Another thing more worrisome than global warming: Yellowstone super-volcano has 4x more magma than once thought

From the University of Utah and the “game over if it blows” department:

In a big eruption, Yellowstone would eject 1,000 times as much material as the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. This would be a disaster felt on a global scale, which is why scientists are looking at this thing closely.

Scientists see deeper Yellowstone magma

Reservoir of partly molten rock is 4 times bigger than shallower chamber

A new University of Utah study in the journal Science provides the first complete view of the plumbing system that supplies hot and partly molten rock from the Yellowstone hotspot to the Yellowstone supervolcano. The study revealed a gigantic magma reservoir beneath the previously known magma chamber. This cross-section illustration cutting southwest-northeast under Yelowstone depicts the view revealed by seismic imaging. Seismologists say new techniques have provided a better view of Yellowstone's plumbing system, and that it hasn't grown larger or closer to erupting. They estimate the annual chance of a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption is 1 in 700,000. Credit Hsin-Hua Huang, University of Utah

A new University of Utah study in the journal Science provides the first complete view of the plumbing system that supplies hot and partly molten rock from the Yellowstone hotspot to the Yellowstone supervolcano. The study revealed a gigantic magma reservoir beneath the previously known magma chamber. This cross-section illustration cutting southwest-northeast under Yelowstone depicts the view revealed by seismic imaging. Seismologists say new techniques have provided a better view of Yellowstone’s plumbing system, and that it hasn’t grown larger or closer to erupting. They estimate the annual chance of a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption is 1 in 700,000.
Credit: Hsin-Hua Huang, University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, April 23, 2015 – University of Utah seismologists discovered and made images of a reservoir of hot, partly molten rock 12 to 28 miles beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano, and it is 4.4 times larger than the shallower, long-known magma chamber.

The hot rock in the newly discovered, deeper magma reservoir would fill the 1,000-cubic-mile Grand Canyon 11.2 times, while the previously known magma chamber would fill the Grand Canyon 2.5 times, says postdoctoral researcher Jamie Farrell, a co-author of the study published online today in the journal Science.

“For the first time, we have imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone,” says first author Hsin-Hua Huang, also a postdoctoral researcher in geology and geophysics. “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.”

Contrary to popular perception, the magma chamber and magma reservoir are not full of molten rock. Instead, the rock is hot, mostly solid and spongelike, with pockets of molten rock within it. Huang says the new study indicates the upper magma chamber averages about 9 percent molten rock – consistent with earlier estimates of 5 percent to 15 percent melt – and the lower magma reservoir is about 2 percent melt.

So there is about one-quarter of a Grand Canyon worth of molten rock within the much larger volumes of either the magma chamber or the magma reservoir, Farrell says.

No increase in the danger

The researchers emphasize that Yellowstone’s plumbing system is no larger – nor closer to erupting – than before, only that they now have used advanced techniques to make a complete image of the system that carries hot and partly molten rock upward from the top of the Yellowstone hotspot plume – about 40 miles beneath the surface – to the magma reservoir and the magma chamber above it.

“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,” Farrell says.

Study co-author Fan-Chi Lin, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics, says: “It gives us a better understanding the Yellowstone magmatic system. We can now use these new models to better estimate the potential seismic and volcanic hazards.”

The researchers point out that the previously known upper magma chamber was the immediate source of three cataclysmic eruptions of the Yellowstone caldera 2 million, 1.2 million and 640,000 years ago, and that isn’t changed by discovery of the underlying magma reservoir that supplies the magma chamber.

“The actual hazard is the same, but now we have a much better understanding of the complete crustal magma system,” says study co-author Robert B. Smith, a research and emeritus professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah.

The three supervolcano eruptions at Yellowstone – on the Wyoming-Idaho-Montana border – covered much of North America in volcanic ash. A supervolcano eruption today would be cataclysmic, but Smith says the annual chance is 1 in 700,000.

Before the new discovery, researchers had envisioned partly molten rock moving upward from the Yellowstone hotspot plume via a series of vertical and horizontal cracks, known as dikes and sills, or as blobs. They still believe such cracks move hot rock from the plume head to the magma reservoir and from there to the shallow magma chamber.

Anatomy of a supervolcano

The study in Science is titled, “The Yellowstone magmatic system from the mantle plume to the upper crust.” Huang, Lin, Farrell and Smith conducted the research with Brandon Schmandt at the University of New Mexico and Victor Tsai at the California Institute of Technology. Funding came from the University of Utah, National Science Foundation, Brinson Foundation and William Carrico.

Yellowstone is among the world’s largest supervolcanoes, with frequent earthquakes and Earth’s most vigorous continental geothermal system.

The three ancient Yellowstone supervolcano eruptions were only the latest in a series of more than 140 as the North American plate of Earth’s crust and upper mantle moved southwest over the Yellowstone hotspot, starting 17 million years ago at the Oregon-Idaho-Nevada border. The hotspot eruptions progressed northeast before reaching Yellowstone 2 million years ago.

Here is how the new study depicts the Yellowstone system, from bottom to top:

— Previous research has shown the Yellowstone hotspot plume rises from a depth of at least 440 miles in Earth’s mantle. Some researchers suspect it originates 1,800 miles deep at Earth’s core. The plume rises from the depths northwest of Yellowstone. The plume conduit is roughly 50 miles wide as it rises through Earth’s mantle and then spreads out like a pancake as it hits the uppermost mantle about 40 miles deep. Earlier Utah studies indicated the plume head was 300 miles wide. The new study suggests it may be smaller, but the data aren’t good enough to know for sure.

— Hot and partly molten rock rises in dikes from the top of the plume at 40 miles depth up to the bottom of the 11,200-cubic mile magma reservoir, about 28 miles deep. The top of this newly discovered blob-shaped magma reservoir is about 12 miles deep, Huang says. The reservoir measures 30 miles northwest to southeast and 44 miles southwest to northeast. “Having this lower magma body resolved the missing link of how the plume connects to the magma chamber in the upper crust,” Lin says.

— The 2,500-cubic mile upper magma chamber sits beneath Yellowstone’s 40-by-25-mile caldera, or giant crater. Farrell says it is shaped like a gigantic frying pan about 3 to 9 miles beneath the surface, with a “handle” rising to the northeast. The chamber is about 19 miles from northwest to southeast and 55 miles southwest to northeast. The handle is the shallowest, long part of the chamber that extends 10 miles northeast of the caldera.

Scientists once thought the shallow magma chamber was 1,000 cubic miles. But at science meetings and in a published paper this past year, Farrell and Smith showed the chamber was 2.5 times bigger than once thought. That has not changed in the new study.

Discovery of the magma reservoir below the magma chamber solves a longstanding mystery: Why Yellowstone’s soil and geothermal features emit more carbon dioxide than can be explained by gases from the magma chamber, Huang says. Farrell says a deeper magma reservoir had been hypothesized because of the excess carbon dioxide, which comes from molten and partly molten rock.

A better, deeper look at Yellowstone

As with past studies that made images of Yellowstone’s volcanic plumbing, the new study used seismic imaging, which is somewhat like a medical CT scan but uses earthquake waves instead of X-rays to distinguish rock of various densities. Quake waves go faster through cold rock, and slower through hot and molten rock.

For the new study, Huang developed a technique to combine two kinds of seismic information: Data from local quakes detected in Utah, Idaho, the Teton Range and Yellowstone by the University of Utah Seismograph Stations and data from more distant quakes detected by the National Science Foundation-funded EarthScope array of seismometers, which was used to map the underground structure of the lower 48 states.

The Utah seismic network has closely spaced seismometers that are better at making images of the shallower crust beneath Yellowstone, while EarthScope’s seismometers are better at making images of deeper structures.

“It’s a technique combining local and distant earthquake data better to look at this lower crustal magma reservoir,” Huang says.

###

Video

A National Science Foundation video on the new study is here: https://vimeo.com/125823038

University of Utah seismologists prepared a brief animated video of the Yellowstone supervolcano’s underground plumbing system – including the newly discovered magma reservoir. Three versions of the same video are available. They may be downloaded at these links.

— No scale: https://vimeo.com/125629104

— Distance scale in miles, with latitude and longitude: https://vimeo.com/125650792

— Distance scale in kilometers, with latitude and longitude: https://vimeo.com/125650965

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163 thoughts on “Another thing more worrisome than global warming: Yellowstone super-volcano has 4x more magma than once thought

  1. And how many of its cousins are lurking on the ocean floor, 2/3rds of the earth’s surface? IPCC AR5 TS6 admits uncertainty about what’s happening below 2,000 meters which is the bottom half of the ocean.

      • Wow they had me worried there for a bit. I was wondering whether I should put off my upcoming trip to the grand canyon or not.

        But if this Yellowstone thing is not going off this weekend, maybe I’d be ok.

        Did they say, just why they think this stuff would all run down into the grand canyon ?

        Does Obama know about this yet, or has he taken responsibility if it blows ??

      • george e. smith
        April 23, 2015 at 3:00 pm

        Did they say, just why they think this stuff would all run down into the grand canyon ?

        Does Obama know about this yet, or has he taken responsibility if it blows ??

        Nah… Dear Leader will find out about it in the newspapers when everyone else does, just like he always does. And man-oh-man, will he be really, really mad, just like he always is. And then he’ll gather all the finest minds in the country for a 2-hour meeting and declare the problem solved because he said so, just like he always does.

        I’m not cynical. Really, I’m not ;o)

      • “…for a 2-hour meeting and declare the problem solved because he said so, just like he always does.”
        HR You left out one important Obama step.
        ….for a 2-hour meeting and declare the problem solved because he said so, just like he always does then jumps in his jet and goes golfing.

    • An untold number, civil defense would aid our ability to cope immeasurably as would genuine food surplus storage ala Atomic Cold War era.

      The Super Statists & Science community would rather prepare for their imaginary friend AGW than the real threats of Volcanic disruption or Meteor/Comet impact and EMP.

    • They estimate the annual chance of a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption is 1 in 700,000.
      =================
      coincidentally the same odds given on the Titanic sinking.

      • So the Titanic already sank once, if you don’t count that stupid movie they made, so that should mean we have to wait 700,000 years for yellow to blow.

      • 600,000 of those 700,000 chances have already been used. I’d make the odds closer to 1 in 100,000.

      • george e. smith April 23, 2015 at 9:24 pm

        That’s not quite how chance works. It doesn’t take 14m or so lottery draws for a given set of numbers to come up. They might or might not come up next week. They might not come up ever.

      • At odds of 1 in 700,000 years, the probability that we could have gone 600,000 years without an eruption is 0.42. This means the expected odds for the next 100,000 years could be effectively 1 in 181,000 years. This is the effect of early good luck enforcing later bad luck. Just be thankful that low probability events are inherently hard to estimate accurately.

    • Ocean floor volcanoes are basaltic and do not produce massive explosions—they simply produce volcanoes (some large, some small; e.g., Hawaii). But, basaltic volcanoes are not explosive: the more silicic volcanoes such as Yellowstone are explosive due to the very viscous magma, and spread out to much larger areas.

      • In some places, notably Iceland, there are explosive volcanos and those tending not to be. The principle difference is amount of dissolved gasses in those instances. Sometimes there are volcanoes very close to each other with completely different eruptive characteristics.
        Interesting to consider is the volcanoes near subduction zones, Pinatubo, Tambora, Krakatoa…where one might expect to find more mafic lavas.
        Also very interesting is the differences in chemical composition that lead to different lava types on the same volcanoes, such as I Hawaii where pahoehoe and a’a lavas can be found in close proximity.

      • Iceland is a particular case, both hot spot and two ocean plates parting so effusive and explosive eruptions.

    • Easier to create 2 tsunamis, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific. Of course this is James Bond villain territory, which is why one should always question anything that comes out of Alex Jones.

      • Alex Jones didn’t make up the Russian’s advocacy of geologic warfare. Here is Sivkov in his own words:

        http://vpk-news.ru/articles/24405

        Possibly harder to engineer a megatsunami, although slippage of Kilauea into the Pacific should work. There is evidence in HI of 1000-foot tsunamis, rather than 33-foot max for submarine earthquake-induced tidal waves.

      • Sivkov does advocate tsunami-generating attacks on coastal transform faults as well as on the Yellowstone Supervolcano & San Andreas Fault.

      • milodonharlani,

        Tsunamis created by portions of the Hawaiian Islands slumping into the sea are indeed fascinating. When I was a kid my family would camp at South Point on the Big Island for up to a month at a time — back when no one except for a few local Ahi fisherman would bother going down there — and we used to spend almost every waking hour diving off of and spearfishing at the base of these cliffs.

        See in the distance where the cliffs abruptly end? Little did I know back then that everything to the left of that cliff edge slipped into the sea, probably producing one of those massive tsunamis.

        But … while those events may produce massive tsunamis locally, if I am not mistaken those tsunamis do not have great effect far afield because the size of the generating source is not that large — certainly not as great as a 50 m displacement along a 1000 km rupture such as that experienced by the 1960 Chilean quake. Those large mechanisms produce much more total displacement of water, and hence have a much more devastating effect at across the entire ocean of origin.

        BTW, I believe the maximum wave height in Banda Aceh was 30+ meters, not feet.

        And I think the current maximum wave height registered in the recent Japan tsunami is 40 meters !!!

        (In Japan in 1896 the maximum wave height was 38 meters.)

        It’s funny … I live right in front of the great Cascadia Subduction Zone. When I tell people that the ocean level could easily rise to half the height of Haystack Rock (which is 72 meters high), they simply don’t believe me.

        Some day they’ll understand.

      • I was glad when my brother & SiL sold their Oregon beachfront properties.

        You could well be right about a Kilauea-produced tsunami not making it across the Pacific. I don’t know what evidence there is for any basin-wide megatsunami, although a local one occurred fairly recently in Alaska.

        Of course volcanic explosion-caused tsunamis can exceed the maximum from earthquakes. Krakatoa generated a 135-foot tsunami.

        However, IMO the maximum for a slippage-induced earthquake in flat terrain is about ten meters, or 20 from trough to crest. Though possibly before your time, you’ll know all about the 1946 Aleutian tsunami resulted in runup, which exceeded eight m at Hilo & ten m at Tahauku; 59 people were killed in Hilo & two in Tahauku.

        http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0930274.html

        But, as noted, that’s in flat terrain (which I didn’t specify but obviously should have done). Japan suffered higher waves because of local topography:

        http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2014/08/27/sea-of-japan-quake-could-cause-23-meter-tsunami/

        “While the (modeled) tsunami could possibly reach 23.4 meters in the town of Setana on the northern island of Hokkaido, a call from The Wall Street Journal to the ministry confirmed that in flat areas within 200 meters of the coast, the average tsunami height will reach only as high as 10.4 meters.”

        Thanks for pointing out my lapse in explication.

        I’m envious of your childhood.

      • Left the Oregon coast too-because of the Tsunami threat.That and being land locked -at best with several hundred Meth heads in the Coos Bay /North Bend area.

      • Currently looking for a place on the Oregon coast for my retirement. Maybe I should start a tsunami panic.

      • Brian
        April 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm

        Might want to wait until after the Juan de Fuca Plate does its imitation of the Indo-Australian Plate in 2012. OTOH, lots of people might flock toward the devastation then, figuring it would be centuries until the next Big One, even though the IAP slipped in 2004 & 2012.

      • America has already been swamped by tsunamis from the Canaries. Thise started at over 900m, 2700ft. Reached America at about 400ft high.

    • hmmm consequences from this current administration would be to suggest sanctions and then offer billions of tax payer dollars if Putin just signs an agreement to not do it again.

      Cheers!

      Joe

  2. How soon before we hear from climate alarmists that climate change is likely to cause the Yellowstone super volcano to erupt?

      • Yup, just like Fracking is “causing Earthquakes” never mind that the deepest drilling is 4.5 miles or so higher than the straw sucks up the crude…

        No reason AGW can’t cause magma even deeper to erupt.

      • I think the link to earthquakes is fairly well established. But mostly due to reinjection of water, not the fracking itself.
        And, although some are stronger and may cause a broken dish or two, earthquake might be a misleading term for shaking that can only be detected by sensitive instrumentation.

      • My question about the wastewater-induced small earthquakes is: what if it is beneficial? What if by making a few barely-harmful quakes you release the tension that is building up, thereby preventing a major one? That never seems to be addressed by the doomsayers.

      • Yeah I’m sure that corporate reps are insisting that waste water injection has nothing to do with earth quakes:

      • @BFL, I think those are generated by warmists stomping their feet after they realized nobody is listening anymore, along the lines of 4 year old having been denied their candy.

      • Even if all ice melted the higher water level would be insignificant compared to the total height of the world’s oceans. So accordingly any increased pressure to the ocean floor would also be insignificant and no increase in volcanism would result.

      • My question about the wastewater-induced small earthquakes is: what if it is beneficial? What if by making a few barely-harmful quakes you release the tension that is building up, thereby preventing a major one? That never seems to be addressed by the doomsayers.– Dinsmore

        Problem is that it won’t be addressed by the lawyers either. Maybe in 4 or 5 decades earthquake fault stabilization by fluid injection will be respectable. But right now it’s clearly “You and your damn fracking fluid collapsed that bridge and you’re gonna pay.”

      • AGW, Fracking, and Waste Water Injection are what caused the New Madrid quake, ya think mebee?

        “At 2:15 a.m. on December 16, 1811, residents of the frontier town of New Madrid, in what is now Missouri, were jolted from their beds by a violent earthquake. The ground heaved and pitched, hurling furniture, snapping trees and destroying barns and homesteads. The shaking rang church bells in Charleston, South Carolina, and toppled chimneys as far as Cincinnati, Ohio.
        As people were starting to rebuild that winter, two more major quakes struck, on January 23 and February 7. Each New Madrid earthquake had a magnitude of 7.5 or greater, making them three of the most powerful in the continental United States and shaking an area ten times larger than that affected by the magnitude 7.8 San Francisco earthquake of 1906.”

        Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-great-midwest-earthquake-of-1811-46342/#9UVh3BGqIklgKv8q.99
        Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
        Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

        We are mere pigrims on this planet as we make our way across the universe. Where is the steering wheel located?

    • Louis: Yet if Yellowstone erupts it’ll sure as hell cause some kinda climate change…

      • If you wanted to have a normal climate after an Yellowstone eruption, the bad car analogy would be “you can’t get there from here”. I remember predictions of inches of volcanic ash falling on Washington DC, so you’d have to assume that North America would be destroyed as well as the global climate for decades if not centuries, humanity would either be extinct or have gone into Morlock-mode.

      • It will make farming virtually impossible in the areas of greatest ash-fall, at least in the short term.
        Longer term, it will be enriching to the soil to some extent, but that will be over several years later at least, and perhaps decades or centuries.
        Many people who are not involved in agriculture may suppose that there are years worth of grain laying about in storage, but the reality is, if the corn and wheat belts suffered even one year without a crop, widespread death by starvation would be a real threat, unless food could be imported from unaffected regions of the world. If production were negatively impacted all over the world, the movie Soylent Green would begin to look like a positive spin pipedream.
        Imagine tens of millions of city dwellers with literally nothing to eat. A week later. A month later. Three months. One year.
        It would get ugly, very ugly, and very fast.

    • Funny, i have heard several really scary volcano predictions by experts on the CBC recently. This may be the start of a new thing to be afraid of. People are becoming bored of climate change and the media has used every potential threat of global warming for headlines. Natural disasters are much scarier. It is not something that can be predicted or controlled. Im getting scared just thinking about it.

      • I don’t know if you saw the mid-70s movie “Network”, (Faye Dunaway) but it was incredibly prescient about the media and the entertainment aspects that have occurred. I have been cynical about MSM ever since and would put nothing above them to get higher ratings.

  3. Farrell says a deeper magma reservoir had been hypothesized because of the excess carbon dioxide, which comes from molten and partly molten rock.

    Oxygen and carbon are the third and fourth most common chemical elements in the universe, respectively. But it’s surely fossil origin in this caldera too. Do I need sarc tag for this?

  4. How do we know it is merely a lone wolf plume as opposed to an extension of the East Pacific Rise (or “failed” 3rd arm off of the triple junction)?

    • It’s a hotspot, over which the North American Plate is moving, similar to the Hawaiian Islands Chain, created by the Pacific Plate’s motion over the HI Hotspot.

      Some think that hotspots are formed by the largest impacts from space punching clear through the crust.

      • Similar to my belief that the Chicxulub event caused the Deccan Traps flood basalt eruptions in India, rather than them being two separate phenomena.
        Being that these two highly unusual and rare occurrences happened around the same time, and at points on the globe that are very close to being, if not precisely, at diametrically opposed points on the globe, the coincidence is too astounding for them to be unrelated.
        The location of the Traps is not opposite the Yucatan impact crater at the present time, but 67 MYA, India was in the middle of the Indian ocean, putting in the right place at the right time.

      • The Deccan Traps erupted as the Indian Plate was passing over the Reunion Island Hotspot, which is located (& presumably was then as well) quite a distance from the precise antipodal point to the Yucatan, although obviously that position is in the Indian Ocean.

        IMO the Traps & the Yucatan impact are indeed coincidental, improbable as that may seem, but dating problems make it difficult to rule out the possibility. The latest (2014) estimate for the start of their eruption is 66.250 Ma, too close to the K-T impact to rule out a connection. Best guess for that event in 2011 was 66.236 ± 0.06 Ma!

      • And the conjunction of the estimated 250 million year old Antarctic Wilkes Land crater of perhaps 300 kms wide or twice the size of the Chicxulub crater and the massive volcanic outpourings of the Siberian Traps almost directly opposite in geographical position to the Wilkes Land Crater and also around 250 millions years old.
        Coincidence?
        Maybe but I have often wondered about these particular volcanic / impact coincidences particularly as each apparently coincidental event is claimed to be responsible for a couple of the five major extinction events on the planet since sentient life began it’s climb out of the 3.7 billion years old bacterial slime and mats some 650 million or more years ago.

      • Oh, man! My long and wonderfullest post ever (or at least for today) just got erased.
        @Milo,
        It started out by pointing out that the North American plate has moved too, in 67 MY.
        At current rate of motion, Yucatan would have been at about 70-75W longitude at that time.
        Someone else can do the calcs. if they want…I am an idea guy mostly.
        I also mentioned that I am available as a consultant for filed work in the Seychelles, Malidives, Chagos, or Mascarenes, especially if the assignment coincides with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photoshoot.

        I have to summarize, as I am now late for dinner:
        -Liquefaction could provide a mechanism for melting and acceleration of existing mantle plumes
        -Precise antipodal alignment is not required, as numerous reasons for deflection of the shock wave exist, including the angle of the impacting bolide.
        -Seismic waves are known to refract, reflect, and velocity is density dependent. Focused input of energy along the line of impact is very plausible.
        -Idea is falsifiable, and makes predictions that can be checked.

        -Odds of coincidence are astronomical.

        I expect few to instantly have a light bulb light in their head, but doing so is a sign of very high IQ, IMO.

        Let me know when I can pick up my Nobel.

        ( I can tie it in to global warming, so grant money spigot will be wide open*)

        *Just kidding, I am a SKEPTIC!

      • ROM,
        You are obviously a person of imagination, creativity and intellect.
        Siberian traps are harder to pin down, given the greater uncertainty in time and locations that long ago.
        But, in general, the fact that multiple instances of a similar coincidence of impact and outpouring of flood basalts is corroborative of the general idea.

      • Menicholas,

        The Yucatan was slightly east of its present position then (although perhaps not quite as far as your estimate of paleolongitude), but that means the antipodal point of the impact was even farther away from the Reunion Hotspot than now.

    • ROM,

      The Wilkes Land feature, even if it be a crater, is almost certainly not from the P-T boundary.

      Where the boundary outcrops in nearby Victoria Land & the central Trans-Antarctic Mountains, well-defined impact ejecta are completely absent. This strongly suggests IMO that no impact capable of creating a crater the size of the hypothesized Wilkes Land feature occurred within Antarctica at that time..

      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/222512309_Return_to_Coalsack_Bluff_and_the_PermianTriassic_boundary_in_Antarctica

  5. The hot spot emits CO2. Yellowstone is Federal land. Sue the feds to force them to stop emitting or pay nearby states carbon offset fees.

    • Naahhh… William. The Feds can just make the check out to me. I’ll share. I promise. Just give me a call. I’m in the phone book.

  6. they claim the chamber is not growing … but then they mention that until a year ago they thought the chamber was 1/4 the size they now say it is … I’d say it premature to claim its not growing with less than one year of new measurement data to go on … and considering that it could kill a large percentage of human life on earth I’d prefer they kept their mouths shut when making “all is safe” predictions …

    their 1 in 700,000 number is statistics for dummies … it appears to erupt once about every 700,000 years … but since we are 650,000 years after the last eruption I’d revise their number down to 1 in 50,000 … of course neither number is based on anything other than a WAG …

    they see that chamber start to grow and watch how fast they come running for grant money with their hair on fire about “the end of the world” …

    • Yes, just taking a simple arithmetic average and linear progression on the time spreads between 2 million, 1.2 million, 640,000 that’s once every 680,000 years. We can expect the next big one in around 40,000 years, plus or minus 120,000 years- we’re within that plus or minus range now.

    • My personal favourite guess is 20,000 years or so (no science I can point to particularly; just a guess). By that time Earth will be well into a new ice age so who knows how much ice will have accumulated to be added to the other materials to be emitted when (not if) Yellowstone blows again. Going to be a disaster for the whole country downstream. Of course nothing like as disastrous as a couple of degrees of warming that can’t be detected without a thermometer.

    • From the .pdf file linked to from http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1071/ :

      Although the probability of a large caldera-forming eruption at Yellowstone is exceedingly small, it is exceedingly difficullt 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 inter- eruptive 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.

      • Well I am glad they don’t work for NASA who’s engineers said that the probability of a shuttle failure was around 1 in 100,000. Just who CAN one trust??

      • USGS has extensive monitoring equipment all around the park and keeps close tabs on the rise and fall of the land surface to figure out what is going on in that magma chamber and below. They may not be concerned about a fourth mega-eruption (at least anytime soon) but since the last mega-eruption ~640,000 years ago there have been many other eruptions at Yellowstone – West Thumb caldera for instance – which were not insignificant. However if there’s as much hot rock as these guys are now saying I’d have thought that would increase the chances quite a lot from the 1/1,000,000 USGS estimated in 2007.

  7. “which is why scientists are looking at this thing closely.”

    Yes, scientists believe they can, and must, prevent it from passing The Tipping Point.. To save the gay baby whales and polar bears, don’tcha know.

      • no Brian, no problem at all with it. I just didn’t want them left out, myself being a lesbian albatross trapped in a male albatrosses body I greatly sympathize with the noble cause. :-)

        Cheers,

        Joe

    • “scientists believe they can, and must, prevent it from passing The Tipping Point..”

      Wait persons are extremely annoyed at cheapskate scientists.

  8. At the very least, it would be the ultimate bad hair day if/when it erupts.
    Ever try to find a decent volcanic ash shampoo that does not smell medicine-y?

    • It’s really a sobering proposition, as opposed to global warming which as far as I can see is likely to be a net positive. The planet is already greener as a consequence of added Co2. Hard to believe there’s not one reporter savvy enough to ask President Bam Bam about this…

      As for the super volcano…civilization is fragile…which is to say it’s not hereditary.. A generation of running amok under dire conditions, is all it would take to return us to the stone age.

      • aneipris,

        Won’t require a natural cataclysm. All it would take is for tyrants to destroy or current cheap, efficient energy infrastructure and economy. “We need to revert our carbon emissions to pre-industrial levels to save the planet.” Not save humanity, save The Planet.

      • “It’s really a sobering proposition”

        Yes, I know, and please excuse my propensity for humor in the face of dire news.
        Also, see my more serious comments on this topic of great interest to me, above and below.
        Geology is my first love, with the possible exception of nuclear physics.

      • For thousands of years, men lived on the Earth and attributed its mysteries to gods and demons. Now, we have the tools to see what’s really been going on all along. It’s like a fish suddenly becoming aware of the water it’s swimming in, and the limitations of the diameter of the bowl.
        Nothing has “changed” but the limits of our perceptions. I don’t see a reason to panic.

  9. What if one could use all that thermal energy and slowly disarm this volcano? Geothermal energy is now used just as a source of heat and electric power, but imagine one could at the same time avert a disaster.
    Yes I know it is a gigantic project, but it isn’t meant to be done in a few years. Yellowstone has not erupted for some 600 000 years now. Give me a few centuries and I will be able to tap that energy to supply at least the needs of Norht America for millennias to come and by the way fend of that cataclysmic eruption that nature may have in preparedness.

    Come to think of it, I already spent more than seven decades with trifle..aye there’s the rub..

    • Unfortunately, all that thermal energy is in a place that is sparsely inhabited, and thus inconveniently located for exploitation, plus this locale is one of the truly must-preserve-at-all-costs spots on the earth.

      • Not at all costs. It was nice while it lasted, but if it must be sacrificed for humanity, we’ll always have the postcards of Old Faithful.

      • Hmm, forgot about them postcards.
        And now that you mention it, those boiling mud pots smell like rotten eggs, too.
        Meh, pave it over!

      • Let’s shut off water to the Garden Of The World (Central Valley) to save the endangered Delta Smelt. “Not even a single species, not on our watch!”

      • Don’t confuse me with an eco-loon, please.
        I am an old school ecologist and environmentalist, not a humans-gotta-go whack-job.

    • Also, the fact that the magma chambers are far deeper than even the deepest boreholes ever drilled makes it problematic at best.

  10. Was doing some reading a while back on the Thira (Santorini) eruption of 1600BC. That one was a fraction of the size of Yellowstone, but the damage it did it makes our nukes look like toys by comparison. It effects were detectable in Greenland ice. Point of fact it brought about the downfall of a fairly advanced civilisation, and in so doing probably set back human development about as much as the post-Roman Dark Age.

    If Yellowstone did blow, it might even be an ELE (extinction level event) with very few species surviving anywhere. Fortunately it seems it’s not likely to do so in the immediate future. But, it does underline just how fragile our hold on civilisation is.

    My thoughts on these issues are that we need to advance our technology before any such event hits. Only that way would we have a chance of coping with the results. Renewables will not help us. A reliable non-fossil source of energy just might. That is also true if an asteroid strike or geomagnetic field reversal were to arise.

    • Not to be too nit-picky, because you make a good point regarding the eruption, but the post-Roman period in European history saw the fastest technological expansion Europe had ever seen, and ever would see until the Industrial revolution.

      The removal of empire, coinciding with globally warming temperatures, was a massive benefit to European technological progress. Things like water and wind mills were invented. New metallurgy techniques, new farming techniques, new building techniques and so on and so forth. People ate better, worked less, played more, learned more (universities were invented in this period) and generally had a better standard of life.

  11. So, climate doom is on top of unreachable mountains, deep in the seas where man cannot go, pausing to attack from failed computer model etch-a-sketch projections, AND hidden, but lurking, beneath Earth’s crust where we cannot see, but that they have now smartly quake-rayed. That’s just this week.

  12. Iceland has volcanoes that are sure to erupt in the near future, and a few of them have the potential to be highly disruptive and perhaps catastrophic.
    This Yellowstone thing is certainly very interesting, but the low probability of an eruption anytime soon puts it rather far down the list of concerns, IMO.
    We seem sure to have several if not dozens of Tambora and Krakatoa sized events before we have to worry about any of the super volcanoes.

  13. Love this cite. But the headline is worthy of Climate alarmism.

    One chance in 700,000 of an eruption of that magnitude. I am a skeptic on global warming….but odds are higher for climate catastrophe then Yellowstone blowing up.

    Why does Watts do this?

    • There is a logical fallacy that if a thing is discovered which was not known before then it has come into existence having not existed before. As if the discovery has brought into being the entity. There should be some Latin phrase for it – maybe Chris Monckton could create one for us. The media and public and even scientists do get sucked into it sometimes.

      This fallacy is quite common in politicised fields such as radiation biology (linked to the nuclear issue) and climate alarmism. When new mechanisms of ionising radiation damage or hazard to biological tissue were discovered, radiation was considered by unwitting practicers of this fallacy to have become more daangerous than it was before the discovery. Likewise with every discovery of a supposedly previously unknown climate change risk or harm, the narrative is about a “new” risk and the fallacy again comes into play. The scientists themselves probably know better but are happy to let it run.

      Fortunately the authors here are rightly clear in defending against this fallacy (logic is still alive and well in the geology community):

      “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,” Farrell says.

    • I should emphasise that Anthony is not I believe subject to this fallacy himself in any way, he is just feinting at the fallacy in an ironic way to imitate climate science / media alarmism.

    • Your math is off, this is at least twice if not three times more likely to happen in the next hundred years than CAGW.

  14. But what about the poor wolves and elk? Did we in Canada send all them wolves down there to be made into BBQ burgers? The horror! /sarc

  15. Check out Ashfall Fossil Beds, a Nebraska state park. They have fossils of horses, camels, rhinos, etc killed by breathing ash from the eruption 1.2 million years ago.

  16. You need to say the word “Magma” just like Dr. Evil said it. And then laugh in a sinister fashion.

  17. As Will Durant put it, ‘civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice’

  18. I suspect this is only the biggest that has been mapped. You would really need to map Indonesia and under the North Island of NZ and possibly some other places where big eruptions take place before the claim of the biggest has much credibility.

  19. Max Photon April 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    “It’s funny … I live right in front of the great Cascadia Subduction Zone. When I tell people that the ocean level could easily rise to half the height of Haystack Rock (which is 72 meters high), they simply don’t believe me.”

    IPCC’s worst, worst, worst case RCP 8.5 has that amount of sea level rise modeled/predicted for year 2500.

  20. The probabilities posited here are asinine. Since the first blow (2mybp), the next came 1.2mybp (~800,000 year interval) and the next 640kybp (~600,000 interval). The pipe is heated, and apparently, still conducting mantle heat/material toward the surface. As a (poor) analogy, a woman’s first birthing often comes hard; succeeding ones come more and more rapidly. The major thing here may be that all the low melting point minerals in the crust above the plume have been extracted by the previous melting and subsequent explosions, so that all that lies beneath the surface now is basaltic in composition. If magma of this composition were to to erupt, think in terms of Kilauea, and not earlier versions of Yellowstone, or Long Valley, etc. which were in the andesite to rhyolite range (probably dacitic). The explosive factor is a function of the viscosity of the magma and its dissolved volatile content.

    • As the continent brought the Rocky Mountains over the hot spot, the increased thickness of the crust could have deflected and delayed the next eruption, increasing the amount of available energy when it did make it’s way to the surface, and the roots of the mountains could have funneled the upwelling and focused it.
      Basically, the disruption of the mountains made the whole timeline of future eruptions even more unpredictable…not that they were ever predictable to begin with.
      Is here another upwelling further east at this point, unknown and unseen…yet
      Hmm…

      • Menicholas: Note that Yellowstone is smack dab in the midst of the northern Rocky Mountains, at the end of a trail of lava and volcanic cones (the Columbia Plateau and the Snake River Plains) that clearly delineate the trace of the continent over the hotspot). The northern Rockies are formed by rocks being thrust eastward over existing crustal rocks by crustal compression at the western margin of the continental plate. These thrust plates thicken the crust, but the hotspot has already burned through them (the “roots” of the mountains). The seismic construction shown in the article says that the mantle plume still exists beneath Yellowstone. There is no reason – at least yet – to posit that the plume has moved eastward any appreciable distance from where it seems to have localized for the last 2 million years.

      • Mr. Finley,
        Yes indeed, I have spent some time out there. The trail of ancient eruptions is plainly evident, and interesting how the Snake River has called the trail home. Who was the explorer who wondered what happened to the mountains where Yellowstone is?
        Can it be assumed that there were once mountains there, and were burned through and blown up by the last several eruptions?
        My understanding is that, prior to the last several, each eruption was fairly distinct in location, with little overlap.

    • No

      Because the planet is moving across the hot spot so crust is being renewed along with volatiles
      Will it be an eruption from the current magma chamber or will it solidify and the big one will be from the next magma chamber in Montana?

      When it does blow life will certainly be uncomfortable for the whole planet for a while and, depending on the wind, North America in particular.

      Better stock up on baked beans and listen to Jimmy Buffett

  21. From another article on the topic:

    The discovery of the much larger reservoir at a depth of 20 to 50 kilometres helps to solve a long-running puzzle relating to the carbon dioxide spewing out from the huge steaming caldera volcano at Yellowstone, creating ripples of tiny earthquakes it does so. The problem is that the upper magma chamber is much too small to account for the 45 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide discharged daily.

    If I did the math correctly, that’s equivalent to burning a bit over 4.5 million gallons of gasoline. Although I did see that the US burns a daily average of about 374.74 million gallons.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27407-vast-magma-reservoir-found-hiding-beneath-yellowstone-park.html?cmpid=RSS|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|environment#.VTmgZJPW6Pk

  22. Wow! Yellowstone is twenty times more likely to go off this year than me winning this weeks UK lottery!

  23. Nothing to worry about.

    Remember the wildfires of 1988?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_fires_of_1988

    Where are the Sirens of Little Jimmy [suckling his mother’s tits] Hansen and Al [Biggest Dickest] Gore?

    Ha ha

    I visited Yellowstone Park twice in the 90s. Nice place.

    Here is a nice ditty from Wikki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_National_Park

    “In 1806, John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, left to join a group of fur trappers. After splitting up with the other trappers in 1807, Colter passed through a portion of what later became the park, during the winter of 1807–1808. He observed at least one geothermal area in the northeastern section of the park, near Tower Fall.[17] After surviving wounds he suffered in a battle with members of the Crow and Blackfoot tribes in 1809, he described a place of “fire and brimstone” that most people dismissed as delirium; the supposedly imaginary place was nicknamed “Colter’s Hell”. Over the next 40 years, numerous reports from mountain men and trappers told of boiling mud, steaming rivers, and petrified trees, yet most of these reports were believed at the time to be myth.”

    Ah Ha. Good word, “myth”, that rises amongst the mists. ;-)

  24. I didn’t see the South Western volcanic area mentioned:
    http://www.livescience.com/24507-southwest-volcano-hazard.html
    “More than 1,400 volcanoes dot the Southwestern United States. At least three erupted in the past 1,000 years, which is practically yesterday in geologic time. Experts and disaster officials are finally looking at the potential threats.
    Though many of the region’s volcanoes lie in remote corners, puncturing rainbow-hued rocks and surrounded by empty desert, some run smack up against growing Western cities.
    To stay ahead of any surprises Mother Nature may be brewing underground, the U.S. Geological Survey recently brought together emergency planners and volcano experts for a conference on volcanic hazards in the Southwest. The Oct. 18 meeting marked the first time both groups had discussed their roles should an eruption occur.

  25. Southern Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupted on Wednesday. Looked quite impressive on the BBC news.

  26. Hmm the annual chance of a catastrophic eruption is 1 in 700,000.

    I wonder what the odds are of a catastrophic meteorite strike, even a near miss from a large enough body could be catastrophic.

    As I get older don’t even want to consider how the the odds increase for dying from an illness.

    At any rate even though the odds of type of death are uncertain, death itself remains certain.

  27. When the next caldera eruption occurs in the continental U.S. and spreads ash across the farm belt, there will always be the classic policy refrain by Ed Markey. It is “Who could have known.”

  28. Someone please tell Algore that it’s “millions of degrees” in that magma reservoir. That way he can continue to entertain us with his knowledge of Earth science.

  29. You can’t tax a super volcano or a meteorite, so you have to pick other targets of opportunity. Such ambulance chasing policy priorities for new revenue and influence peddling leads back to middle class humans and their mundane attempts to survive and get ahead a little bit. Right Barry and Hillary?

  30. A volcano erupted overnight in Costa Rica, shooting up a column of ash that forced the closure of the airport in the capital city San Jose.

    The blast from the Turrialba volcano in the east of the Central American country came after the Calbuco volcano in Chile erupted twice in the space of seven hours, after remaining dormant for more than 50 years.

    Airport officials said authorities evaluated the situation at the airport, located 80km from the volcano, and said it would not reopen until later today at the earliest.

    Landing strips were covered with ash. Reports said 14 arriving flights from the United States and countries in Central America were cancelled.

    The volcano, 3,340m high, erupted in early March and shut down the airport for nearly two days.

    Turrialba was inactive for 130 years until it came back to life in the 1990s.

    In late October of last year it erupted with great force, spewing ash and magma. It has been rumbling ever since.

  31. The BBC made a great movie about a Yellowstone eruption, Supervolcano. Worth a watch if you can find it.

  32. The evidence of the many eruptions of Yellowstone are scattered throughout Wyoming in the form of Bentonite deposits. Some thick and close enough to the surface to mine and others not so much. There are, however, significant amounts of bentonite mixed in with much of the soil in many areas of the state which causes it to turn to a greasey jello like material, which is also sticky at the same time, when it becomes wet. Real nasty stuff for any type of transport. But these multiple eruptions have not all been of the really catastrophic variety. Some much more “mild” according to the evidence we see here. So the next one could be of a variety of possible magnitudes. Theoretically, I have been told, a few milder ones obviate the danger, to some degree, of a really cataclysmic eruption due to reduction in the internal pressures. But then, does anyone really know if this is so?

  33. Hey, anything that has a better chance of happening than me winning the lottery is something I worry about and take seriously. Lol!

    • “If you look at the geological record of the end of the last ice age, there’s something that crops up that’s more than a little bit disturbing. The approximate 10,000 year period in which 4 degrees Celsius of warming took place was also punctuated by a rash of intense volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis.

      It was a time of extraordinary geophysical changes that not only saw the, sometimes catastrophic, melting of massive ice sheets and extreme rises in sea level — it also saw severe geological upheaval. In one region alone — Iceland — instances of volcanic eruption increased 30-50 fold during a period starting about 12,000 years ago. Overall, global spikes in volcanism began near the start of major melt events at around 18,000 years ago and continued on through the Iceland spike at the 12,000 year time-frame, finally tapering off around 7,000 years ago. In the 12,000 to 7,000 year before present period, global volcanic activity was between 2 and 6 times today’s frequency.”

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