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Earth Science

Yellowstone Supervolcano Even Bigger Than We Realized 152

The Washington Post reports that the "supervolcano" beneath Yellowstone National Park (which, thankfully, did not kill us all in 2004, or in 2008 ) may be more dangerous when it does erupt than anyone realized until recently. Scientists have today published a paper documenting their discovery of an even larger, deeper pool of magma below the already huge reservoir near the surface. From the article: On Thursday, a team from the University of Utah published a study, in the journal Science, that for the first time offers a complete diagram of the plumbing of the Yellowstone volcanic system. The new report fills in a missing link of the system. It describes a large reservoir of hot rock, mostly solid but with some melted rock in the mix, that lies beneath a shallow, already-documented magma chamber. The newly discovered reservoir is 4.5 times larger than the chamber above it. There's enough magma there to fill the Grand Canyon. The reservoir is on top of a long plume of magma that emerges from deep within the Earth's mantle. ... “This is like a giant conduit. It starts down at 1,000 kilometers. It's a pipe that starts down in the Earth," said Robert Smith, emeritus professor of geophysics at the University of Utah and a co-author of the new paper. ... The next major, calderic eruption could be within the boundaries of the park, northeast of the old caldera. “If you have this crustal magma system that is beneath the pre-Cambrian rocks, eventually if you get enough fluid in that system, enough magma, you can create another caldera, another set of giant explosions," Smith said. "There’s no reason to think it couldn’t continue that same process and repeat that process to the northeast.”
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Yellowstone Supervolcano Even Bigger Than We Realized

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  • Here's to hoping they don't find any oil there, given the earthquakes it's caused in OK.

    • I was thinking to drill into the reservoir now to release pressure or perhaps drill lots of holes to pump water and create steam energy. Perhaps over time this would cool the magma into stone and reduce the reservoir size and increase distance to the surface.

      • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @06:44PM (#49541303) Homepage
        That's been mentioned before, but apparently the very act of drilling could weaken the structure to force it to erupt.

        Having said that, one might be able to drill from a decent angle to maintain structure integrity as I've shown here [].
        • Yes, carefully releasing pressure. That's half of it. AC below got the other half (not sure if he meant to).

          Lower the temperature. I was thinking fraking the perimeter would spread the heat and the surrounding earth is his heatsink...

          But what if the fracking fluid itself was some cryogenically refrigerated really cold shit? That's like, a triple whammy.

          Brilliant, or worst idea ever?

        • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @11:14PM (#49542849) Journal

          Be sure to save game first - you may need to re-load if you don't get it quite right.

        • by GNious ( 953874 ) on Friday April 24, 2015 @03:13AM (#49543555)

          Having said that, one might be able to drill from a decent angle to maintain structure integrity as I've shown here [].

          I fully expected goatse or rickroll or something - very disappointed!

          • Think of the energy and building material that would give. All we'd need is for the molten magma stream to boil some water on the way out, and while still molten, be transported to the site of whatever massive construction project we choose. Maybe tie the two together, using some fancy Leidenfrost effect to keep the hot lava flowing on a cushion of steam. Once the lava gets to its destination, huge bots with chilled trowels would form it into walls or sculptures. With enough magma to fill the grand cany
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        I think you need to spend a wee bit of time watching lava flows. Atmospheric ones, ones in the rain and ones under the water. Sure the out most layer cools but then it insulates the inner layers and they simply stay hot ie lava tube []. So the tube walls cool and the lave at their core remains hot enough to leave the tube empty and you are simply doing the opposite. You are not cooling an out of control backyard barbecue but a major geologic formation. So how big the hole, ho

        • by itzly ( 3699663 )

          Want to be safe from them, colony is space is the only real solution. Just the way it is.

          Life on earth has survived worse things than Yellowstone eruptions. I'll stay here, if you don't mind.

          • by dave420 ( 699308 )
            Some forms of life on Earth have survived these eruptions before, but there are no guarantees humans would be so lucky.
        • What is the solution,


          As in "Oh, Yellowstone is erupting. I'll get some popcorn to watch until all the news broadcasters are dead. Then get on with my life."

          A Yellowstone supervolcano would be devastating for the United States and most of Canada. At home, we might even get some ash fall (but we get that from Iceland already). Wouldn't be good for crops for the next couple of years, but we could probably use a 50% population drop. It'll be back in less than a century. Fuck up comms ofr a couple of y

      • I'm no expert, but from what I've seen about volcanoes in general, they contain a lot of dissolved gases kept in solution by the pressure. Release the pressure, and the gas comes out of solution, causing an explosive eruption. Just like carbonation in soft drink that has been shaken. Open the bottle and release the pressure, and the gas rapidly escapes, bringing the drink with it.
      • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

        Cooling the magma into stone could have long-term negative effects - a lot of this magma has quite a bit of dissolved gases.

        The end result is that when it erupts, the gases come out of solution and frequently drive the eruption (think shaken-up soda bottle)

        Cooling the magma will stop progression initially, but will cause the gases to accumulate - this could lead eventually to an even more catastrophic BOOM.

    • Hasn't hurt yet (Score:5, Informative)

      by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @06:30PM (#49541219)
      It's been an oil producing area for over 100 years []
    • Here's to hoping they don't find any oil there, given the earthquakes it's caused in OK.

      FWIW, except for the trailer-home salesmen, people here find the annual tornado problem much more inconvenient than the increase in 1.0 to 3.0 Richter quakes.

    • Here's to hoping they don't find any oil there, given the earthquakes it's caused in OK.

      The magma is so close to the surface that there won't be the usual layer after deeper layer of hydrocarbons to go after.

      Better yet: Here's hoping they find oil near the surface, extract it, and then turn the oil deposit wells into geothermal loops.

      What an opportunity! We can extract high quality geothermal energy from the site AND cool the rock near the surface to prevent an eruption.

      Disclaimer: I am not a geologist so this probably makes no sense at all

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    whatever we do, we shouldn't let them loose.

  • two negatives, and you can guess the rest.
    • That means the odds are zero or greater, not one to one like you're implying.

      • Actually, it is close to certain that this chamber will erupt eventually. Eventually, on the geologic time scale, could be a really long time from now, on a human time scale. The Snake River Plains were formed by an eruption from this very system about 11 million years ago. That was long before our ancestors became human, so it really was a long time ago. When it does erupt again, the humans might be long gone. Or, maybe not.

        • True, but my programmer-side was nitpicking his assumptions from the language used.

        • When it does erupt again, the humans might be long gone. Or, maybe not.

          The real question is, will humans still be here after it erupts....

          I was around when St. Helen's blew up, and that was a relatively modest eruption. A super volcano could be extinction event if it is big enough.
          • A super volcano could be extinction event if it is big enough.

            Not unless it is a lot bigger. The one that occurred around the time of the extinction of the Dinosaurs gave rise to the Deccan Traps [].

            To put the scale of this extinction-level eruption in context the article mentions that the new, larger chamber under Yellowstone contains enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon which according to here [] is 4,170 cubic kilometres. The Deccan trap eruptions produced 512,000 cubic kilometres over 30k years. A Yellowstone eruption would certainly cause a lot of devastation over

            • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

              It would probably not cause humans to go extinct, but it could come close. It would probably be the equivalent of a fairly substantial nuclear war.

              Deaths would be in the billions, although mostly from secondary effects like crop failure and disease. And yeah, you could kiss the Western USA goodbye.

  • Maybe there is no coal, but with all those trees, magma, and limestone this park would make a perfect location to start a steel producing fortress.
  • Seems like these stories always come with quite a bit of fear mongering. We all died without the new findings, and we still die with them. *shrug* Kind of like fretting about a giant asteroid impact. Some things are out of our control, and fear/panic won't change that.

    • by Twinbee ( 767046 )
      Not completely out of our control if we colonize Mars, or start building underground cities.
      • I'm not sure underground is such a great idea - underwater now, that might be a different story.

    • I read that if this supervolcano explodes it could cause an extinction event by spewing ash into the air and blocking out the sun.

      • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @09:27PM (#49542267)

        Yes, it could cause what we'd think of as a "nuclear winter". Which is really how it would do most of it's global damage. The ashfall would also be off the charts, but likely confined to North America.

        Basically take the entire Yellowstone park, dig out every cubic centimeter of dirt and rocks from the surface down to the lava reservoir and just throw all of that into the stratosphere. All at once. Of course you don't want to be in the radius where the heavy stuff starts coming down on you, and that will probably be a number of entire states under significant debris.

        The rest of the world will merely need to deal with the sun being blotted out for a few years. This is what happened when Mount Tambora erupted which was only a "normal" VEI-7 eruption. []

        Spoilers: The Year Without A Summer (1816) []

        A supervolcano is VEI-8+

        Note that they are supposed to be 1/10,000ish year events. Thereabouts, that seems sort of high. While Yellowstone might not go off any time soon, there are other places that might much sooner.

        The Toba eruption about 74,000 years ago is thought to have caused a genetic bottleneck in humans were we were cut down to the mere tens of thousands of people in the entire world.

        Toba being principally responsible for this bottleneck is disputed, but it should also be pointed out that humans at that time were fairly mobile, so their strategy for survival would probably not be possible for most of us. Our ancestors at the time didn't rely on agriculture and with humans only in the millions in population, we could have probably foraged and moved.

        Humans today... well let's just say that our urban populations would not have the ability to switch hunting grounds.

        I'm not sure any of the known calderas are actually thought to be ready to blow in the near future, but Yellowstone was supposed to go off in 600,000ish year intervals and I believe we're overdue. It doesn't mean it will go off any time soon, just that it's starting to look like it is time again, assuming that the characteristics of the lava reservoir are similar to last time.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          Of course you don't want to be in the radius where the heavy stuff starts coming down on you

          There's bits of the volcano on the North Korea/China border that came down in Japan a few thousand years ago.

        • have a look at the ash fall at the recent eruption down in Chile... []
        • The UK, Greenland, possibly some of North Africa , etc etc would probably have a few dozen Tsunami's to deal with too.....

        • by wytcld ( 179112 )

          well let's just say that our urban populations would not have the ability to switch hunting grounds

          Where better to hunt? For some, having plentiful prey is the whole reason for urban living.

  • by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @06:38PM (#49541277) Homepage Journal

    And maybe mitigate or eliminate a possible extinction event down the road.

  • by myid ( 3783581 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @06:45PM (#49541309)

    Chile's Calbuco volcano erupted on April 22, "at around 1800 local time" []. The second picture in this article [] shows the eruption at sunset. From that picture, you can see that the ash and smoke from the eruption have begun to spread. According to this web page [], sunset in Chile these days is about 7:10 pm. So about an hour after the eruption, the clouds of dust and smoke had already started to spread.

    Does anyone know if the smoke and ash particles are magnetic? If so, then maybe we can cut down on their spread through the atmosphere, by putting billions of magnetically-charged balloons into the atmosphere above Yellowstone, just before the eruption. Hopefully they would attract some of the smoke and ash particles, and eventually fall back to the earth.

    (Of course, this assumes that we'll have a few hours warning before the eruption, and that the balloons are all ready to go.)

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      (Of course, this assumes that we'll have a few hours warning before the eruption

      I think we'll probably have a few generations of warning. Ash is mostly silica, especially with Yellowstone eruptions. It won't be magnetic. And a bad eruption would be tens to hundreds of cubic kilometers of ash and stuff. You aren't going to push that around with wimpy balloons.

      The ideal solution here is to build up a considerable global food supplies of several years and not be there when the volcano erupts.

    • If Yellowstone goes boom it will almost certainly wipe out most complex life on the planet, and we'll be very fortunate not to count ourselves among the casualties. I'm afraid some balloons just aren't going to cut it.

  • by gremlin_591002 ( 548935 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @06:55PM (#49541387) Journal

    Living just northeast of Yellowstone means never having to worry about saying goodbye. It'll be over so fast you'll miss it.

  • I have a question. Just what is being consumed to keep such a monstrous magma chamber X2 burning? Coal? Oil? something is keeping it molten.
  • Build a trench from yellowstone to the grand canyon.
  • The Yellowstone supervolcano killed ME in both 2004 AND 2008, you insensitive clod!
  • I see they've finally found the Earth's belly button.

  • by turkeyfish ( 950384 ) on Thursday April 23, 2015 @09:23PM (#49542225)

    Thank goodness the republicans have cut funding for projects like these out of the new NSF geosciences budget.

    The last thing we need to do is learn about the risk associated with living on our planet. No doubt it will be far better if the residents of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and points east never worry about science and certainly a lot cheaper just to refer to such potential catastrophe as the "rapture". After all, who needs scientists when we have Michelle Bachmann?

  • which, thankfully, did not kill us all in 2004, or in 2008

    2005-2007: no data

  • rill into them to release the pressure in the form of lava.

    All volcanos are merely giant zits that will pop unless lanced.

  • Until that sucker pops and we have a Biblical event on our hands it's all just PR spin to get people to visit Yellowstone National Park.
  • 1. The Russians came out last week and stated that they were specifically targeting Yellowstone with nukes as a way to take out at least 2/3 of the US. They seem to think if they can get penetration with several nukes they can kick off an eruption. Crazy Russians. Maybe we do live in a glass house after all. 2. Since we seem to be able to create earth quakes by simply dumping salt water and waste water into miles deep caverns below West Texas and Oklahoma why can't we use that water to cool and solidify

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun