Yellowstone's supervolcano – worse than we thought

From www.unews.utah.edu via Eurekalert

Electric Yellowstone

Conductivity image hints volcano plume is bigger than thought

This image, based on variations in electrical conductivity of underground rock, shows the volcanic plume of partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano. Yellow and red indicate higher conductivity, green and blue indicate lower conductivity. Made by University of Utah geophysicists and computer scientists, this is the first large-scale "geoelectric" image of the Yellowstone hotspot. Credit: University of Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY, April 11, 2011 – University of Utah geophysicists made the first large-scale picture of the electrical conductivity of the gigantic underground plume of hot and partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano. The image suggests the plume is even bigger than it appears in earlier images made with earthquake waves.

“It’s like comparing ultrasound and MRI in the human body; they are different imaging technologies,” says geophysics Professor Michael Zhdanov, principal author of the new study and an expert on measuring magnetic and electrical fields on Earth’s surface to find oil, gas, minerals and geologic structures underground.

“It’s a totally new and different way of imaging and looking at the volcanic roots of Yellowstone,” says study co-author Robert B. Smith, professor emeritus and research professor of geophysics and a coordinating scientist of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

The new University of Utah study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, which plans to publish it within the next few weeks.

In a December 2009 study, Smith used seismic waves from earthquakes to make the most detailed seismic images yet of the “hotspot” plumbing that feeds the Yellowstone volcano. Seismic waves move faster through cold rock and slower through hot rock. Measurements of seismic-wave speeds were used to make a three-dimensional picture, quite like X-rays are combined to make a medical CT scan.

The 2009 images showed the plume of hot and molten rock dips downward from Yellowstone at an angle of 60 degrees and extends 150 miles west-northwest to a point at least 410 miles under the Montana-Idaho border – as far as seismic imaging could “see.”

In the new study, images of the Yellowstone plume’s electrical conductivity – generated by molten silicate rocks and hot briny water mixed in partly molten rock – shows the conductive part of the plume dipping more gently, at an angle of perhaps 40 degrees to the west, and extending perhaps 400 miles from east to west. The geoelectric image can “see” only 200 miles deep.

Two Views of the Yellowstone Volcanic Plume

Smith says the geoelectric and seismic images of the Yellowstone plume look somewhat different because “we are imaging slightly different things.” Seismic images highlight materials such as molten or partly molten rock that slow seismic waves, while the geoelectric image is sensitive to briny fluids that conduct electricity.

“It [the plume] is very conductive compared with the rock around it,” Zhdanov says. “It’s close to seawater in conductivity.”

The lesser tilt of the geoelectric plume image raises the possibility that the seismically imaged plume, shaped somewhat like a tilted tornado, may be enveloped by a broader, underground sheath of partly molten rock and liquids, Zhdanov and Smith say.

“It’s a bigger size” in the geoelectric picture, says Smith. “We can infer there are more fluids” than shown by seismic images.

IMAGE: This illustration compares two views of the volcanic plume that feeds the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park. The “geoelectric ” image on the left is a new one based on variations… 

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Despite differences, he says, “this body that conducts electricity is in about the same location with similar geometry as the seismically imaged Yellowstone plume.”

Zhdanov says that last year, other researchers presented preliminary findings at a meeting comparing electrical and seismic features under the Yellowstone area, but only to shallow depths and over a smaller area.

The study was conducted by Zhdanov, Smith, two members of Zhdanov’s lab – research geophysicist Alexander Gribenko and geophysics Ph.D. student Marie Green – and computer scientist Martin Cuma of the University of Utah’s Center for High Performance Computing. Funding came from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Consortium for Electromagnetic Modeling and Inversion, which Zhdanov heads.

The Yellowstone Hotspot at a Glance

The new study says nothing about the chances of another cataclysmic caldera (giant crater) eruption at Yellowstone, which has produced three such catastrophes in the past 2 million years.

Almost 17 million years ago, the plume of hot and partly molten rock known as the Yellowstone hotspot first erupted near what is now the Oregon-Idaho-Nevada border. As North America drifted slowly southwest over the hotspot, there were more than 140 gargantuan caldera eruptions – the largest kind of eruption known on Earth – along a northeast-trending path that is now Idaho’s Snake River Plain.

The hotspot finally reached Yellowstone about 2 million years ago, yielding three huge caldera eruptions about 2 million, 1.3 million and 642,000 years ago. Two of the eruptions blanketed half of North America with volcanic ash, producing 2,500 times and 1,000 times more ash, respectively, than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Smaller eruptions occurred at Yellowstone in between the big blasts and as recently as 70,000 years ago.

Seismic and ground-deformation studies previously showed the top of the rising volcanic plume flattens out like a 300-mile-wide pancake 50 miles beneath Yellowstone. There, giant blobs of hot and partly molten rock break off the top of the plume and slowly rise to feed the magma chamber – a spongy, banana-shaped body of molten and partly molten rock located about 4 miles to 10 miles beneath the ground at Yellowstone.

Computing a Geoelectrical Image of Yellowstone’s Hotspot Plume

Zhdanov and colleagues used data collected by EarthScope, an NSF-funded effort to collect seismic, magnetotelluric and geodetic (ground deformation) data to study the structure and evolution of North America. Using the data to image the Yellowstone plume was a computing challenge because so much data was involved.

Inversion is a formal mathematical method used to “extract information about the deep geological structures of the Earth from the magnetic and electrical fields recorded on the ground surface,” Zhdanov says. Inversion also is used to convert measurements of seismic waves at the surface into underground images.

Magnetotelluric measurements record very low frequencies of electromagnetic radiation – about 0.0001 to 0.0664 Hertz – far below the frequencies of radio or TV signals or even electric power lines. This low-frequency, long-wavelength electromagnetic field penetrates a couple hundred miles into the Earth. By comparison, TV and radio waves penetrate only a fraction of an inch.

The EarthScope data were collected by 115 stations in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – the three states straddled by Yellowstone National Park. The stations, which include electric and magnetic field sensors, are operated by Oregon State University for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, a consortium of universities.

In a supercomputer, a simulation predicts expected electric and magnetic measurements at the surface based on known underground structures. That allows the real surface measurements to be “inverted” to make an image of underground structure.

Zhdanov says it took about 18 hours of supercomputer time to do all the calculations needed to produce the geoelectric plume picture. The supercomputer was the Ember cluster at the University of Utah’s Center for High Performance Computing, says Cuma, the computer scientist.

Ember has 260 nodes, each with 12 CPU (central processing unit) cores, compared with two to four cores commonly found on personal computer, Cuma says. Of the 260 nodes, 64 were used for the Yellowstone study, which he adds is “roughly equivalent to 200 common PCs.”

To create the geoelectric image of Yellowstone’s plume required 2 million pixels, or picture elements.

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72 thoughts on “Yellowstone's supervolcano – worse than we thought

  1. Yes, Mother Nature. Except in Bolivia, where puny humans have given her the right to exist; No mentions of carts nor horses. chickens nor eggs, but if Mum decides to deny humans our right to bestow rights, Yogi Bear’s little BooBoo at Jellystone will be a likely jumping-off point. Wherein AGW begomes an Aggravated Geological Wonder.

  2. How do they know its worse than “we” thought?
    My first reaction was “It’s Bush’s fault…” followed by “Anthropogenic CO2 is worse than we knew…” But then I got past the headline and started thinking about the geology.
    It’s a super plume and someday its going to ruin a lot of people’s day, but in the meantime I wonder if we can tap it for geothermal energy – without ruining the natural wonder of Yellow Stone. I mean, this is free energy just sitting in the ground wanting out. Run some deep pipes through it and use a closed system to remove the heat (so you don’t mess with the fluids which could impact Yellow Stone if you are close enough) and you have a neat little power generation plant.
    Anyway, pretty cool what they can do with a few computers and lots of data.

  3. Even though this hasn’t gone off in a loooooong time, I’d be more worried about Yellowstone blowing up than AGW wiping the earth out.
    Read that as slim and nil.

  4. a spongy, banana-shaped body of molten and partly molten rock

    Apparently, Sir Bedemere had it right then when he told King Arthur that was how we know the earth to be banana shaped….Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  5. Instead of “It’s worse than we thought” perhaps “It’s different than we thought” comes closer to the text.
    BTW, Yellowstone isn’t getting ready to blow, at least not in the last year or so. Don’t make me dig up the USGS paper on it….

  6. Cool research.
    Nice to see some NSF-funded research with what it was intended for: results.
    No AGW disclaimer.
    Funny how the AGW silliness hits the sidelines when you start talking about giant plumes of magma that have been affecting terra firma for millions of years…
    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  7. This s preliminary technology that has to accumulate more ground truth and quantitative factors before too much confidence can be placed in it. Let’s say it’s interesting work in progress, but not the final answer.
    As geophysicists working with magentism have know for years, there are several different forms of magentism to be considered and unless one can obtain oriented samples from in-situ, assumptions have to be made even about simple divisions into remnant and residual. Electrical methods have a much larger number of variables and give even less confident results, especialy when working at depth limits.
    The geochemistry of metamorphism can add or subtract heat, it can cause little-understood effects like deep microfracturing and deep flow of fluids such as released water of hydrated minerals. Some of these processes have the potential to cause shallow earthquakes (and probably produce many), so the simple picture of earthquakes being caused by fault slippage is incomplete.
    In short summary, it’s good to see this work in progress, but keep both eyes open to the possibility that it is quite speculative. Is strength does not depend on pixel counts. It passes or fails on physics and chemistry.

  8. Drilling for hydrothermal energy is prohibited in a large area around YNP. They are afraid we might deplete the source, or something. But there are some nice places on the Fire Hole River, just inside the Park from Gardner, MT, where you can enjoy the thermals before the next catastrophic explosion induced global winter.
    Pat, Helena, MT

  9. It appears to reach deeper than previosly detected, but then all that hot stuff has to have a deeper source than just an isolated bubble under the crust.

  10. Someone has to make the smartypants comments so ….
    (1) It’s caused by AGW.
    (2) It’s Bush’s fault.
    (3) The Tea Party has only made it worse with their heated rhetoric.
    😉

  11. Calculating the past three eruptions tells me the Yellowstone caldera is due for another one sometime soon.

  12. Almost 17 million years ago, the plume of hot and partly molten rock known as the Yellowstone hotspot first erupted near what is now the Oregon-Idaho-Nevada border.

    Go back a few million years and try again. First eruption believed to be North of the Black Rock Desert closer to the California, Nevada border. See “Soldier Meadow Tuff”.

  13. They can be bastards. I know.
    There is indication of branching. This is very positive. This will suck up enormous reserves of magma.

  14. Hey, maybe this is where Trenberth’s ‘missing heat’ is hiding!
    Did anyone put their ear to the ground and check if they can hear it giggling?
    Someone let little Kev know. It’s a travesty that he hasn’t found it yet.

  15. Perhaps “better than what was thought”.
    Does this have ANY bearing on “”Will it blow?” Still it IS fascinating!
    PERHAPS these techniques can lead to measurements of TIME VARIATIONS in CONDUCTIVITY which might indicate tectonic etc activity and therefore potential for earthquake events sooner rather than later. So coupled with our WeatherAction trials and work of others on forecasting WHEN major quakes are most likely this technique if developed might tell us more about the ‘WHERE’ to give the goal of WHEN + WHERE.
    See the report of our 6-9th April trial for increased risk of dangerous quakes (and increases in others relative to background) and comments therein and links to the previous trial period http://bit.ly/evkVGP .
    The first trial forecast period 23-27 March was confirmed by M6.8 in Myanmar &c.
    The second 6-9April by ‘Japan2’ (M7.1 usgs) and M6.5 in Mexico
    Thanks
    Piers Corbyn

  16. Wait, two scientific papers, two different methodologies, and their conclusions are not in perfect agreement?
    I’m surprised the regulars on this website are not up in arms, pooh-poohing the silly alarmist idea that there might be a “volcano” at Yellowstone.

  17. Bit of a stretch to call it a volcanic plume – and being geophysics, this modelling has to be viewed with healthy scepticism – much of my professional career is spent drill testing these sorts of conductivity models, and as I know from hard reality, a good dose of healthy scepticism is warranted.
    Horizontal plumes ………..

  18. Anthony,
    What happens when you change the atmospheric pressure?
    There is a balance of energy exerted under the planet surface out due to pressure and centrifugal force and back pressure from the atmosphere exerting on the planet’s surface.
    Now suppose the atmosphere stretched (growth up mountains never seen before)?
    After all, warm air expands and cold air condenses. Most of our atmospheric and planetary changes are starting at the equator. From surface salt changes to the “ring of fire” being active.

  19. Richard deSousa says:
    April 12, 2011 at 10:55 pm
    Calculating the past three eruptions tells me the Yellowstone caldera is due for another one sometime soon.
    ——–
    By sometime soon you mean in the next 50,000 years or so…
    I’m more worried about prospect of climate change in the next 50 years or so tbh

  20. “Calculating the past three eruptions tells me the Yellowstone caldera is due for another one sometime soon.”
    Define “sometime soon”. Are we talking geological soon? ~10,000 years? or cAGW soon? ~ WE’RE ALL DOOOMED!?

  21. Robert of Texas
    GeoT is being exploited in NV and adjacent states. Also the volc ash from these eruptions (and the lavas have a high background in lithium, boron etc which has created over time the lithium brines being exploited at Silver PEak NV and Li-Boron salts in Borate Hills NV – a project I’m consulting on. So the plume events are supplying electrical energy and raw material for lithium ion batteries!

  22. A caldera eruption at Yellowstone is overdue looking at the times of past eruptions. But there is no need to worry as recent signs of increased activity produced a swelling of 6ft which has since subsided. Seismic tomography, which is like an MRI scan, shows less of an extent of the magma chamber than this research and I would like to know more.

  23. Darn… And I’m heading out there this summer. I really hope it holds off from erupting until I’m back.

  24. konfacela: I’m surprised the regulars on this website are not up in arms, pooh-poohing the silly alarmist idea that there might be a “volcano” at Yellowstone.
    That’s because the Yellowstone volcano isn’t a silly alarmist idea, it’s hard, scientific fact. Unlike CAGW.

  25. hunter says:
    “And it is worse because of climate change.”
    heck.. yeah !!
    the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is permeating down and making the whole system bubble like a nice champagne.. lets hope the cork doesn’t blow !!!

  26. @ Piers Corbyn “Does this have ANY bearing on “”Will it blow?” Still it IS fascinating! ”
    This technique allows accurate prediction of eruption events.
    Assuming a five meter electrode insertion depth, observation of extreme sensor heating can be taken to indicate an eruption will occur within .o3 milliseconds.
    🙂

  27. @Robert
    only problem is, last time I checked nobody in or around Yellowstone needs energy. Which is a general problem with renewables.

  28. Go see Yellowstone while you can. I went and walked all over the place back in 93 and had a whale of a time. Holiday of a lifetime and topped with a trip to the ‘bandit’ country of Reno. Now thats what I call a holiday of a lifetime.

  29. Richard deSousa says:
    April 12, 2011 at 10:55 pm
    > Calculating the past three eruptions tells me the Yellowstone caldera is due for another one sometime soon.
    Keep your day job.
    It’s not what I wanted to find, I’ll check my old Email, but http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/faqsfactivity.html says:

    Is it true that the next caldera-forming eruption of Yellowstone is overdue?
    No. First of all, one cannot present recurrence intervals based on only two values. It would be statistically meaningless. But for those who insist… let’s do the arithmetic. The three eruptions occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 0.64 million years ago. The two intervals are thus 0.8 and 0.66 million years, averaging to a 0.73 million-year interval. Again, the last eruption was 0.64 million years ago, implying that we are still about 90,000 years away from the time when we might consider calling Yellowstone overdue for another caldera-forming eruption. Nevertheless, we cannot discount the possibility of another such eruption occurring some time in the future, given Yellowstone’s volcanic history and the continued presence of magma beneath the Yellowstone caldera.

  30. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/12/091215-yellowstone-volcano-magma-plume-larger.html
    Some older news. Hard to say if that magma pocket also fuels the Great Rift valley, but by the electrical info, it would be pretty close.
    About 2000 years ago was the last major eruption at the Great Rift (AKA ‘Craters of the Moon National Monument).
    The last major earthquake swarm in Reno (circa 2003/2004) had evidence for magma injection under Lake Tahoe. http://geodesy.unr.edu/publications/Smith_et_al_TahoeEQs_2004.pdf
    http://www.cisn.org/news/tahoe.04.08.06.html
    For whatever reason the 2008 swarm remains unattributed, lot of theorizing but few papers or research on the subject.
    Generally, earthquake swarms appear to be, inside a magma pocket, caused by expansion of the pocket laterally between strata, with subsequent settling of the pocket. Generally, from what I have seen in the Yellowstone surveys, there’s a subsidence following such a swarm, then continued vertical expansion.
    These eruptions in the past are not theory. They are borne out by a massive set of tuffs, and geological evidence. Our understanding of them *is* theory, because we have no way of making an experiment, given that our computers are limited to both our best understanding, and the data and parameters with which we feed them.
    Sometime see the Huckleberry Ridge tuff, and consider just how violent that single explosion was…
    The Toba caldera in Sumatra was theorized to have nearly caused the extinction of the human race 74,000 years ago. http://www.livescience.com/200-super-volcano-challenge-civilization-geologists-warn.html
    Our current technological situation actually increases our risk, as the ash is conductive, corrosive, toxic, and carries its own particulate pulmonary risks. It would seem a far better thing to use our technology to prepare for such an event we have no doubt will eventually happen, as that very preparation will leave us better prepared for both the possibility of climate change (in either direction) and much smaller volcanic eruptions.
    I fear that too often, catastrophism attempts to find ‘solutions’ that have few actual benefits, and then most of those benefits are financial for the person pushing the catastrophism.

  31. Easier than I thought, I have only one Email in my “people” Email directory from the USGS and it’s a reply to me forwarding
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/11/29/statistician-debunks-gores-climate-linkage-of-the-collapse-of-the-mayan-civilisation/#comment-60475
    which was a gripe about a non-tongue-in-cheek comment about Yellowstone by someone too lazy to any fact checking.
    The USGS report is still there (I don’t know if there’s something beyond the preliminary report) and worth reading, see
    Preliminary Assessment of Volcanic and Hydrothermal Hazards in Yellowstone National Park and Vicinity says this on page 28:

    Although the probability of a large caldera-forming eruption at Yellowstone is exceedingly small, it is exceedingly difficullt [sic – I can find typos in anything!] to make a defensible quantitative estimate of that probability. As there have been three such eruptions in about the past 2,100,000 years, there are only two intereruptive periods from which to gauge any additional possible interval between the third and a potential fourth such event. The first interval, between the Huckleberry Ridge (2.059±0.004 Ma) and Mesa Falls (1.285±0.004 Ma) caldera-forming events, was 774,000±5700 years. The second interval, between the Mesa Falls and Lava Creek (0.639±0.002 Ma) events, was 646,000±4400 years. A statement, widely repeated in popular media, regards such eruptions as occurring at Yellowstone “every 600,000 years” with the latest eruption having been “600,000 years ago”. This is commonly taken to imply that another such eruption is ´overdue¡. Such a statement is statistically indefensible on the basis of the extrapolation of two intervals. (Even the simple arithmetic average of the two intervals is 710,000 years, not 600,000 years). From the line of reasoning outlined here, the probability of a fourth large caldera-forming event at Yellowstone can be considered to be less than 1 in a million, below the threshold of hazards interest unless future premonitory phenomena, probably more severe than those recorded historically in caldera systems around the world (Newhall and Dzurisin, 1988), were to be recognized.

    Sorry about being overly sensitive on this point, but I did warn everyone here….
    More realistic risks include being trampled by bison, cooked in a hot spring and being run over by an RV. Having bicycled (safely) through Yellowstone, the RV hazard is very real. Not being allowed to camp at the Canyon campground due to bears being around was mostly merely annoying, I did get to stop for alpine flower photos a few days later at Beartooth Pass.
    http://wermenh.com/biketour-1974/leg6.html

  32. I live in the “kill zone” for Yellowstone and some of the best fishing is in the caldera left from the last time it blew, and I do advise anyone that wants a real treat go on the northern loop road and hit every geyser on that road it is worth the day to do it.

  33. Interesting article, but there is one fairly big error:
    “gargantuan caldera eruptions – the largest kind of eruption known on Earth”
    This not even close to being correct. The Siberian Traps plume eruption, created a volcano roughly the size of Alaska, and erupted enough magma to bury the U.S. 1000′ deep. This eruption is attributed to the Permian-Triassic extinction event, in which 95% of all species became extinct.
    This is not to say a Yellowstone eruption wouldn’t itself be catastrophic, the last caldera volcano that erupted was Toba. It erupted 70,000 years ago. Evidence indicates that this eruption created a cooling event that reduced the human population down to as few as 1000 people.

  34. Here is something to bet on! Which will come first, a new ice age which will cover Yellowstone in ice or a volcanic eruption by its mega volcano?
    The answer will come sometime in the future, probably after a long time in the future.

  35. Konfacela
    April 13, 2011 at 12:28 am
    Wait, two scientific papers, two different methodologies, and their conclusions are not in perfect agreement?
    I’m surprised the regulars on this website are not up in arms, pooh-poohing the silly alarmist idea that there might be a “volcano” at Yellowstone.
    ####
    WOW, what an absolutely perfect example of what passes for scientific reason amongst greenies.

  36. Super volcanoes like Toba and Yellowstone can be very devastating and I’m more concerned about Toba. It went off 74,000 years ago and the genetic tree of humanity shows a very small group of survivors (5,000 to 10,000) world wide.
    Very interesting study and nice to see them give the rundown on their methods etc. Ah real science is alive 🙂

  37. turn nasa’s under-employed engineers loose on building the world’s largest, greenest, hydrothermal electric generation plant. in some of those places, water boils on the surface.

  38. jackstraw says:
    April 13, 2011 at 7:04 am
    Interesting article, but there is one fairly big error:
    “gargantuan caldera eruptions – the largest kind of eruption known on Earth”
    This not even close to being correct. The Siberian Traps plume eruption,
    ###
    I could have sworn that the Siberian Traps eruption was a “gargatuan caldera eruption” ….

  39. It blows in Dec. 2012 – how spooky would that be? Imagine the world without America – no I don’t want to. But sooner or later Yellowstone will blow and America and a large part of the N. Hemisphere will go to. (This is not AGW speculation – it’s absolutely inevitable). Time for NASA to do some serious research. We may need a back-up planet. Alternatively, maybe the next ice age age will keep the lid on things for a while although this is hardly a solution.

  40. Well, it would seem to me that one method is measuring the magmatic system and the other is measuring the geothermal system. There is a huge difference between melted rock and hot water though the new study might give guidance on where to drill for hydrothermal energy (which I am not a huge fan of).

  41. Ric Werme says:
    April 13, 2011 at 5:50 am
    Richard deSousa says:
    April 12, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    > Calculating the past three eruptions tells me the Yellowstone caldera is due for another one sometime soon … http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/faqsfactivity.html says:
    Is it true that the next caldera-forming eruption of Yellowstone is overdue?
    No. First of all, one cannot present recurrence intervals based on only two values. It would be statistically meaningless. But for those who insist… let’s do the arithmetic. The three eruptions occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 0.64 million years ago. The two intervals are thus 0.8 and 0.66 million years, averaging to a 0.73 million-year interval. Again, the last eruption was 0.64 million years ago, implying that we are still about 90,000 years away from the time when we might consider calling Yellowstone overdue for another caldera-forming eruption.

    Ah, but one must “find the decline” before applying Mann-made CAGW arithmetic averages. 8<)
    Since the intervals between past Yellowstone eruptions are declining (from 0.80 million years to 0.64 million years), then the next interval must be 0.56 million years. So the actual eruption was really 80,000 years ago (0.64-0.56 MYA) . Further, it must have been caused by man, since the human population has been expanding rapidly ever since that period. And, since Yellowstone was caused by Mann-made volcanic eruptions, we must tax them.
    —…—
    On a slightly more serious note: If the surface features of the Yellowstone caldera are steadily traversing to the east-northeast, why would the plume be spread out in a shallow broad spot to the northwest?
    Seems it would be like Hawaii's under-ocean plume: steady in one place with a very deep vertical "root." The top would get pulled to the southwest the thin crust moves overtop, and the deepest, widest plume – if anything – be located further to the northeast – NOT northwest – as you go deeper.

  42. DesertYote says:
    April 13, 2011 at 9:37 am
    “I could have sworn that the Siberian Traps eruption was a “gargatuan caldera eruption” ….”
    From Wiki-
    Origin: The source of the Siberian Traps basalt has variously been attributed to a mantle plume which impacted the base of the crust and erupted through the Siberian Craton, or to processes related to plate tectonics.[1] This controversial scientific debate is ongoing.[2]
    There is also a theory that the Siberian Traps was caused by a huge meteor impact on the opposite side of the globe. There was a similar (but smaller) plume on the opposite side of the globe from the Yucatan impact that is attributed to killing off the dinosaurs.

  43. “”””” Konfacela says:
    April 13, 2011 at 12:28 am
    Wait, two scientific papers, two different methodologies, and their conclusions are not in perfect agreement?
    I’m surprised the regulars on this website are not up in arms, pooh-poohing the silly alarmist idea that there might be a “volcano” at Yellowstone. “””””
    You must be a newbie Konfacela.
    Anyone who is a “regular” around here has long since given up being surprised about anything !

  44. jackstraw
    April 13, 2011 at 11:01 am
    DesertYote says:
    April 13, 2011 at 9:37 am
    ###
    So it might have been something tectonic like what created the Deccan Plateau? I’m a bit dubious, I’ll have to do some reading tonight.

  45. For those that constantly talk about turning this into a geothermal site, they’ve discovered that at other geothermal sites, a distinct increase in the number of earthquakes. Now I don’t know if this would increase the odds of a supervolcano going off, I’m not a geologist, but I for one don’t want to test it. We know so little about the ground beneath our feet that I’d be a bit leery of doing anything near a supervolcano! I suspect the odds of it setting off a supervolcano early is very low but even a very low chance of causing a true global catastrophe is not something I’d like to test just for a powerplant where no one needs it.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=geothermal-drilling-earthquakes
    The same argument does not hold up with the global warming simply because it is ungodly expensive to “prevent,” it would not be the global catastrophe that a supervolcano would be even if true, past evidence has shown exactly how horrific a supervolcano explosion can be unlike “global warming,” and we’ve had much higher amounts of CO2 in past history without any serious problems.

  46. So, if the Earth’s core heat comes from residual heat from formation and radioactive decay, as some have postulated, and the planet is 4.5 billion years old, and the half life of U238 is the only “common” radioactive element with a 4.5 billion year half life then things should have cooled off a great deal by now. All of the initial U238 should be thorium by now and all of the other radioactive elements should be, at the very least, much less “hot” if not turned to lead since the really hot ones have shorter half lives. This says less potential for volcanic activity. In another billion years even less to worry about. As Alfred E. Newman once said, “What, me worry?” It’s that CO2 that’s gonna get us not some trivial super volcano.

  47. Interesting, but given what I now know about the quality of academic research, not worth a second thought.

  48. No problem. Can’t happen. Goes against national park regulations forbidding the disturbance of wildlife.
    Next… isn’t it about time for another WHO-Big Pharma pandemic scare drug (vaccine) pushing project?

  49. @TRM
    “Super volcanoes like Toba and Yellowstone can be very devastating and I’m more concerned about Toba. It went off 74,000 years ago and the genetic tree of humanity shows a very small group of survivors (5,000 to 10,000) world wide.”
    Sure it they did, that’s why all the neanderthals, mini men and the very erect men, could party for more ‘an 40 000 years, because, apparently, they didn’t suffer the fate of “humanity” (of course the genetic tree of humanity has been shown to contain neanderthal DNA.)

  50. Whatever the exact details, thinking about Yellowstone always makes me feel uneasy.
    Even across 3000-odd miles of salty Atlantic.

  51. Re Al Gored, ‘Next… isn’t it about time for another WHO-Big Pharma pandemic scare drug (vaccine) pushing project?’
    Superbugs from super volcanoes perhaps?

  52. 1DandyTroll
    …the genetic tree of humanity has been shown to contain neanderthal DNA.
    I’d be interested in a reference here.

  53. Global Warming can trigger the explosion of Yellowstone. By warming the earth, it weakens its crust, thus making it easier for volcanic stuff to come out.

  54. 1DandyTroll
    …the genetic tree of humanity has been shown to contain neanderthal DNA.
    I’d be interested in a reference here.
    ———–
    Not all of the humanity, but only Europeans and Asians, and native americans and Australian/Papuan natives. But african populations – san and bantu people – do not have it.
    there is bbc article =)
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8660940.stm

  55. coturnix19 says:
    “Global Warming can trigger the explosion of Yellowstone. By warming the earth, it weakens its crust, thus making it easier for volcanic stuff to come out.”
    That seems to me to be every bit as credible as anthropogenic global warming.

  56. (the other Jim G.)
    Lot of talk about geothermal.
    If only we knew someone really good at drilling at deep depths…..
    BP???
    I would sure hate to be on the giving end of that blowout!

  57. coturnix19 says:
    April 13, 2011 at 6:50 pm: “Global Warming can trigger the explosion of Yellowstone. By warming the earth, it weakens its crust, thus making it easier for volcanic stuff to come out.”
    Phliiiiiiiiffffshshshs!!!!!coughghghg!!GASP!!!!hahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!!!
    Cleannnn…wipe…squiiigggyy…blow dry… There. Puter spill all cleaned up.

  58. If we leave all the coal, oil, oil shale and gas in the ground, won’t it eventually get subducted into contact with the hot magma, and add explosive force to the vulcanism?
    Isn’t it irresponsible to leave fuel in the ground?

  59. Piers Corbyn says:
    April 12, 2011 at 11:18 pm
    ..PERHAPS these techniques can lead to measurements of TIME VARIATIONS in CONDUCTIVITY which might indicate tectonic etc activity and therefore potential for earthquake events sooner rather than later..
    ~
    Thanks for the comments and link.
    Those interested in Earth’s electric potential and what might interact with and influence it, will find this article a gem.
    The Earth’s Electrical Surface Potential
    A summary of present understanding
    (January 2007)
    by Gaetan Chavalier, PhD,
    Director of Research, California Institute for Human Science,
    Graduate School & Research Center, Encinitas, CA
    http://www.earthinginstitute.net/commentaries/gaetan_electrical_surface.pdf
    After reading the above, I am inclined to think that we should stay away from building anything in around or near the yellowstone caldera..the superstitous woman in me was awakened..ooh oooh..
    And Pamela..don’t take a drink of anything before reading the following.
    Lets say we encirle yellowstone with high power energy sources, places where telluric currents (earth currents) become enhanced. Maybe it would cave in.. lol.. that would be man made toooooo..ooooooh

  60. Joe Lalonde says:
    April 13, 2011 at 1:02 am
    “What happens when you change the atmospheric pressure?”
    Nothing happens to the earth’s crust. The weight of the atmosphere is equal to the weight of the first ten meters of the ocean and less than five meters of rock depending on the type of rock. The weight of the atmosphere means little to nothing insofar as compression of the geologic column is concerned. By far the largest effect of atmospheric pressure is it raises the boiling point of water 100c above the melting point of ice which provides an environment where a liquid ocean can exist.

  61. jackstraw says:
    April 13, 2011 at 7:04 am
    Interesting article, but there is one fairly big error:
    “gargantuan caldera eruptions – the largest kind of eruption known on Earth”
    ———–
    The Siberian Traps would have been erupted over thousands of year and not a single event. It’s similar to the formation of Iceland and Hawaii which spew out lots of basaltic lava over a long period of time. The Caldera eruption would be a single event that is huge!

  62. If we really knew what we were doing, we might chance building an ugly network of geothermal plants around the pristine beauty of Yellowstone Park to bleed off the gradually accumulating volcanic energy and ward off the next eruption. Of course that would be a very big ‘if.’ Perhaps, in the long run, this would be “America’s Power.”

  63. Spector says:
    April 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm
    If we really knew what we were doing, we might chance building an ugly network of geothermal plants around the pristine beauty of Yellowstone Park to bleed off the gradually accumulating volcanic energy and ward off the next eruption. Of course that would be a very big ‘if.’ Perhaps, in the long run, this would be “America’s Power.”
    =======
    Sounds like a great idea, let’s poke it with a stick and see what happens ; )

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