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Home / Science / The new model of the Yellowstone Supervolcano sheds light on its inner workings

The new model of the Yellowstone Supervolcano sheds light on its inner workings



The huge volcano under Yellowstone National Park is one of those lurking dangers that presumably will not soon erupt and leave a huge crater in the middle of the American Midwest, but when this happened, we still do not know enough to handle it properly.

The basis of what we know today is that Yellowstone houses a huge magma chamber beneath the ground, which usually erupted at intervals of about 600,000 years for the last 2 million years or so – the last time that Yellowstone fired was, was about 630,000 years ago. So it's a great time to learn more about the volcano, and we're making progress on this front.

New research from the University of Oregon recently published in Geophysical Research Letters shows a broader view of the magma chamber. Thanks to a computer model, the team was able to assemble. This model, which is mostly mathematical, shows that this huge chamber contains a "transition zone" in the form of a medium crust barrier, which plays a large role in how deep magma rises to the surface.

The model confirms recent discoveries that the volcano is even larger than we thought. The first magma chamber was 2.5 and 4.7 miles (4 to 14 kilometers) below the surface and a second magma chamber at about 12 to 27 miles (20 to 45 km) deep. What separates these two areas is the average crust threshold of the model, which is about 10 to 15 kilometers thick.

And this unmelted window sill is important, because here cold rocks meet each other, the hot magma that collects and collects over the crust floor. From here, in the event of an eruption, it has a much easier path to the surface, and in addition, this magma cloud is about 315 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius) hotter than the mantle surrounding it.

The model was created using a technique known as "forward modeling," using established data to perform scenarios and predict new results. Most importantly, regardless of recent findings about the volcano from 2014 and 2015 (when we first discovered the second magma chamber), it is a good sign of its accuracy.

None of this can help us predict directly when the next eruption will be, but it is an important step in that direction.


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