Yellowstone magma reservoir is full and bigger than expected

But don’t panic. Eruption will only change global climate and catastrophically affect half the United States. There is nothing you can do about it so stop worrying.

Huge Magma Pocket Lurks Beneath Yellowstone Supervolcano

The magma reservoir lurking beneath a dormant supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park far exceeds past estimates of its size, a new analysis shows.

“We found it to be about two-and-a-half times larger than we thought,” said analysis team scientist James Farrell of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “That’s not to say it’s getting any bigger. It’s just that our ability to see it is getting better.”

The size finding, presented at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco last Thursday, has big implications for the extent of the volcano’s impact when it next erupts.

The volcano (called a supervolcano because it’s a massive structure, not just one pimple on the earth’s surface), has a pattern of erupting every 640,000 years or so. The last time it erupted was 640,000 years ago. Approximately. Scientists expect weeks to months of warning for an eruption as the surface will be seen to inflate and harmonic tremors will signal moving magma underground. There is extensive seismic monitoring in Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is called the mecca for geologists. The reason why it is as unique and fabulous a place is because of the heat engine underground. But sometimes, payback is a bitch. As a geologist, many people ask me about the Yellowstone volcano because of the media coverage of it as a catastrophy waiting to happen. They are scared. But really, there is nothing we can do about it so no sense worrying. If it erupts, the world is affected. So, sure you can move away but they may be no escaping. And, if it erupts in a hundred years, we’ll be gone anyway. There’s no predicting that far into the future how the earth will behave.
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  16 comments for “Yellowstone magma reservoir is full and bigger than expected

  1. December 26, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Any idea whether this would give any warning signs before erupting or if there would be sufficient time to react?

    • December 26, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      Certainly, lots. Ground inflation, seismic tremors, additional eruptions of steam, change in gas chemistry… You could drive away sure but the land devastation would be unavoidable – lava but mostly a HUGE distribution of ash.

  2. Chris Howard
    December 26, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    If I may. How big would the area of destruction be?

    I’ve heard the media give estimates, but if you don’t mind I’d rather hear it from a real geologist.

    Please and thank you.

    :-D

    • December 26, 2013 at 12:32 PM

      Ash beds could be hundreds of feet thick. It would devastate a large swath entirely. I don’t have data on the extent of the previous ash falls but this is not Mt. St. Helens. It is a caldera meaning the underlying reservoir is so large that when it empties (as lava and ash), the ground collapses. The formation of the third caldera ejected 240 cubic miles of material. Significant ash can be dropped over 1000 miles away.

      http://io9.com/what-will-really-happen-when-yellowstone-volcano-has-a-508274690

      Here is a graphic of the extent of past ash falls compared to Mt. St. Helens. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2005/3024/images/fs2005-3024_fig_12.jpg

      • Chris Howard
        December 28, 2013 at 8:32 AM

        Holy schnikies! So when this thing goes it really will cause a LOT of rack n’ ruin!

        Thanks for the info. You’re a rock star! ;-D

  3. December 26, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    neat! I remember Mount Saint Helen’s (I’m that old) and the amount of ash. I was young enough I had only imagined giant lava flows, not snow plows pushing tons of ash off of parking lots. Also, no dead Bigfoot found, though the area afterward was studied (and still is) by scientists trying to see what the recovery period will be like. (sorry Sharon, can’t resist a Bigfoot comment!)

  4. Lagaya1
    December 26, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    I know this is wrong, but something in me longs to see this thing go. This, or Mt Ranier. I would take either, but I’d prefer to see the Yellowstone supervolcano.

  5. F-89
    December 26, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    Nice to hear an actual and informed opinion.

  6. Mr.Maloonagins
    December 27, 2013 at 1:26 AM

    Is there a way we can just get Clearasil to dump a boat load of face wash over it to prevent this?

  7. December 27, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    So, basically, you’re saying we should go see it now before The Big Kablooey? :-)

    • December 27, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      Everything is temporary. Best go now.

  8. Nos482
    December 27, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    On the bright side (or well, quite actually not) it will put a stop to global warming….Hello nuclear winter.

  9. December 28, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    The average length of time between eruptions is 640k years. But there have been as many as 800k years between eruptions. So, it could go off soon, or it could go off 150k years from now. The odds of it happening in our lifetimes is extremely remote, in other words.

  10. Nos482
    December 29, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    I’m curious, would it be possible to siphon the magma off to someplace esle? Preferably without turning Yellowstone into one hell of a crater.

    • Lagaya1
      December 29, 2013 at 1:23 PM

      I don’t think that would be possible for many reasons. First of all, the amount of magma is HUGE! More importantly, it is so hot there is no possible way to transport it. I believe that lava on the surface is cooler than magma, but here in Hawaii if a lava stream is heading toward your home, no matter how slowly it moves, you won’t be able to divert it. It flows where it will. Twenty years ago, lava started destroying homes in a small town here. It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but this year the town lost its last home. There’s been twenty years to figure a way to stop the lava, but the lava won.

      • Lagaya1
        December 29, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        After writing my comment, I checked on this story and found a few errors. First, it was 30 years ago that the lava started flowing into Royal Gardens subdivision, not 20. Second, it took the last home last year, not this year. Thirdly, lava streams don’t ebb and flow. they flow and stop, and flow some more. There’s no ebbing.

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