HomeOutdoorsNewsScientists Make Major Discovery About Yellowstone’s Supervolcano

Scientists Make Major Discovery About Yellowstone’s Supervolcano

by Craig Garrett
(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

According to new research, the supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park has a much larger magma reservoir than previously thought. The newly found lava is flowing at shallow depths, which fueled prior eruptions, according to ABC News. Seismic tomography was used by researchers in order to map the speed of seismic waves below the Yellowstone volcano.

Ross Maguire is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s department of geology and author of the new study. He explained that 3D modeling of seismic waveforms measures the volume of the melt and makes assumptions of the distribution of how the melt is spread in the subsurface in Yellowstone’s magma reservoir. “We found that it’s likely that Yellowstone’s crustal magma reservoir holds more melt than previously was thought,” Maguire said. He also pointed out that there’s around 20% melt at shallow depths. According to Maguire, other research has suggested that the partial melt fraction is between 5% and 15%.

The Yellowstone magma reservoir is more like “a snow cone,” with a solid and liquid component, Maguire said, rather than “a big tank of magma.” Kari M. Cooper is a professor and chair at the University of California Davis’s department of earth and planetary sciences. She also weighed in on the new findings. Cooper said that the findings show it is possible for there to be some moderate-sized bodies of magma below Yellowstone that could be mobilized and expelled. “They would be of a similar size to what’s happened in the very recent Yellowstone history that’s produced a series of lava flows that filled the most recent caldera after the most recent really large eruption,” they explained.

The new research doesn’t mean Yellowstone’s supervolcano is set to erupt

The new discovery does not mean that an eruption will happen soon, the scientists said. Maguire stated there are no signs of “increased volcanic unrest” at Yellowstone. “This really does not change the hazard assessment at all, because we already knew that. We already knew this was the recent activity,” Cooper explained. “We already knew that was the most likely sort of activity to happen next.”

Researchers say the key for assessing the dangers of volcanic eruption is understanding how much magma is below the surface. They added that if conditions start to rapidly change, it’s crucial to keep monitoring what’s happening beneath the ground in order to have an accurate picture. Furthermore, Yellowstone is constantly monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, as stated by Cooper.

Scientists are still debating the source of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Some theorize that it might be caused by an interaction between local conditions in the earth’s lithosphere and upper mantle convection. Some suggest that the hotspot originated in the deep mantle. Part of the controversy surrounds its relatively sudden appearance in geological records. Additionally, The Columbia Basalt flows appeared at approximately the same time and place. This has led to speculation that they share a common origin. As Yellowstone moved east and northward, so too did the Columbia disturbance eventually subside.