#30445508)
    Besides, you know what happens if you try to tap a supervolcano! http://stargate.wikia.com/wiki/Inferno [wikia.com] We don't have an Ancient ship to save us from it either.
  • Re:Multitalented! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:34PM (#30445636)

    Robert Smith is the singer of The Cure, "The first time I saw lightning strike, I saw it underground." is a line in a Cure song ("Hot Hot Hot" I believe.)

  • by dk90406 (797452) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:36PM (#30445680)
    That is not pridictable with current knowledge and tech. Perhaps next year or perhaps in 100,000 years. Given the periodicity of previous eruptions, I would not expect it to wait 500,000 years. IIRC correctly it is already 100.000 years overdue.

    But it is entirely possible that it won't be a super eruption, but just a smaller blow. These have happened some times within the last 100.000 years.

  • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:48PM (#30445890)
    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:Dig? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:54PM (#30446006) Journal

    You don't have to drill till its hot enough for your drillbit to melt.

    You just have to drill till it's hot enough to turn pressurized water into superheated steam. Then you have a source of energy.

    The other option of course is to drill without a drillbit:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090912144809.htm [sciencedaily.com]

  • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @12:59PM (#30446102)

    The US has 9,000 and Russia about 13,000 and about 23,000 total warheads.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_with_nuclear_weapons [wikipedia.org]

    Nearly all the US warheads are "hydrogen" bombs, fission-fusion. The most common yield for American bombs is 330-350kt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermonuclear_bomb#Hydrogen_bombs [wikipedia.org]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W78 [wikipedia.org]

    Cruise missile warheads are lower, 10-150kt.

    The US no longer has a 1mt warhead

    Russian warheads are higher yield do to inaccurate missiles, most seem to be 500-600kt.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:08PM (#30446248) Homepage Journal

    Wow, never talk about nuclear bombs again. every single 'fact' you have is wrong.
    Hydrogen bombs aren't used any more, most remaining nuclear warheads are over a megaton.

    Plus it doesn't relate in any way to Yellowstone.

    Oh, and the eruption the produced 2500 times Mount St. Helens* was the one from 2.1 million years ago NOT 640,000** years ago.

    * Mount her? I hardly know here.

    ** ought to be enough for anybody.

  • by geckipede (1261408) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:16PM (#30446398)
    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 olsmeister (1488789) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:19PM (#30446460)
    There has been some evidence that the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia nearly wiped out Homo Sapiens and contributed to a genetic bottleneck.
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2008JD011652.shtml [agu.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory [wikipedia.org]
  • Deeper (Score:3, Informative)

    by KlaymenDK (713149) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:30PM (#30446688) Journal

    Actually, the worlds' deepest mine is just under *4* kilometres deep, so you're off by a bit there. The miners are being extra vigilant for tectonics, and their biggest challenge (apart from fresh air to breathe) is heat coming off the tunnel walls.

    Scary stuff, if you ask me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @01:42PM (#30446920)

    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?

    That approach is specifically contraindicated due to the fact that releasing the pressure is the mechanism that would cause an eruption! The magma under Yellowstone has been slowly absorbing C02 from the surrounding rock for hundreds of thousands of years. The absorbed CO2 is dissolved in the magma in the form of a liquid under very high pressure.

    If the pressure is released the liquid CO2 will become gaseous CO2, taking up dramatically more space and raising the pressure in the magma chamber. As magma and CO2 are expelled through the shaft, the pressure of the magma chamber is lowered further. That, coupled with the pressure waves now cascading through the magma from the area of the first CO2 expansion, causes even more liquid CO2 to become gaseous. The cycle repeats until there is so much pressure on the overlying rock that the volcano explodes.

    So as you can see, drilling a shaft is a Real Bad Idea.

  • by aardvarkjoe (156801) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @02:18PM (#30447544)

    Yes, very informative, moderators.

    That must be why millions of people died in India, after an accident at a chemical plant, in the 1980s.

    I think he's probably referring to this [wikipedia.org] accident. According to Wikipedia, the estimates of the death toll seem to range from 15000 to 35000. That's only "millions" in RIAA math.

    Despite our best efforts, man-made disasters are pitiful compared to what nature has managed to do.

  • Re:First Thought? (Score:2, Informative)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @02:48PM (#30447964) Journal

    No, "Let there be light" was the first sentence spoken. The first thought was: "It's pitch dark here. I'll have to do something so I won't be eaten by a grue."

  • 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...

  • by RobertM1968 (951074) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @03:14PM (#30448374) Homepage Journal

    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 Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday December 15, 2009 @06:47PM (#30451258)

    This is exactly right. That's why radon gas, which is radioactive, is so incredibly dangerous: every time it seeps into someone's basement, it literally blasts the occupants' DNA to pieces, though slowly. So instead of whole subdivisions of people dying quickly from this radon gas, they turn into flesh-eating zombies, and infect people in surrounding homes and developments.

    Luckily, our government has been very good at containing these zombie outbreaks, eliminating all the zombies, and keeping the whole thing very quiet to avoid public hysteria. That's why you never hear about it.

    Don't even get me started about the zombism caused by the radiation from dental X-rays. There's a conspiracy by the ADA (American Dental Association) to hide the truth about all the people turned into zombies by dental X-rays.

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