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Earth Science

Magma Reservoir Under Yellowstone Is Much Bigger Than Previously Thought 93

Posted by Soulskill
from the journey-to-the-center-of-wyoming dept.
schwit1 writes "The reservoir of molten rock underneath Yellowstone National Park in the United States is at least two and a half times larger than previously thought. Despite this, the scientists who came up with this latest estimate say that the highest risk in the iconic park is not a volcanic eruption but a huge earthquake. Jamie Farrell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah, mapped the underlying magma reservoir by analyzing data from more than 4,500 earthquakes. Seismic waves travel more slowly through molten rock than through solid rock, and seismometers can detect those changes. The images show that the reservoir resembles a 4,000-cubic-kilometer underground sponge, with 6–8% of it filled with molten rock. It underlies most of the Yellowstone caldera and extends a little beyond it to the northeast."
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Magma Reservoir Under Yellowstone Is Much Bigger Than Previously Thought

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    time for a big old geothermal plant?

    • No, far better to have loads of medium sized ones spread all over.
      • by dbIII (701233)
        It would be however the issue of finding sites with hot rock means you are stuck with big volcanic ones or a slightly larger number of ones with a lower temperature difference. In a few places there are efforts to survey for possible geothermal sites under existing power transmission lines but I haven't heard of any success.
        Sadly there hasn't been much success even in obvious non-volcanic hot spots. It gets very expensive to drill down well beyond a kilometre.
        • I was just in Butte, Montana where they have a park on the grounds of former copper mines that drilled holes a mile deep, in the early 20th century. How expensive could it be, with our improved technology?

        • First off, most oil wells in America are currently drilled at 6000-10000' feet deep. That is, 1.5 - ~3 KM deep. Secondly, many of those oil wells have temps of 125-150C.
          With fractional drilling and the pump out of these areas, one smart idea is to drill and bend at around 12K' under a number of oil wells that are mostly spent. Then use that to push either water or CO2 through and heat up.

          Now, as to Yellowstone, you can drill less than 1000' and hit loads of places with LOTS of heat. And yeah, they have
          • by dbIII (701233)
            Much deeper than that so far (~5km from memory for a "close to surface" geothermal heat source) and those deep oil wells were not cheap anyway. Google for "hot wet rock" - maybe with the net being what it is add "geothermal" :)
            It's interesting stuff but the costs have made development of a pilot plant very slow.

            Volcanic stuff in comparison is obvious and already in production use in at least two countries.
            • You will find that most of the current active geo-thermal systems are located close to the surface (like 1000-3000' down).
              And I think that you were looking for hot dry rock(Australian) or EGS (USA) for enhanced geothermal system is what you are looking for.
              Now, for being able to drill most anywhere, you need to go deeper with a supply well that pushes a working fluid through cracks out to other collection wells that then generate steam. This concept was developed in America back in the 70's, but was stopp
              • by dbIII (701233)
                Yes that's the sort of stuff I meant - good summary there. I've been following the slow progress of two Australian projects over the last decade and a bit. Drilling deep holes costs a lot more than those projects can easily obtain. In one of those projects it's effectively natural nuclear power :)
                Getting enough of a temperature difference for electricity generation isn't easy that way - very deep or volcanic are the options. If you lower the bar even more to heat pumps however then you don't have to go
    • Re:free power (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @12:13AM (#45276743)

      time for a big old geothermal plant?

      Several companies have applied for permits to build geothermal plants near Yellowstone Park. So far all applications have been denied, by either the federal government or the state of Montana, out of concern that they would adversely affect the geothermal features of the park. We need to understand the geology better before we start tapping the heat.

      • The one group that did it was a religious nut group who also did an open system. And yeah, it had an impact. So now, we are insane in our action. We need to allow small ones with binary to go in there and test these, and then raise them up from small to medium.
        • by wagnerrp (1305589)
          What are you even talking about? Power plants with "binary"?
          • binary power plants, are basically, closed cycles. That is, they pull up steam or CO2 and then use that to heat water or even ammonia, while the original steam/CO2 is re-inected back into the ground. Note that the secondary steam/ammonia drives the generators.
      • Re:free power (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dunbal (464142) * on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @12:38AM (#45276871)
        No, politicians and bureaucrats need to understand mathematics better so that they realize exactly how much heat you'd have to remove to start influencing geological events. Especially ones that measure 4000 km3...
        • Re:free power (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @01:12AM (#45277023)

          No, politicians and bureaucrats need to understand mathematics better so that they realize exactly how much heat you'd have to remove to start influencing geological events.

          It may be less than you realize. According to the National Park Service [nps.gov]: In Iceland and New Zealand, geothermal drill holes and wells 2.5 - 6.2 miles distant have reduced geyser activity and hot spring discharge.

          There may be 4000km^3 of magma, but if the geysers and GT plants are both using the same topmost 0.001%, there can be an effect.

        • Re:free power (Score:4, Insightful)

          by quantaman (517394) on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @06:37AM (#45278197)

          No, politicians and bureaucrats need to understand mathematics better so that they realize exactly how much heat you'd have to remove to start influencing geological events. Especially ones that measure 4000 km3...

          While cheap geothermal would be nice I actually don't mind if they're hesitant to start poking the magma filled bubble that is eventually going to burst and wipe out the continent.

          • by JDG1980 (2438906)

            While cheap geothermal would be nice I actually don't mind if they're hesitant to start poking the magma filled bubble that is eventually going to burst and wipe out the continent.

            Wouldn't poking holes in the caldera help keep it from building up pressure, therefore making an eruption less likely, not more?

        • it is 80km x 20 km x 2.5 km? Not clear in article.

        • by Alomex (148003)

          Actually every experimental deep geothermal hole we've dug so far had measurable impacts on geyser an even earthquake activity. I believe in geothermal as a great source of energy, but evidence thus far suggests we should proceed with caution.

        • Businesses have an addiction to expansion. And they aren't going to be happy with the government saying "Alright, you've tapped enough, close that big fancy plant you built." It will be one plant this year with no effect. Then it will be more for longer. Then they'll be funding studies disputing anthropogenic geothermal change. "Old Faithful was going to stop erupting a decade after we started anyway. Besides, JOBS!"

          Perhaps there's enough heat to tap without any effects, just I'd rather err on the
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Perhaps there's enough heat to tap without any effects, just I'd rather err on the side of not allowing greedy people to plunder a national treasure until we know it's actually a hazard not to.

            You mean the national treasure that is a huge frackin' time bomb, just waiting to explode and kill us all? I'd rather lose Old Faithful its kin than lose the continent.

            • Read the whole line you quoted. Lets be sure it's actually a hazard and actually will be solved by plundering it first.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by gmuslera (3436)

      What the worst thing that could happen? At least this time US (or what remain of it, another possitive effect) will not deny that they caused a climate change giving free pass to a greedy corporation to build it. And as a plus, global warming will not be a concern for long time.

      Honestly, i would not let a squirrel plant an acorn [youtube.com] around there, much less someone building a big bad geotermal plant. Maybe we won't change nothing, but if shit happens, it will be big.

    • by operagost (62405)
      You forget, AC, that we are surrounded by liquid hot MAG-MA.
    • There are very few "perfect" energy sources in the world, and geothermal has its pecticular share of issues.
      The brines associated with geothermal have all kinds of chemicals ike sulfates and metals. They need to be disposed of. This was the chief complaint in not allowing geothermal in Hawaii.
      If you create your own fluid circulation system, i.e. inject water to heat up, then run a dynamo, then you risk induced-quakes. These have been associatred with numerous injection geothermal systems in Californi
      • by BranMan (29917)

        And why is that necessarily a bad thing? The way I look at it if tapping geothermal causes quakes, then quakes were going to happen anyway - eventually. And the longer between quakes, the worse they are. That seems obvious - more time for energy to build up, release more energy at once, worse quake.

        I rather trade an earthquake that's a 2 or 3 on the scale every year than wait for the 100 year one that hits with an 11.5!

  • where's my *DOOM*??? we can't even get a 1 mile asteroid to come closer than 2.4 times the earth-moon distance in the forseeable future. (1997 XF11 in 2028)

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Don't worry, we have created sufficient terrorists to keep the population afraid.
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @11:24PM (#45276387) Homepage Journal
    Obviously what is happening is that the Shredder and Krang have been creating magma in their magma-factory inside the Technodrome. They are obviously planning something sinister, so we need to send some turtles, perhaps turtles trained in ninjutsu, down there to set things straight.
  • Be afraid (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @11:24PM (#45276389)

    The last Caldera in that region of the country morphed into The SCO Group.

    • by tobiasly (524456)

      The last Caldera in that region of the country morphed into The SCO Group.

      Luckily for us they were able to arrange their own extinction-level event before becoming a danger.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @11:28PM (#45276419)

    I've played a lot of Minecraft, and what we need to do is dig down to the Magma layer so we can get some diamonds and obsidian. This we can then use to make a portal to the Nether, which we will then enter to be safe from the perilous scourge of the pigmen.

      Everybody get to punching.

    • by Jesus_666 (702802)
      Digging down to the deepest layers of the world sounds great at first but then someone carelessly shoots a Voodoo Demon and next thing we know we're neck-deep in unicorns and somersauting tortoises. Thanks but no.
  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Tuesday October 29, 2013 @11:42PM (#45276525) Homepage

    I'd tap that!

  • Actual Publication (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 30, 2013 @06:37AM (#45278193)

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2013.03.022

    "Repeating earthquakes in the Yellowstone volcanic field: Implications for rupture dynamics, ground deformation, and migration in earthquake swarms"
    Frédérick Massin, Jamie Farrell, Robert B. Smith

    Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
    Volume 257, 1 May 2013, Pages 159–173

  • the highest risk in the iconic park is not a volcanic eruption but a huge earthquake

    ... that will cause the megaeruption.

    • This geophysicist seems to have trouble acknowledging existential threats - he's very concerned about earthquakes that kill 28 people, but brushes off events that are 1 million times less likely, yet could kill far more than 28 million people within a year of them happening....

  • Puts the caldera well into Montana and Idaho*

    [*] - http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs100-03/ [usgs.gov]

  • That's like finding out Kim Kardashian's ass is much bigger than originally thought.

  • A magma reservoir for ants?! It has to be at least... 3 times bigger than this!

Theory is gray, but the golden tree of life is green. -- Goethe

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