NASA's Secret Plan to Save Earth From Super-Volcanoes… Seriously?

Guest post by David Middleton

I didn’t realize this was “Apocalypse Week”….

Nasa’s ambitious plan to save Earth from a supervolcano

 With an eruption brewing, it may be the only way to prevent the extinction of the human race.

  • By David Cox

17 August 2017

Lying beneath the tranquil settings of Yellowstone National Park in the US lies an enormous magma chamber. It’s responsible for the geysers and hot springs that define the area, but for scientists at Nasa, it’s also one of the greatest natural threats to human civilisation as we know it: a potential supervolcano.

Following an article we published about supervolcanoes last month, a group of Nasa researchers got in touch to share a report previously unseen outside the space agency about the threat – and what could be done about it.

“I was a member of the Nasa Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for Nasa to defend the planet from asteroids and comets,” explains Brian Wilcox of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. “I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.”


The Beeb

Notes to the Beeb:

  1. It’s NASA, not Nasa.
  2. Civilization has a “z” in it.
  3. Yellowstone is a supervolcano, not a potential supervolcano.

If “the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat,” does this mean we can stop fretting about Gorebal Warming and the Sixth Mass Extinction?  Is NASA really moving on to actual threats to the planet?  Well, not threats to the planet… The planet has handled supervolcanoes, asteroids and comets quite well over its 4.5 billion year lifespan.

I’ll rephrase the question: Is NASA actually taking on genuine threats to humanity?  Or at least threats to these United States?  Let’s return to the article and find out…


There are around 20 known supervolcanoes on Earth, with major eruptions occurring on average once every 100,000 years. One of the greatest threats an eruption may pose is thought to be starvation, with a prolonged volcanic winter potentially prohibiting civilisation from having enough food for the current population. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that food reserves worldwide would last 74 days.


That’s “funny.”  One of the “solutions” proposed for Gorebal Warming is geoengineering a volcanic winter by pumping sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere.  Maybe we just need to ramp up GHG emissions now, so that when Yellowstone does pop off another Ultra-Plinian eruption, Earth will be warm enough to handle a volcanic winter.  A more pertinent concern is how we’ll handle having much of our nation covered with volcanic ash…


Figure 1. Modeled tephra fall thickness, Figure 6 from Mastin et al., 2014: “Simulated tephra fall thickness resulting from a month-long Yellowstone eruption of 330 km3 using 2001 wind fields for (a) January, (b) April, (c) July, and (d) October. In (a), the bold red line delineates the extent of the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff Bed (HR); the brown line delineates the extent of Lava Creek B Tuff (LCB) [Sarna-Wojcicki, 2000].”

What?  You don’t like models?


Figure 2. Outlines of tephra deposits from historical Yellowstone eruptions. (USGS)

As bad as the eruption and lava flows would be, the tephra deposition would be even worse.

From Mastin et al., 2014: “Table 3. Average, Maximum, and Minimum Deposit Thicknesses at Selected Cities, From Simulations Illustrated in Figures 6-8a

City Distance km Longitude Latitude Thickness (mm)
Average Minimum Maximum
  1. a“Distance” is the distance in km from Yellowstone. Longitude is given in degrees east, latitude in degrees north.
Albuquerque 1091 −106.61 35.111 24.9 4.1 73.9
Atlanta 2556 −84.387 33.748 3.1 0.5 6.5
Austin 1942 −97.743 30.267 2 0.1 4.2
Billings 227 −108.501 45.783 1429.5 1028.7 1785.6
Boise 452 −116.215 43.619 144.8 26.9 347.9
Calgary 777 −114.058 51.045 32.8 1.8 68.2
Casper 391 −106.313 42.867 516.9 325.9 844.3
Cheyenne 600 −104.82 41.14 152.9 96.3 274.4
Chicago 1887 −87.63 41.877 14.9 5.5 29.4
Denver 700 −104.985 39.737 98.1 63.6 131.9
Des Moines 1420 −93.609 41.601 40 19.9 59.6
Fargo 1111 −96.789 46.877 57.7 22.9 78.6
Flagstaff 1028 −111.639 35.201 16.3 0 50.6
Kansas City 1454 −94.621 39.114 31.7 7 57.2
Knoxville 2455 −83.92 35.96 4.3 1.2 10.5
Lincoln 1211 −96.682 40.807 52.9 22.6 88.5
Little Rock 1905 −92.289 34.746 8.4 1.6 25.2
Los Angeles 1323 −118.244 34.052 5.2 0 27
Miami 3453 −80.226 25.788 0.5 0 1.7
Minneapolis 1374 −93.267 44.983 39.2 23.2 53.5
Missoula 375 −114.019 46.86 240.6 48 474.4
Mobile 2508 −88.043 30.694 1.8 0.1 3.9
New York 3025 −74.004 40.714 2.5 1.4 3.7
Portland 950 −122.676 45.523 8.3 0 30.6
Raleigh 2884 −78.639 35.772 2.7 0.8 4.5
Rapid City 593 −103.231 44.08 208.3 168.2 330.2
St. Louis 1819 −90.199 38.627 15.3 3 32.5
Salt Lake City 419 −111.891 40.761 247.9 124.9 408.3
San Francisco 1229 −122.419 37.775 8.5 0 44.7
Seattle 966 −122.332 47.606 9.2 0 41.2
Toronto 2498 −79.383 43.653 3.7 2 6.2
Washington DC 2855 −77.036 38.907 2.9 1.3 4.4
Winnipeg 1188 −97.137 49.899 37.9 14.3 59.1

A Plinian or Ultra-Plinian eruption of Yellowstone would be really bad.


Volcanic Explosivity Index Source: Climate S.W.A.G.

So… How does NASA plan to save us from this?  Back to the Beeb:

When Nasa scientists came to consider the problem, they found that the most logical solution could simply be to cool a supervolcano down. A volcano the size of Yellowstone is essentially a gigantic heat generator, equivalent to six industrial power plants. Yellowstone currently leaks about 60-70% of the heat coming up from below into the atmosphere, via water which seeps into the magma chamber through cracks. The remainder builds up inside the magma, enabling it to dissolve more and more volatile gases and surrounding rocks. Once this heat reaches a certain threshold, then an explosive eruption is inevitable.

But if more of the heat could be extracted, then the supervolcano would never erupt. Nasa estimates that if a 35% increase in heat transfer could be achieved from its magma chamber, Yellowstone would no longer pose a threat. The only question is how?


Instead Nasa have conceived a very different plan. They believe the most viable solution could be to drill up to 10km down into the supervolcano, and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F), thus slowly day by day extracting heat from the volcano. And while such a project would come at an estimated cost of around $3.46bn (£2.69bn), it comes with an enticing catch which could convince politicians to make the investment.

“Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” Wilcox says. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh. You would have to give the geothermal companies incentives to drill somewhat deeper and use hotter water than they usually would, but you would pay back your initial investment, and get electricity which can power the surrounding area for a period of potentially tens of thousands of years. And the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption which would devastate humanity.”


The Beeb

Sounds like a win-win!  Save humanity from both Yellowstone and from solar power!

So… What’s the catch?

But drilling into a supervolcano does not come without certain risks. Namely triggering the eruption you’re intending to prevent.

“The most important thing with this is to do no harm,” Wilcox says. “If you drill into the top of the magma chamber and try and cool it from there, this would be very risky. This could make the cap over the magma chamber more brittle and prone to fracture. And you might trigger the release of harmful volatile gases in the magma at the top of the chamber which would otherwise not be released.”

The Beeb

So… NASA proposes to drill these geothermal wells under the magma chamber and extract the heat from below.  Sounds like they need to hire the world’s best “deep core drillers”… Again…

Instead, the idea is to drill in from the supervolcano from the lower sides, starting outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, and extracting the heat from the underside of the magma chamber. “This way you’re preventing the heat coming up from below from ever reaching the top of the chamber which is where the real threat arises,” Wilcox says.

However those who instigate such a project will never see it to completion, or even have an idea whether it might be successful within their lifetime. Cooling Yellowstone in this manner would happen at a rate of one metre a year, taking of the order of tens of thousands of years until just cold rock was left. Although Yellowstone’s magma chamber would not need to be frozen solid to reach the point where it no longer posed a threat, there would be no guarantee that the endeavour would ultimately be successful for at least hundreds and possibly thousands of years.


Such a plan could be potentially applied to every active supervolcano on the planet, and Nasa’s scientists are hoping that their blueprints will encourage more practical scientific discussion and debate for tackling the threat.


The Beeb

It’s “meter,” not metre and there’s no “u” in endeavor… And such a plan might not cool the magma chamber at all…



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

The lower part of the magma chamber is about 10 miles deep.  The magma reservoir goes down to the top of the mantle (~30 miles deep).  The deepest geothermal well drilled to date, only goes down a bit over 3 miles.

Iceland is drilling the world’s deepest geothermal well

By Kesavan Unnikrishnan Jan 22, 2017 in Technology

Iceland is digging world’s deepest geothermal borehole into the heart of a volcano at a depth of 3.10 miles (5 km) to tap renewable energy. The extreme pressure and heat at such depths could derive 30 to 50 MW of electricity from one geothermal well.


Read more:

10 miles is 52,800 feet.  The deepest well ever drilled for any reason, the Kola Superdeep Borehole in Russia, only went down 40,230 feet.  Prior to this, the deepest well was the 31,441 feet deep Lone Star Producing Co. 1–27 Bertha Rogers well in Washita County, Oklahoma.  In a note of totally unrelated trivia: Lone Star Producing became Enserch Exploration, my first employer in the oil “bidness.”  The Bertha Rogers TD’ed (reached total depth) in molten sulfur.  Enserch’s executives all had sulfur paperweights from the Bertha Rogers.

While I am happy to find out that at least some folks at NASA are actually considering genuine threats to this nation and the other people on this planet… Their proposed solution to the supervolcano threat appears to be straight out of Fantasy Land.

Note:  Yes, I know the BBC is British and that we are “two peoples separated by a common language.”  I just like poking fun at the way they misspell so many words.


[1] Mastin L. G. Van Eaton A. R. Lowenstern J. B. (2014). Modeling ash fall distribution from a Yellowstone supereruption. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 15, 3459–3475.

Further Reading

[1] Kummer, Larry (2017).  Geologists warn us about dangerous volcanoes. Will we spend pennies for warnings? Watts Up With That?




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Lets assume this works, and we start cooling most of the volcanoes on earth – this would be the end of life as we know it. The whole carbon cycle depends on CO2 trapped in limestone formed on the bottom of the ocean getting subducted and re-released into the atmosphere via volcanic activity. No more volcanoes, and we get a major drop in CO2 eventually ending life on earth.
I guess it would make the Al Gore types happy.


I think the effort is to study ways to manage super volcanoes, not all volcanoes.

Melvin of Ti

The scientists can’t agree on global warming or what the weather will be next weekend and we should applaud the efforts to “stop” a (super or not) volcano from erupting ? How about we instead agree dial to back the speed on which private companies wish to implement AI ? How about we agree that the climate treaty leads to net increases in coal use/pollution over the next 20+ years ? How about we agree to clean up the monster pile of floating plastic detritus in the Pacific ?
I applaud the women and men who spend 8+ years in university capable of proposing phantasmagorical solutions to such noted problems as super volcanoes and “impending climate doom”, but I would prefer a good old round table discussion on solutions for the current woes facing the world……and could someone put the trans fats back in my Oreos while they’re at it, they just tastes better that way.


Civilization has a “z” in it.

The first letter b in BBC stands for British. That is why they use British spelling.
Maybe you need to focus on any REAL criticism you may have , not knit-picking minor spelling issues you mistakenly think you have found. It looks really petty and like you do not have anything better than pointless snark.


I just like poking fun at the way they misspell so many words.

Hey , we invented the language, that is why it called “English” , not “American”. If you have to simplify it because remembering how to spell is too complicated for you to deal with, that is your choice, not anyone else’s for “misspelling” their own language.

Jerry Henson

The whole carbon cycle does not depend on volcanoes alone to recycle
the CO2 trapped in limestone deep in the earth. At great depth, heat, pressure
and water convert the minerals to hydrocarbons, mostly natural gas.
The natural gas and other hydrocarbons rise, and some are trapped in rock
layers and over time, the accumulation can be drilled and produced as oil
or natural gas wells.
A substantial portion rise as natural gas and in the presence of adequate moisture
and oxygen, microbes consume the natural gas, enriching the soil and oxidizing
the hydrocarbons creating CO2.
This is easily observed by a simple test. I use an anemometer, thermometer,
a 14″ stainless steel salad bowl, a 10 lb rock, and an inexpensive CO2
meter which allows for lengthy exposure readings.
On my last observation, the wind was less than 2 mph, the ambient C02
reading was 404 ppm. I put the meter on the ground in an area which has
dark brown topsoil approximately 12″ deep and the grass had been cut short.
I then inverted the ss bowl over the CO2 meter and placed the 10 lb rock
on top of the bowl.
12 hours later, I retrieved the meter and recorded the CO2 reading. It was
961 PPM.
This is a real test It is easy and inexpensive to replicate. Your readings will
vary depending on the richness of your topsoil, and therefore, the amount
of natural gas upwelling in your area.
In Kansas and most of the midwest, the CO2 reading will be very much higher
than, for example, the area around Atlanta, Ga. where the soil is red, because the
shield is very close to the surface and blocks most of the natural gas, thus little
to no CO2 output.
The amount of CO2 contributed to the atmosphere in this manner is unknowable
because on my property, the CO2 output varies by 300% in less than 1000 ft.
In deserts, the natural gas can pass into the atmosphere unoxidized because
there is not enough moisture to support an adequate microbial culture, and
the gas is then oxidized in the atmosphere.


Jerry Henson,
“an inexpensive CO2
meter which allows for lengthy exposure readings.”

I’m interested in purchasing a sensitive CO2 meter. Where did you get yours and do you have specs?
I have periodicaly searched for a CO2 meter that can measure as little as 10 ppm or less without success.


when a child living on a farm in the prairie wilderness we used to entertain ourselves with such fancies of the imagination.
Of course, back then there was no internet, TV, or even radio except for the rare occasions when a battery was available.

I think that is right as far as it’s understood, and I am studying volcanocity as a climate change mechanism. However, there are two quite different scenarions for the end of Tectonic activity, supposedly in a Billion years or so. Venus has massive volcanoes and no tectonics. The BBC “Space Volcanoes” programme on this shows how little we really know, and its obviously a macro level balance of native atmospheric components, solar intensity, magnetic field, mass, density, etc particular to each planet and it’s orbit. It won’t be a problem for the human race, though.


“Civilization has a “z” in it.”
Not according my dictionary!
At least in Britain.

David Chappell

And the BBC is British, ergo uses British English

Stewart Pid

Same with metre and meter …. I have a gas meter and an electrical meter but I measure things in metres.


England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

Leo Smith

and endeavour has a ‘u’ here too.

Bryan A

It’s a good thing for the USA that the Brits didn’t copyright the language or we would be paying HUGE Royalties to the Royalites


THAT’S why we changed all the spellings! Avoid the royalties!

Dave F

In the United States we call our language ‘English’ out of fondness for our motherland which really and honestly has given us much that has made us what we are today.
However… England 53 million, US 325 million. The language could very well be called ‘American’. How many people around the world practice their English by watching movies from Britain (or the UK)? (No slight to Mr. Rowan Atkinson intended! He is worth learning English to hear, even though there isn’t much to hear!)

Also,to quaesoveritas remark,:endevour is with a ‘u’. A metre is a standardof European & now also UK measurement. a meter is a machine or device for measuring gas flow ,or electricityconsumption , as in’ gas meter’ ‘,electricity meter ‘etc. the ‘re’ending ,as also found in’ theatre’ is from French ,&is the correct spelling .it was pronounced with a slight roll of the ”rr”sound, not the anglicised version of ”er”

Only a Scotsman truly knows how to ‘roll his ar’s’.


I thought that was Scottish lasses

Steve Ta

Civilization has a “z” in it. Quite true. And Civilisation has n “s” in it.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek

That’s funny.


And it’s pronounced ‘zed’, not ‘zee’.

Jeff Mitchell

Love it.


And NASA is a singular noun so stop with the plural verbs already. It’s a collection of people, true, but the collection is a single entity, so “Nasa have conceived” is wrong. The Brits don’t seem to know their own language…


Wrong. The plural is standard British English.

Yanks see NASA as a single thing with a mind of its own, taking the singular. English-speakers see NASA as a community of people, taking the plural like any other group. I’m afraid the constant sniping at good spelling greatly diminished the authority of this article in my eyes.

Larry D

>> … NASA is a singular noun …
An organization, made of of many people, but referred to as a single entity. Similar to how collective nouns (e.g. ‘jury’) refer to a set as a single object.
Back when Noah Webster composed the (American) English Dictionary, he made a few spelling corrections, adjusting a handful of words so their spellings matched the way they were pronounced. Which has changed less on this ‘side of the pond’ than in England.

As us Brits are pointing out the BBC spelt it perfectly correctly.

Terry Gednalske

Spelled it perfectly correctly.


I don’t care which side of the pond you live on, “us Brits”, in this usage (subject of the subordinate clause), is wrong. It should be “we Brits”.

Civilisation is spelt Civilization by the Uncivilised.
Couldn’t resist it David.


I regard the Oxford English dictionaries and their companion
volumes on grammar etc, as the definitive publications about
the English language.
This is one word on which both languages (American and English)
agree on the spelling.
My Oxford English Dictionary says civilization along with civilize
and all its derivatives (civilized, civilizable etc ).
Quite correct, Mr Middleton, quite correct.

John Harmsworth

I’ll change when you stop spelling problem with CO2 in it all the time!

John Harmsworth
Plenty of Brit’s on here agree with you mate.
I’ll be even happier when the scientific community can figure out the difference between coal fired chimneys spewing diamonds into the atmosphere, and CO2.


Civilisation most certainly does not have a “z” in it.
And while we are about it, it is not Zee, its Zed.

For rocket scientists, they ain’t too bright


In the defense of NASA, it is their job to think of science fiction ideas and then find ways to make those ideas realities.


I deal with NASA regularly. They do employ scientists and few engineers, BUT NASA is a contracts administration entity. THEY DO NOT DESIGN SPACECRAFT NOR ROCKETS. They contract with private companies to design and build them, and then paint their “meatball” logo on to them. They then parade it about saying see what we did! When, in fact, all they have done is manage and maintain launch facilities.
They will even go as far as appropriating authorship for concepts and papers submitted by request from contractors. I have had my architectures and designs appear on NASA sites listing NASA as the originator, and they didn’t even have the decency to change the names we had coined.
As I have said before any scientist can calculate a number, but it takes an engineer to show you how big a sh*tload that really is.

John Harmsworth

Is this the line for people ripped off by government? Sure is long!


Dear Rocket Scientist
A friend of mine is a plumber, i.e. he works with lead. He did some leadwork for a roof restoration. The architect won an award for it.
PS Nice to see a salad scientist take an interest in other areas. DP

dan no longer in CA

rocketscientist: NASA only puts their logo on successful programs. The failures are all the fault of the contractors. I’ve had experiences with both.


I once went to an coal fired Edison Electric plant to solve an abrasion problem they were having with a part of their fly ash handling system. I submitted a drawing showing the design and specifying the specs and configuration of the abrasion resistant ceramic lining of the replacement part I proposed. Two weeks later I received my drawing back with a request to quote from their purchasing department but they had accidently included a distribution note in their cover page. They had sent my drawing out for bid to every major competitor we had.


Another note, I was trying to figure out the power of the explosion. 1.5 megatons, is approximately the output of a 1 gigawatt power plant in a year. The energy of one supervolcano explosion would be the output of 10,000 gigawatt plants in a year. I suspect science underestimates the power of these explosions as well.


Good catch.
I was wondering about the power plant comparison as well.
My bet is that the journalist or editor screwed that comparison up.
Actual scientists know that volcanoes deliver vastly more power than 6 power plants.


I think the point they try to make is that 6 gigawatts per year could stabilize it. Over 1000 years it would potentially cut 6000 plant years. I just wanted to see how the actual explosion compared.

Stephen Cheesman

No, the article is correct. The explosion is the instantaneous release of the energy built up over time. The power plant comparison is with rate at which the energy builds up over time.


The comparison is nonsensical. It’s like saying that a stick of dynamite will power my car X miles [ it will of course, but not a manner in which velocity, direction and structural integrity are controlled..]

Then they might as well used mouse turds for energy buildup and size comparison.
A) The period that energy builds up is unknown.
B) The pent up energy is unknown.
Current major-super volcano eruptive energy estimates are based on some character(s) guesstimates from small sections of ashfall deposits.
Such guesstimates are sheer flights of fantasy; all they accomplish is some imagery for humans to grasp.
This is Yellowstone’s current caldera. Which should be considered as an exit for eruptive materials.;topic=9628.0;attach=567;image
This is the current earthquake vibration imaged magma chamber and pipe.
A few years ago as the ability to image magma chambers was improving, this is their Yellowstone magma chamber image:
Few volcanoes are as well studied as Yellowstone. Yellowstone magma chambers and pipe volumes are impressive; leaving many questions regarding other super volcanoes


NASA misspelled the word, too. Check out shuttle names.
Another case of wasting time worrying about something there is very little chance humanity will ever be able to stop. It makes interesting fiction, but why are government agencies wasting time on it?

Dodgy Geezer

…Civilization has a “z” in it….
Not in any civilised country…..

Robert Austin

“I just like poking fun at the way they misspell so many words.”

Hey, like America invented the English language and has the copy write on spellings.

Leo Smith

American is a degenerate form of back country English.
I mean ‘bugrlarize’! Really!

Bryan A

That may be but America has yet to loose a war with the Brits

Tire? – Tyre.
Airplanes? – Aeroplanes
Bougainvillea? – Bougainvillaea
Cesarean? – Caesarean
Catalog? – Catalogue
Check? – Cheque
To name but a few. However we are not spelling Naz*’s so unlike the French, we accept the our language evolves. In fact, the English language is a bastardisation of numerous languages. Please note folks, that’s bastardisation, not bastardization.

Tom Halla

The only truly useful bit of British spelling is “arse”.

Tom Halla
Oh dear. You even got that wrong. The full term is arsehole. Being that ‘you are an’.
Not you personally of course, it’s just an illustration.

@Bryan A. Let’s put it this way: the USA didn’t *win* the War of 1812. If Britain hadn’t been busy fighting Napoleon, things might have gone rather worse for the USA than they did. Mind you, if the US military had been as competent at the beginning as they were at the end, things might have gone the other way.

Elisa Berg

Be that as it may, but we now drive the language.

Roger Knights

“That may be but America has yet to loose a war with the Brits”
We’ve yet to fasten one either.

Burks Smith

It’s “copyright,” not “copy write.” …as long as we’re making fun


If/when Yellowstone blows, all the greenies need to do is get lots of electric trucks to collect the ash and tip it into the San Andreas fault.

Bill Illis

The Yellowstone hotspot actually has a long history of eruptions going back 16 million years (and don’t forget the Columbia River eruptions which were much larger than any Yellowstone group eruptions).comment image


Columbia River and Snake River are plateau basalts from fissure eruptions. The more recent Yellowstone eruptions have been caldera collapses.
By the way it seems a lot more likely that Long Valley than Yellowstone will erupt relatively soon.


The Columbia River fissure eruptions occurred when the hot spot that caused Yellowstone was adjacent to the southern edge of that area. It would seem that the odds are heavy that there is a connection.
Nick on the Rocks gives a great lecture on it:
Notice he emphasizes that the hot spot is not moving, the North American plate is. Lots of disagreement on the rate the plate moves but the claims run from 1 cm to 10 cm per year. Now how long did they say it would take to cool that magma chamber? And would not a new one form to the NE anyway?
BTW I made my first trip to visit Yellowstone the first week of July. What a magnificent and fascinating place. We were staying in a Condo in Driggs, ID and drove to Yellowstone twice spending about 12 hours in the park each time. I think I could spend weeks or longer and not get bored. I guess we were lucky though. Saw two Grizzlies with one only 30 yards away. From talking to others I get the impression that lots of people have spent far more time in that park and never saw a single bear. And yes I know they were Grizzlies. Seen several black bears in the wild before.

The more recent magmatic eruptions in Yellowstone have been typical volcanic eruptions. I have a photo that shows some 23 different ash layers, all form since the last caldera collapse.


In the relatively short time I was at Yellowstone I tried to visually pick out Tuff from the three different eruptions. I’m pretty sure I got two of them.


What could possibly go wrong? Messing with Nature Mom on this scale never turns out well. NASA is beyond Neptune and keeps on going.


It’s “meter,” not metre

Metre is the French (International) spelling. American’s use Meter.
Just saying……


The Middle English root of endeavour means to “put oneself in” or “do one’s utmost,” so if you endeavour to do something, you do it with earnestness and a fair amount of effort. Americans usually spell the word endeavor, but NASA named one of its space shuttles the Endeavour.

Bob Burban

What is NASA doing in the field of terrestrial geology? This is infantile babble one would expect from a lunatic …


I was wondering the same thing. Oh, I get it. They are building spaceships so we can get off the planet when the big one hits….

Tom in Florida

Not “we” but “they can get off the planet…”. They don’t give a crap about the rest of us.


See my previous comment: NASA doesn’t build spacecraft. They buy them.
Everyone seems to forget the last A in NASA stands for “Administration”.
And, they really have no business in terrestrial geology.

Clyde Spencer

Perhaps because the USGS is being morphed into the USBS, they don’t have many qualified geologists left to address this issue. Or, the geologists left know better than to engage in “infantile babble.”


How do you think the Astronauts learned what moon rocks to grab and how to describe the lunar landscape and geology they were seeing? By studying geologic processes on earth they learn much that can be applied to understanding the geology of other planets. For example the “blueberries” the Opportunity rover found on Mars were recognized for what they are because they are found here on earth.


True, BUT the astronaut was a trained GEOLOGIST. I would suspect that the astronaut learned about rocks while studying geology (not so much from studying orbital mechanics). Scientist from all fields are necessary for studying extraterrestrial bodies. That doesn’t mean that NASA should be training geologists geology, not botanist botany. Hire the scientists and then cross train them on how to survive in space an operate the vehicles they’ve bought.


The ONLY scientist that flew a Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo mission was NASA geologist Harrison Schmitt. ALL of the others were test pilots/engineers. Schmitt flew on Apollo 17, the final Apollo mission. My reading of the accounts of the various astronauts is that there was strong opposition to letting Schmitt on the crew, but NASA was forced politically to do so. The general scheme of selecting astronauts based on disciplines other than engineering came along during the space shuttle days.
So the Astronauts that flew the moon missions were trained by NASA Geologists here on earth for their moon walks.

Clyde Spencer

The landing sites and directions for what to look for were derived from geologic maps prepared by the USGS. NASA did not prepare the geologic maps!

Clyde Spencer

You said, “So the Astronauts that flew the moon missions were trained by NASA Geologists here on earth for their moon walks.” My recollection is that the NASA astronauts were trained by USGS geologists such as
Eugene Shoemaker, who essentially invented astrogeology. At that point in time, NASA employed very few geologists other than Schmitt. Where are you getting your ‘facts’ from?

Beginning in March 1964, the Apollo astronauts participated in a number of geology field trips designed, firstly, to introduce the astronaut corps to geologic concepts and, latterly, to give crews assigned to specific missions detailed training in the types of observations they might expect to make on the Moon. Details can be found in a training history by Gerald Schaber with a US Geological Survey perspective and one by William C. Phinney with a Manned Spacecraft Center perspective. Relations between the two groups of geologists were often strained. Apollo 17 astronaut/geologist Jack Schmitt suggests that both accounts be considered in gaining a balanced perspective.
Appendices from draft copy of Phinney’s account were provided for the ALSJ in 2002 by Glen Swanson, historian at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The appendices are entitled “Geology Field Exercises: Early Training” and “Geology Field Exercises for Apollo Missions”. They provided lists of Apollo astronaut field trips including training locations and the names of the astronauts who participated in each.
In 2004, Jennifer Troxell, then an intern working with Steve Garber of the NASA Headquarters History Office, independantly compiled a spreadsheet devoted to Apollo geology training using information gleaned from the History Office archives, from Phinney’s draft, and from Don Wilhelms’ book “To a Rocky Moon” Troxell’s spreadsheet has much of the same information as the Phinney appendices but also details sources and lists relevant NASA photographs.
NASA photos S64-23846 and S64-23847 show a group of twenty astronauts at Philmont Scout Ranch during the 3-6 June 1964 field trip. From left to right, they are: Pete Conrad, Buzz Aldrin, Dick Gordon, Ted Freeman, Charlie Bassett, Walt Cunningham, Neil Armstrong, Donn Eisele, Rusty Schweikhart, Jim Lovell, Mike Collins, Elliot See, Gene Cernan (behind See), Ed White, Roger Chaffee, Gordon Cooper, C.C. Williams (behind Cooper), Bill Anders, Dave Scott, Al Bean.

Clyde Spencer

From Wikipedia ( ):
“Shoemaker helped pioneer the field of astrogeology by founding the Astrogeology Research Program of the United States Geological Survey in 1961 at Flagstaff, Arizona and he was its first director. He was prominently involved in the Lunar Ranger missions to the Moon, which showed that the Moon was covered with a wide size range of impact craters. Shoemaker was also involved in the training of the American astronauts. He himself was a possible candidate for an Apollo Moon flight and was set to be the first geologist to walk on the Moon but was disqualified due to being diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a disorder of the adrenal gland. Shoemaker would train astronauts during field trips to Meteor Crater and Sunset Crater near Flagstaff.[6] He was a CBS News television commentator on the early Apollo missions, especially the Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 missions, appearing with Walter Cronkite during live coverage of those flights.”
NASA was in charge of the Apollo program, and coordinated the training. However, no one at NASA is/was as well known or as much of an expert as Shoemaker. The lunar geology maps were made by the USGS and no one at NASA was as much of an expert on impact craters as Shoemaker. It seems to me that an administrative agency is trying to take too much credit for actually teaching “…what moon rocks to grab and how to describe the lunar landscape and geology they were seeing.” However, that isn’t anything new. NASA is currently taking credit for the knowledge obtained from the Landsat satellite program, which they co-sponsor with the USGS. However, it was the USGS that was responsible for first launching the ERTS satellite, later re-named Landsat, processing and analyzing the data, and developing many of the algorithms for extracting information from multispectral imaging.


NASA also studies biology in order to know how to look for alien life.


And they started studying climate and weather on earth to apply it to the study of other planets but soon the scope of their climate study expanded. I mean how can one Administer the Air and Space without studying it? 😉
I think that NASA needs to have the scope of it’s climate studies reigned in. It is redundant. How many agencies do we need telling us each year was the hottest ever?

Are they responsible for discovering the green blob then?
Shame on them.

Hi David, Interesting post, thanks. I’d be worried about applying any technique that might cause a rapid change in magma pressure.
By the way, ‘civilisation’, ‘metre’ and ‘endeavour’ are all correct standard English language spellings outside N.America. But I’m sure you knew that already and were just taking the mick.

JohnSmith42 International spelling, which includes Canada, so not even just “North American” spelling, but just everywhere that speaks English (or otherwise) except the USA. The USA is getting it wrong with English, not everywhere else. Just use Canadian English, the perfect hybrid. Aluminum (not Aluminium), but Colour and Armour as well! If you want real fun, try this sentence: “I’m going to center ice of my favourite sports centre.” 😉

Aarne H

Canada- Hey, we use proper English too.

Tom in Florida

Not in Quebec.

John Harmsworth

Take off, eh!


currently in Europe we need saving from terrestrial terr0r1s(z)m. European governments ‘endeavo(u)r’ amounts to bu-ger all to preserve the European ‘civilis(z)ation’ as we use to know it.


typo: bug-ger , double gg on the both sides of the pond

Stewart Pid

Stewart Pid
I really don’t want to click that link!


@ Stewart Pid
Thanks for that …
Love the dog at the end (:-))

As non PC as it may be, I think Trumps observation on dipping ordnance in pigs blood to combat terrestrial terr0r1s(z)m is an excellent idea.
My proposal of wrapping their carcasses in pig skins before burial seems clumsy by comparison, and likely to offend lots of pigs.


It’s always apocalypse week on the BBC, CNN, NYT, WP et, isn’t it?
I like being in the civilised world, measuring in metres, to the best of my endeavours.


Perhaps certain departments in NASA can see some of their funding streams getting a little dry. Time to manufacture some new ones.

THats by far the best and most perceptive answer. As with climate science, you need to create fear in people that justifies lot of bad science about looming catastrophe from some innocent, improbable or unavoidable bogeyman, backed up by junk science from “Authoritative bodies” – like Piltdown Mann and friends, that depend on supporting the government fraud initiated in the name of the avoidable fear for their priestly rewards. Good old time religion at work, or Josef Goebels.
That justifies lobbyists and politicians in the trough being paid a lot of easy money to solve a catastrophic problem no one can really prove, but it is made career limiting to disprove, and all the insiders involved will have spent the easy money and be long gonr by the time the protection racket is exposed – by the laws of nature. Or a bloody great bang in this case. Same old scam either way. I blame the lazy belief in propaganda in as supposedly educated society (mostly technicaly illiterate), and the dishonest scientists who support the obvious rackets.

Randy in Ridgecrest

There is something really wrong with the scaling – the energy of 10’s or 100’s of cubic kilometers of liquid hot magma? A few puny deep holes? This is some kind of joke article.

If this proposal was to proceed, It surely would lead to a catastrophic outcome !! We should NEVER interfere in Nature to this extent – its gotta be plain lunacy

Arguably, we are interfering in nature by burning fossil fuels.
And of course, allowing greens to procreate.

John Harmsworth

I’m surprised they’ve figured out how to procreate.

John Harmsworth
Oh! they don’t know what they’re doing. Instinct, just like dogs.
I guess it’s our failure for not castrating them.


Pumping water into an imperfectly known magma reservoir doesn’t sound very safe. I’ve seen icelandic studies that indicated that the early explosive phase of the Laki 1783-84 megaeruption was largely due to the rising magma cooking off groundwater. N. B. it is the explosive phase that does the most damage.

lower case fred

“… it is the explosive phase that does the most damage.”
Since we’re all picking nits I’ll have a go at that one.
The latest study on the end-Permian extinction proposes that the worst damage was done by sills being intruded into sulfur (sulphur?) containing carbonates which released all sorts of toxic gases – mostly SO2 and the ever catastrophic CO2. An article about this study was posted here at WUWT not too long ago.

lower case fred
“sulfur (sulphur?)”
Laughed at that one.


“The latest study on the end-Permian extinction proposes that the worst damage was done by sills being intruded into sulfur (sulphur?) containing carbonates which released all sorts of toxic gases – mostly SO2 and the ever catastrophic CO2.”
However to have global effect the gases have to go into the stratosphere, which only happens during the explosive phases, as shown during the Laki eruption. During the effusive phase effects are mostly local since the nasty stuff gets washed out fairly quickly (not the CO2, but that is hardly dangerous)

Well, we’ve still got Brucie, all the backup we need !!yes?

‘Brucie” died today. A British legend.


We spoke twice, contact me via email.

“We spoke twice, contact me via email.”
Forgive me, but that sounded a bit commanding. Have I done something wrong?
Were you referring to me?

To hot scot ,just to clarify,i was (somewhat Tonguein cheek ),referring to the’ die hard’ bruce,at that momentintime I was not aware of the death of the famous uk legend,but thanks for your comment


God no, no one commands to a Scot, the least a Balkan vagabond. I was about to tell you about couple of conversation I had with Brucie, but you got me worried now.

dan no longer in CA

“no one commands to a Scot” I can second that. Those people throw telephone poles at each other for sport! 🙂

Middleton ==> “Note: Yes, I know the BBC is British and that we are “two peoples separated by a common language.” I just like poking fun at the way they misspell so many words.”
Strictly speaking, we call it “English” because it comes from England — they spell things right and the colonials in the Americas spell them wrong.
Reversing the arrow of origin is provincial — literally.


Wasn’t Webster an American.

MarkW ==> It is the venerable OED — the Oxford English Dictionary — which is considered “the definitive record of th4 English language”. That’s Oxford, England.

“the definitive record of the English language”

Webster was a drunken subject of KIng George 3rd, who gave inflamlattory speeches after 6 brandies, ate too much lobster and was a general trouble maker and rebel, as I recall from sharing the xperience at Quincy Market one weekend…. As was Paul Revere and his Raiders. Didn’t he sign some declaration or other? Probably fake news by the slave owning propagandists of the time, though.

Tom in Florida

brianrlcatt August 18, 2017 at 10:13 am
Perhaps you can tell us if there are any statues or monuments in England honoring
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or any other of our Founding Fathers ………. for historical purposes.

Tom in Florida
Does Pocahontas count?
Very nice statue of her in Gravesend, not 10 miles from where I live.

Tom in Florida
Just a quick search, in response to your inquiry, and other than Pocahontas, it seems there are six statues of American presidents in London alone. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan and Kennedy
Now apart from the bust of Churchill Obama had removed from the Oval Office, and replaced with one of Martin Luther King, are there many statues of British statesmen, or any others in the US?

Tom in Florida

No, Pocahontas doesn’t count. She did not rebel against the Crown My point was that the U.S. has statues of leaders and warriors of the Confederate States. They have been referred to as “traitors” and consequently should not be honored and their statues taken down. So I was wondering if England has statues honoring those who lead the Colonies in rebellion against the King.


England has no title to English. The language came originally from NW Germany and Denmark, ie Saxony and Anglia, after c. AD 450. It then spent some in Britain, where it came under the baleful influence of Old Norse and Norman French, due to further invasions, until c. 1600, after which time, it was perfected in North America, while degenerating in the UK.

Leo Smith

after which time, it was degenerated in North America, whilst being improved in the rest of the world

To the best of my knowledge the good people of NW Germany and Denmark don’t speak English. So England kind of has first dibs on the unique evolution of the language, as it stands of course.
However, we British (ahem) are relaxed about its adaptation because that’s how it emerged in the first place. The French, on the other had have a government department dedicated to protecting the French language.
Just don’t misspell mademoiselle, you will be hunted down.
And they, and much of Europe, genderise everything. Now that’s odd.
And as the most widely spoken language on the planet, it’s bound to have some parochial adaptations..

John Harmsworth

A Scot! Ye cannae understand their vocalizations bu’ ye cannae question their application of the alphabet!

John Harmsworth
That would be ‘vocalisations’
Other than that, almost perfect.

the Exorcist

It’s quite interesting more so to note, that the language of “English” did not actually originate in England.
Welsh & (extinct) Cumbric is pretty much the closest to Briton’s original language.

Tom Halla

Welsh is a Celtic language, and by anything I have seen on the subject, the Celts originated somewhere other than Britain/Ireland (Central Europe?).

Wholly off topic. Language evolved in the Great African Rift Valley but was corrupted by religion, tribalism , politicians and lawyers to exploit the less able, and now by environmentalists and art critics. IMO.


I suggest NASA steers a meteor to impact the Yellowstone caldera. Pre-emptive strike so to speak. Two birds with one stone.

Using the geothermal energy from these areas is a very practical and physically correct idea. There is no reason not to — not that I recommend drilling into the magma — but geothermal power plants are in use in Iceland generating about 30% of their electricity and could make a real contribution to America’s energy mix.
I doubt that our use of geothermal would prevent a super-volcano — but it couldn’t hurt.


Iceland is the world expert on geothermal energy. They have plans to go 100% fossil fuel free. They could do it and would thereby improve their balance of payments … well except for the fishing boats and Icelandair.

Terry Gednalske

I wish we could bring some Icelanders to Hawaii to show us how to do geothermal. We are sitting on top of several active volcanos, but must make do with imported oil, roof top solar panels, and a few bird choppers.

Dodgy Geezer

…However those who instigate such a project will never see it to completion, or even have an idea whether it might be successful within their lifetime. Cooling Yellowstone in this manner would happen at a rate of one metre a year, taking of the order of tens of thousands of years until just cold rock was left. Although Yellowstone’s magma chamber would not need to be frozen solid to reach the point where it no longer posed a threat, there would be no guarantee that the endeavour would ultimately be successful for at least hundreds and possibly thousands of years….
Could anything be better planned to create a job for life? And for your great-grandchildren and further on, to infinity and beyond…?

Dodgy Geezer
Unless, of course, it went pop in 5 years time. Despite the best efforts of NASA (and it’s contractors) and billions of taxpayers money spent trying to control the unpredictable.
Hmmmmmmm…….isn’t this where the climate debate began?

Dodgy Geezer

…But if more of the heat could be extracted, then the supervolcano would never erupt. Nasa estimates that if a 35% increase in heat transfer could be achieved from its magma chamber,…
Pardon me for my lack of maths, but I suspect that would be a fair amount of heat that they are thinking of extracting from this one supervolcano. I understand that they might want to do it with several…
If, as I understand it, global warming is such a dangerous phenomenon, and our climate is critically balanced such that a few PPM of CO2 will send us into oblivion, can someone with a calculator tell me how many degrees it will raise our atmosphere if we extract all the heat out of a supervolcano or two and dump it in the air…?

John Harmsworth

No. They can smell the end of the CO2 scare. This is the replacement scare!


tty – heat exchangers!

Aarne H

It looks like they get their ideas from cheezy SYFY channel disaster flicks. Any plan sounds good after a few cold ones, suspending Scientific and Engineering practices makes it a slam dunk. What could possibly go wrong? Phreatic eruption anyone?

Moderately Cross of East Anglia

Leaving arguments about spelling aside, I am now getting seriously alarmed about what is going on in the minds of the people who came up with this notion. Apart from the issue of drilling the actual borehole (which is probably not possible on current technology), isn’t the release of the energy itself (buying for a moment into the fantasy we could do it) going to add something more than a mere six power stations worth of the heat we are supposed to be avoiding?
Also, a mere detail, but the most destructive paroxysm of the Krakatau eruption took place precisely when the by then empty magma chamber filled up with water. So now dumping water into a caldera is suddenly a great idea? Have I missed something or am I just more stupid that I thought?

Moderately Cross of East Anglia
Not as stupid as me mate. I poured boiling water onto some Caustic Soda I had poured down the drain.
I’m still in the doghouse until the ceiling is clean. I dread to think what pouring cold water into a magma chamber would result in, but I ain’t cleaning up the mess. Not enough Marigolds in the world for that job.

Just a quick maybe unscientific thought ,surely this magma under Yellowstone,must be connected with the earth’s(hot) core somehow for it to be there ?be it either directly , or via a fault or fissure of some kind ,or would wthe ‘bottom’of it be as deep as the earth’s core ,i believe the th[ckness of the ‘crust’ varies at different points on the globe .

I ‘ll be perfectly happy if we all settle on an imaginary threat and solution that don’t involve undermining all of modern human society.


The deal killer is coolant management challenges.
1 Where to get sufficient water?
2 If not circulated out, water use is astronomical.
3 If not circulated out you are building a huge steam driven bomb
4 If circulated out, how do you cool down the coolant?

2 NASA is expert in the astronomical.


No, NASA stands for: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
They are a federal contracts administration agency for aircraft and spacecraft.
DARPA is another although they are military (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency)

John Harmsworth

The idea sounds goofy to me, but I would have thought they would heat exchange from the 600+ temps to a secondary steam loop at managible pressure and temp.

Geothermal is the only “renewable” (not really) energy that is dispatchable and very desirable.
Unfortunately , practical geothermal is not found at very many places. There was talk awhile back of tappping into the heat available everywhere underground, but very deep and not as hot. Have’nt heard anything since then, so perhaps it is not practical.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek

Indonesia has 26 viable geothermal sites at last count, based on current technology.

can I have some of your Air miles please.

John Harmsworth

Do they still have a mud volcano linked to drilling?


There are a number of working plants in Iceland, and I remember hearing about a few in CA.
The sites where it is practical are few, but they do exist.
Besides the problem that David listed above, there’s also the fact that the area around Yellowstone is not heavily populated, so not too many users for the electricity being generated.


Believe it or not Iceland is an exporter of bananas grown in green houses heated with geothermal.

Now that’s hysterical. My jaw hit the deck at that one.
I wonder what the branding is like.


HotScot I guess they used to export them but now they just grow them for domestic consumption. Can’t compete anymore.

That’s a real shame, I would love to boast I had eaten and Icelandic banana.
Green heads exploding across the planet!


HVDC lines should do the trick, like the Pacific DC Intertie

Roger Knights

One was working in Switzerland but it was shut down after earthquake activity (minor) was noticed.

Dodgy Geezer

They would turn the heat into electricity.
It’s still going to end up in the atmosphere.


Every Watt of power removed from the system, will eventually end up in the atmosphere –
Take Davids diagram –
1. Heat is lost as it circulates through the plant; conduction/radiation/convection.
2. Heat lost in cooling tower (clue in the name); Latent heat of evaporation/convection.
3. Heat is lost as work –
3.1 Electricity transports the energy to a place of work where it results in heat… lost to atmosphere.
3.2 Direct Heat Uses (heating up stuff) … lost to atmosphere.


Why exactly does our “Space Exploration Agency” have its fingers in this? Seems to me that considering the enormity of the cosmos and their mission to explore it they wouldn’t have the time or funding to be worrying about volcanoes on Planet Earth. Or have they lost sight of their mission and need new management to get them back on track and focused on their mission of Space Exploration?

Great question.

the other Ed Brown

They “lost sight of their mission” during the 8 years of Obama, and beginning even before that. An entrenched bureaucracy takes years to purge, even in a technical activity. It only begins with “new management.” Be patient. NASA is but one of a myriad of agencies needing reform. Look to attrition via aging as a potentially optimum timeline given civil service inertia.
This observation comes to you from an engineer who spent a career in the belly of the beast in a former life.


I remember NASA getting involved in “Muslim out-reach programs” during Obama’s tenure.
Somehow religious diversity is important for orbital mechanics.


August 18, 2017 at 12:56 pm
I remember NASA getting involved in “Muslim out-reach programs” during Obama’s tenure.
Somehow religious diversity is important for orbital mechanics.

Doesn’t everything revolve about islam?
Do I need a s(n)arc tag?

John Harmsworth

Well, they had the paper and pencils and they weren’t doing any space stuff. So, ya know…?

Roger Knights

“Why exactly does our “Space Exploration Agency” have its fingers in this?”
Maybe “Space” was misspelled “Spacey” in the authorization act?

JJM Gommers

In past there were plans to drill in the Mohorowicz layer, so nothing new.


Andrija Mohorovicic (1857 – 1936) was a Croatian meteorologist and seismologist. He is best known for the eponymous Mohorovicic discontinuity .

Before I read this I was thinking of my college English class, and how I got a low grade for spelling “behavior” “behaviour.” But professor, the dictionary says chiefly British, not exclusively British. Maybe I having a father who was British prefer the look of the look of the “U.”

Tom Trevor
You had me, right until the last sentence.

Roger Knights

A British usage expert (name forgotten) who generally approved of America’s simplified spelling ruefully noted that it would be a rare Englishman who would accept the loss of the richness of “savour.”

Steve Ta

Don’t these guys watch Doctor Who? The Daleks nearly destroyed the Earth by drilling like this!

Jay Dunnell

You’re forgetting the spider lady that laid her eggs at Earth’s core and was letting them out. No bubbling lava, mantle or iron to be seen!


Beep…. not Blob or Bob?

Beeb dear chap.
Abbreviation’ish, well sort of, or an almost acronym’ish term for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). And to really confuse you, Auntie as well.
Although ‘Beeb’ and ‘Auntie’ might be considered just affectionate nicknames.
Nevertheless, socialist, climate change apologists so Blob, perhaps, but Bob is reserved for our national builder.

Douglas Cohen

Do you want a realistic plan to deal with a supervolcano? –Trigger the eruption sooner than nature has scheduled it. This means that more than likely it will be smaller and less destructive, and by knowing when the eruption will happen you can evacuate those in danger and store up enough food ahead of time to carry the current population through the lean years. You might even be able to pay for the entire effort without using any government money by selling “ringside” seats to the eruption…

Douglas Cohen
A bit like a pimple though. Squeeze it prematurely and your likely to end up with a boil on your nose.

Douglas Cohen

More like a closed container of, say, water being heated by natural forces, getting hotter and hotter until it explodes. Cut a hole in it ahead of time, and the explosion will be smaller.

Tom Halla

The other minor little issue I can think of is what material NASA thinks will work to drill magma. Steel, IIRC, tends to go all smooshy at that temperature, and I doubt any current material would retain sufficient strength to use as drill pipe.


They aren’t planning on drilling into the magma. Just close to it.

Tom Halla
Carbon composites, as used in F1 brake technology, amongst other high temperature conditions.


The Space Shuttle used these for brakes as well.
Carbon/carbon material is what you are referring to. It maintains tensile properties to 2000°C (3631 °F) Carbon fibers held within a carbon matrix. Made by pyrolizing (burning the crap out of) the epoxy matrix until its only carbon (requires several reinfusion and pyrolization cycles).
Interestingly when carbon/carbon pads are used against a carbon/carbon rotor disc they are too grippy and produce far to much braking force, requiring the calipers to pulse like anti-lock brakes. The resulting heat is dissipated in the visible spectrum as a series of bright flashing light pulses (like a strobe light). There are several videos on line showing motorcycles performing these light shows.
Excellent heat conductor as well. Which is why it works so well in brakes.
But, it doesn’t have good fracture toughness, so it probably wouldn’t be a good candidate for a rock drill head.

“But, it doesn’t have good fracture toughness, so it probably wouldn’t be a good candidate for a rock drill head.”
Not in itself, but allied to other materials it has the ability to transfer enormous torque, through light weights, to a drill tip of a more fracture resistant material.
The good thing about carbon composites is that they can be designed to perform specific tasks very efficiently, e.g. whilst F1 carbon brake disks and pads are used for braking, carbon suspension elements are used for an entirely different purpose and perform in an entirely different way.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of the ability of composites.

Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek

Nice to see the spelling highlighted. Civilisation depends on understanding each other.
A metre is a unit of length. A meter is a device for indicating something like voltage or the BS Quotient in some comments.
I will take advice on how to spell when the instructors learn to put ‘ly’ on adjectives.


Just a few of the long list of how much we really are divided by a common language in the context of automobiles/car and general tool terminology:
What we call the hood is called the bonnet in Britian. What the British call the hood is what we call the Convertible top.
Our battery is their accumulator
Our glove compartment is their cubby or cubby box.
Our firewall is their bulkhead
Our trunk is their boot.
Our transmission is their gearbox
Our generator is their dynamo
Our truck is their lorry
Our fender is their wing.
Our muffler is their silencer
Our idle is their tick over
Our wrench is their spanner
Our Phillips head screw driver is their cross head screw
Our shock absorber is their damper
Our gasoline is their petrol
Our rocker panels are their sills
It goes on and on.
The reason the British drink warm beer is because their refrigerator are made by Lucas (An inside joke for anyone that ever owned a Triumph automobile. God help you if you had double Stromberg carbs to keep synchronized.)

Our fag is their gay.
Similarities if one exercises the imagination, only slightly.

“God help you if you had double Stromberg carbs to keep synchronized.”
Once, on a Triumph Dolomite 1750. Never again. Godawful rubber diaphragm that kept splitting and couldn’t hold a steady vacuum when it was new anyway.
SU’s on a nice A series was my carb of choice.
Webers, ideally, but they didn’t work well on the Dolly either.


Thanks RAH, that has an almost poetic meter, …. er…metre?

dan no longer in CA

RAH: “God help you if you had double Stromberg carbs to keep synchronized.”
My ’72 Lotus Elan had dual Strombergs. After I overhauled them, I had no problems. For the US market only, there was the “Stromberg bump” in the hood (bonnet) as Lotus used Webers in all other markets. I had more problems with Girling than either Lucas or Stromberg.
As a friend with a Lotus Europa once said: “English cars promote family values. Dad needs to stay home and work on them every Saturday so he gets to be with the kids”
P.S: I’m driving a Westfield now. It’s the best of both worlds, a sporting Brit chassis and reliable Japanese drive train.


” their refrigerator are made by Lucas”
Ah, good old Joseph Lucas, known to the British motorcycle fraternity as ‘the Prince of Darkness’ as a result of the performance of his lighting equipment.
You’ve never lived until you’ve got half way round a corner at eighty MPH and then had all the lights go out because the dipswitch has just shorted.

Patrick MJD

“RAH August 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm
Our shock absorber is their damper”
This is wrong too, from an engineering perspective. A shock absorber is the spring. The damper is commonly called a shock absorber.

John Bell

Should it not be N.A.S.A. ? what ever happened to periods?

Clyde Spencer

Acronyms rarely have periods — monthly or otherwise.


Periods used to be the standard, but modern usage says that capitalization is sufficient.

Clyde Spencer

I don’t recollect ever seeing “RA.D.A.R” or “FOR.TRAN.”

Typically, if the letters are pronounced (U.S.), it gets periods. If it’s pronounced as a word (NAZI), it does not.

Robert Barrow

Missing periods! Very alarming? Or perhaps it is only that an entity experiencing a sufficient period of maturation might suffer loss of its periodic capacity and cease having periods.

John Bell
Environmental initiative. Saving money on ink.
The Beeb spells it Nasa for the same reason, online it saves electrons.

Roger Knights

There seems to be a trend toward a “down style” in acronyms. E.g., “COBOL is now usually “Cobol.” But not all acronyms can be safely down-styled this way: e.g., “APL” and “PL/1.” They would make the reader do a double-take if downsized.

Roger Knights

… if down-styled.”

chris moffatt

Does one suppose that the USGS (which has been studying and closely monitoring Yellowstone for these many years) is aware of any of this? Why has it not suggested this “engineering” project, which would last for millenia? Perhaps because even to the untrained eye it is plainly ludicrous? I smell nothing more than a cynical foray into potential fresh streams of public revenue. The WH needs to inform the NASA administrator to get a grip.
Besides isn’t NASA supposed to be working on an expedition to Mars? You’d think that would keep them busy enough.

John Harmsworth

The Mars thing is just a “get out of town”thing in case the unlimited energy idea blows up in their face.

Reasonable Skeptic

Sorry to be picky but your Notes to the Beeb are rude.
The Brits do things differently and American’s don’t own the English language. Us deniers are supposed to be the good guys, so take the high road and respect that they have their own ways.

Remember when people could take a little gentle ribbing? And finding offense wasn’t a spectator sport? Good times…

Roger Knights

I’d say you were being “facetious” (deliberately silly) rather than “sarcastic” (cutting, slighting).

Reasonable Skeptic
“Us deniers are supposed to be the good guys”?
We deniers!
“Us deniers” is so ‘street’ dahling.
For goodness sake!


“It used to be the Queen’s English. But it’s become a stock company, and we own most the shares.”

There are hundreds of technical problems with the idea of drilling a well close to the magma chamber. I will discuss a couple of them.
Oil and gas wells are drilled into sediment or rock in locations where there is oil and gas. Oil and gas can only exist (over geological time) when the temperature is below certain values. Otherwise, the oil converts first to natural gas and then the natural gas breaks down into simpler compounds. Therefore, the technology for drilling ultra-deep wells is developed with temperatures where gas and oil can exist in mind. The oil and gas industry consider temperatures above 200 degree C as “ultra high temperature” wells and there are very few of those. I’m not aware of any commercial oil and gas wells that are even 250 degree C.
An deep well that is being drilled below a vertical depth of 30,000 feet takes a long time to drill because a large volume of rock must be removed. The top of the well is very large. The well gets “slimmer” as the depth gets deeper and more casing is set. Each casing must be smaller than the one before as it is lowered through the existing casing in the well. A deep exploratory oil or gas well drilled below 30,000 feet using conventional drilling technology can easily cost $50 to $100 million dollars or more. The well uses a large amount of steel, cement and expensive equipment and fluids to drill.
No one has technology to drill a well as deep and as “hot” as the ones NASA is talking about. It would require the development of different materials for the drill string and bit that can handle stress at higher temperatures. It would require different drilling “fluids”. Therefore, any cost estimate of NASA is not close to realistic.
Next, no one knows how many wells it would take. The idea I think would be to drill several wells as “injectors” and inject high pressure water into some wells. Other wells would “drain” this high pressure water and it would be circulated back to the surface as high pressure steam. Who knows if something like this could even be made to work at those depths and temperatures? Nor how many wells would be needed to “inject” water in order to cool the magma chamber. I would think it would take hundreds of wells to do this kind of thing if it worked at all. Each well costing hundreds of millions of dollars or perhaps even billions of dollars given it would likely require some kind of exotic materials to drill a well and “complete” it at such temperatures and pressures.

Bob G
Great post, but the blog is now a spelling bee.
Come on in, it’s fun, Friday night (well here in the UK) a few brews and a bit of mischief.


Seismic triggering of eruptions in the far field
Take care when ‘fracking’ about near a potential eruption.


David — Your concept illustration shows circulation of water(?) through rock strata from an injection well to the producing well. This would necessitate treating of this water for dissolved solids, (salts, sulfur, etc) in the heat recovery process. A multiple single well circulation system would likely fare better where a heat transfer liquid medium would be employed. Larger wellbores would likely be used to allow higher circulation rates of the fluid. The big hangup from my first look into the scheme would be the inherent geological instability and its effect on trying to operate deep wells. Here’s a link to an article on the typical earthquake swarming phenomena that occurs in and around Yellowstone. Not the type of environment conducive to well integrity.
And here’s another article which touches on the mechanism of the earthquakes, which would be a death sentence to any well in the vicinity of the event.
“A spokesperson for USGS said: “The location and focal mechanism solution of this earthquake are consistent with right-lateral faulting in association with faults of the Lewis and Clark line, a prominent zone of strike-slip, dip slip and oblique slip faulting trending east-southeast from northern Idaho to east of Helena, Montana, southeast of this earthquake.””
Lots of homework here to define the geology at depth where wells would be drilled in an inherently unstable environment.

J Mac

This a NASA ‘pie in the sky’ (or perhaps ‘pounding money down a rat hole’) concept. Of course the seismology of the Yellowstone caldera would be problematic for any deep well boring/casing!
The Beeb used the concept to stimulate more dooms day ‘viewers’ and David highlighted the ludicrous nature of both the NASA concept and the Beeb’s alarmism!
RE: “Lots of homework here to define the geology at depth where wells would be drilled in an inherently unstable environment.” No. Do not waste more taxpayer money on this ‘drill under the caldera’ fantasy.

John Harmsworth

Yup! It is like fusion energy, only much worse. In 100 years it will still be 100 years away.

It doesn’t have to “work” to be worth it. If we can pull it off, we get a huge supply to cheap power and if it only delays an eruption by 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 years, then that’s 100, or 1,000, or 10,000 extra years to think of a better solution.

Roger Knights



Sounds like they want to create something like the EPA mine spill , only much worse !!!!!

“Sounds like they want to create something like the EPA mine spill , only much worse !!!!!”
Sounds like they want to create another EPA, which is worse than worse!

Ed Zuiderwijk

Why is the author upset by the fact that the BBC uses UK English spelling?


Still angry about that ‘taxation without representation’ thing, I suspect. And them burning the White House. That was rude.

dan no longer in CA

I’ve been a Yank traveling in Scotland a few times. I found that they generally “like” us because we kicked England’s butt and got away with it. 🙂 Though I did think it a bit strange that a pub in Inverness had Jack Daniel’s on tap.


As a former petroleum engineer, studying the problems (and there will be thousands) associated with developing this into a workable project would fun squared. BUT, the whole concept is dumb. The minuscule amount of heat removed, compared to what mother nature is generating and what would be further generated by whatever triggers a catastrophic event boggles the mind.

D. J. Hawkins

Oh c’mon! Just stop at the end of your first sentence. For once, there should be a gravy train for the engineers!

Walter Sobchak

The language is called English. I think the people who live in England and speak the Queen’s English might say that we colonials are the ones who are misspelling words.

Mark - Helsinki

Indeed, dumbing down language phonetically just erases the origins of the word for people who can’t comprehend silent letters and how preceding letters change the following letters
It’s called lowering the bar.

Roger Knights

I read somewhere that the “u” in words like “honor,” etc. was not in English originally, but was added by linguists and lexicographers who thought that because the words came from French they should retain the French spelling. So we Americans are the true originalists in this instance. (I believe there are other instances where British English has evolved (especially in pronunciation) and ours hasn’t, thereby staying truer to its roots.)

Gunga Din

Masybe evrerbody hath ben mispelling woords!
John 3:16 in the (old) King’s English
Tyndale Bible (1534) John 3:16 For God so loveth the worlde yt he hath geven his only sonne that none that beleve in him shuld perisshe: but shuld have everlastinge lyfe.


Gunga Din
And so the English language evolves and grows.
Who needs Esperanto?

Hope this workscomment image
If you want the ferry to come, strike the gong.