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Yellowstone ‘Time Bomb’ 4.5 Bigger Than Previously Thought

Image source: NationalGeographic

Image source: NationalGeographic

The Yellowstone super volcano could be several times larger and more powerful than previously thought, scientists have concluded in what can only be labeled a geological bombshell.

Modern imaging technology has enabled University of Utah Seismologists to pinpoint a second reservoir of magma or lava under Yellowstone that is 4.5 times larger than what once was thought to exist.

There is enough partially molten rock under Yellowstone to fill up the Grand Canyon 14 times, a paper published in the journal Science stated. The Grand Canyon is 1,000 cubic miles in area.

“For the first time, we have imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone,” said Hsin-Hua Huang, a postdoctoral researcher in geology and geophysics at the University of Utah. “That includes the upper crustal magma chamber we have seen previously plus a lower crustal magma reservoir that has never been imaged before and that connects the upper chamber to the Yellowstone hotspot plume below.”

The scientists do not think that the super volcano is larger than previously reported. Instead, they simply think it contains far more magma than they had thought – which means an eruption would be even bigger than they had believed.

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“The magma chamber and reservoir are not getting any bigger than they have been, it’s just that we can see them better now using new techniques,” seismologist Jamie Farrell said. The researchers used a technology called seismic tomography to get the first full 3D picture of the super volcano.

Scientists had previously believed that there was just one reservoir full of partially molten rock under Yellowstone. Now they know that there is a second deeper reservoir with nearly 10 times as much magma in it.

“The actual hazard is the same, but now we have a much better understanding of the complete crustal magma system,” Robert B. Smith, a coauthor of the study and a University of Utah professor said. He believes the chance of a super volcano eruption is slim. Scientists think the super volcano last erupted about 640,000 years ago.

How Destructive Would the Super Volcano Be?

If it were to erupt, the super volcano would be the greatest catastrophe in modern human history. The United States Geological Survey estimates that during the last eruption, the volcano blew 240 cubic miles of debris into the sky.

In contrast, 1815’s Mount Tambora — the most powerful volcanic event in recorded history — only put 36 cubic miles of debris into the sky. That was enough to affect the climate all over the world, darkening skies and ruining harvests as far away as Europe. Some historians called 1816 the “year without a summer” because of the dust cloud created by the eruption.

A Yellowstone eruption would cover North America in ash – darkening skies, killing crops and leading to a loss of life in the millions.

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