Geoscientists have mapped out the giant seas of magma sitting below Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and found the plumbing system is more complicated and larger than they thought. However, there is still a silver-lining for humanity.
Scientists have long known that Yellowstone is actually a giant volcano capable of covering the Earth in ash.
As study author Hsin-Hua Huang explained, “The main new thing is we unveil a deeper and bigger magma reservoir in the lower crust.”
The result was somewhat expected. The area released more carbon dioxide than could be explained by the more shallow chamber alone, according to Discovery News.
Still, no one knew the true extent of the magma sea until now.
The volume of the second magma chamber is roughly 11,000 cubic miles (46,000 cubic kilometers) and lies just 12 to 28 miles below the surface. News sites are awash with different comparisons to illustrate the volume’s size. The Los Angeles Times reports it’s enough to fill 11.2 Grand Canyons, Discovery says it’s the same as 300 Lake Tahoes or Long Island plus nine miles of hot rock piled on top.
Essentially, it’s a lot of magma.
The team of geoscientists mapped out the magma chambers by combining seismic data from USArray, a portable seismic network that’s been crossing the country, with local data that was used to map out the first reservoir.
Still, the discovery doesn’t mean the chances of an eruption are any higher.
The odds are roughly 1 in 700,000 for an eruption to occur in the next few thousand years. The last major eruption happened 640,000 years ago. That might give humanity some breathing room, but people are quickly learning new ways to rattle the ground, albeit unintentionally.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, drilling operations have caused minor earthquakes in several states. Researchers found out drilling companies have been activating ancient fault lines by injecting wastewater deep underground, which could have unforeseen consequences. Wyoming is outside the cited drilling areas.
What the newly discovered magma chamber means is that if one of those highly unlikely eruptions did occur, more magma could make its way to the surface in a shorter period.
According to Science, Yellowstone’s shallow magma chamber contains around 2,400 cubic miles (10,000 cubic kilometers) worth of molten rock. That’s roughly 10,000 times more than in the average volcanic eruption, enough to ensure that an eruption would have devastating consequences for the entire globe.
With the lower chamber of molten rock, the shallow chamber can be replenished in a shorter period, according to study co-author Victor Tsai.
“Knowing that you have this additional reservoir tells you you could have a much bigger volume erupt over a relatively short timescale.”
So, will the scientists discovery help them predict when the big one will occur? Not exactly, according to co-author and geophysicist Jamie Farrell.
“We can use it for further modeling, and maybe that can help us estimate where this volcano is in its current state, but we’re really not there yet.”
Not exactly comforting for the Yellowstone tourists who now know there’s even more magma beneath their feet than anyone knew.
[Image Credit: Greg Willis/Wikimedia Commons]