The Yellowstone supervolcano has much more magma than previously thought: scientists
The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park has significantly more magma reservoir under the caldera than scientists previously thought, according to new research.
In addition, the newly found lava is flowing at shallow depths that fueled previous eruptions, according to an article published Thursday in Science.
Researchers mapped the seismic wave velocity beneath the Yellowstone volcano using a technique called seismic tomography. This 3D modeling of seismic waveforms measures the volume of the melt and makes assumptions about the distribution of how the melt is spread underground in Yellowstone’s magma reservoir, Ross Maguire, an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Geology and Geology of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign author of the study, told ABC News.
“We found that it is likely that Yellowstone’s magma reservoir contains more melt than previously thought,” Maguire said, adding that up to 20% melt occurs at shallow depths.
Previous studies have suggested the partial melt fraction was between 5% and 15%, Maguire said.
Yellowstone’s magma reservoir isn’t so much “a big tank of magma,” with accumulation in one body, Maguire said, but rather like a “snow cone,” in which there’s a solid component and a liquid component, Kari M. Cooper, professor and chair of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department at the University of California Davis, told ABC News.
The findings show that it’s possible there are some relatively small-to-medium bodies of magma that lie beneath Yellowstone that could be mobilized and expelled, Cooper said. Yellowstone draws a lot of attention because of its potential for “catastrophic, explosive eruptions,” Maguire said, but that’s not the most common type of eruption in the park.
“They would be a similar size to what happened in Yellowstone’s very recent history, which spawned a series of lava flows that filled the most recent caldera after the most recent really big eruption,” she said.
Despite the new discovery, the research doesn’t indicate an eruption is imminent, the scientists said. There are no signs of “increased volcanic unrest” in Yellowstone, Maguire said.
“This really doesn’t change the hazard assessment because we already knew that. We already knew that was the recent activity,” Cooper said. “We already knew that was the most likely activity to occur next.”
However, an important point in assessing the dangers of volcanic eruption is to establish how much magma is below the surface and where, and ongoing monitoring of the subsurface is important to get a clear picture if the situation begins to change dramatically , the researchers said.
In addition, Yellowstone is closely monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Cooper said.
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