A Yellowstone supervolcano eruption would devastate life on Earth, instantly killing thousands of people and sending the planet into a nuclear winter. Although such an explosion is not likely to happen anytime soon, NASA has a detailed plan designed to stop such a catastrophe altogether.
Underneath Yellowstone’s primeval hot pools, geysers, and picturesque wilderness lies a menace capable of destroying life on Earth. A magma chamber with an estimated 60 billion cubic miles of liquid rock sits just below the Earth’s surface. An explosion of this underground caldera would create a natural disaster equivalent to the comet impact that exterminated the dinosaurs.
Officials at NASA believe a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption is far more probable than any large-scale comet or asteroid striking the Earth. Including Yellowstone, at least 20 supervolcanoes exist on the planet, and one erupts approximately every 100,000 years.
A team of NASA researchers thinks they have a workable plan to stop the next Yellowstone supervolcano eruption, as well as provide a sustainable source of electricity to the region. According to the experts, if the caldera is cooled down then an explosion should never happen.
The Yellowstone supervolcano generates a massive amount of heat, most of which escapes through cracks and crevices in the Earth’s crust. However, some heat remains trapped below the surface and slowly builds up. Scientists fear that this silent accumulation of heat will eventually lead to a colossal explosion of the caldera.
NASA’s plan is to release this excess heat by drilling five miles into the Yellowstone supervolcano and pumping water in. The water would circulate underground, heat up to around 660 degrees F, and return to the surface as steam. If the idea works, the heat exchange would slowly lower the temperature underground.
Such a bold plan has a $3.5 billion price tag, but NASA has a plan for that too. America’s space agency will need government funding to finance the project and will need to convince politicians of its necessity.
NASA wants to use the super hot water released from the Yellowstone supervolcano to power turbines for cheap electricity, which would certainly help persuade government representatives to back the program.
“Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” explains Brian Wilcox with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as reported by the BBC. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh.”
Although NASA’s plan could generate more affordable power for local residents in the short term, scientists won’t know if the project is working to prevent a supervolcano eruption for several hundred or even a thousand years. Scientists expect the cooldown of the caldera to happen very slowly, with definitive results not determined until long after the lifetimes of the people who have envisioned the project.
If NASA’s Yellowstone supervolcano eruption prevention plan moves forward, it could be applied to other supervolcanoes around the world. Such projects would require commitment, money, expertise, and an early start, but they could save the human race from potential extinction.
[Featured Image by Lorcel/Shutterstock]