Researchers Discover New Information On Yellowstone Supervolcano’s Magma Plumbing

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The famed Yellowstone supervolcano has intrigued scientists for years, as there have been numerous studies detailing its long and turbulent history. While it had last erupted about 630,000 years ago and isn’t expected to erupt again at any point in our lifetimes, researchers have often sought to gather new insights on the volcano’s inner workings. Thanks to a new study involving sophisticated computer modeling, a team of scientists might have figured out how the magma underneath Yellowstone National Park is controlled by the volcano’s “plumbing system.”

As documented in a study recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers created a computer modeling system to explain the behavior of the magma reservoirs found deep beneath the Earth’s crust at Yellowstone. Previous research had suggested there are two reservoirs that fuel the Yellowstone supervolcano, including one found right below the surface, and another located about 12 to 27 miles deep. Based on the researchers’ computer model, these two reservoirs could be divided by a “crustal transition zone” that had yet to be documented by scientists.

The transition zone can be described as a mid-crustal sill or shelf measuring about 6.2 to 9.3 miles thick and located some three to six miles beneath the surface. It serves as a meeting place for cold rocks and hot magma, as a report from Outer Places summarized. As the cold and hot rocks intermingle with each other and temperature transitions take place, the magma solidifies into clumps on the sill.

As for the type of magma in the reservoirs, the researchers wrote that the upper magma reservoir is made up of a cooler, rhyolitic variety, which Newsweek stressed could lead to “incredibly violent explosions” once enough pressure builds up.

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These results, as further noted by the researchers, are in line with what previous studies based on seismic data had suggested in 2014 and 2015.

“The results of the modeling matches observations done by sending seismic waves through the area,” said University of Oregon Department of Earth Sciences professor Ilya Bindeman, a co-author on the new study, as quoted by EurekAlert.

“This work appears to validate initial assumptions and gives us more information about Yellowstone’s magma locations.”

While the new study did not offer any predictions for the Yellowstone supervolcano’s next eruption, Gizmodo opined that the findings are a step in the right direction, as they offer a clearer understanding of how the volcano’s magmatic features work. The publication added that the results gleaned from the computer models could suggest that there are similar processes taking place underneath other major volcanoes around the world and that it might be necessary for scientists to compare and contrast these other magmatic systems with the one found underneath Yellowstone National Park.