Researchers Discover Colossal Magma Reservoir Beneath Yellowstone Supervolcano
A reservoir of magma has been discovered 12 to 28 miles beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano - and it is 4.4 times larger than a well-known existing magma chamber, according to new research.
The newly discovered magma chamber could fill the 1,000-cubic-mile Grand Canyon 11.2 times. In comparison, the previously known magma chamber would fill the Grand Canyon 2.5 times, writes Nature World News.
"For the first time, we have imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone," first author Hsin-Hua Huang, from the University of Utah, said in a statement. "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."
Many believe that magma basins are filled with molten rock, but the rock is hot, mostly solid and sponge like, with pockets of molten rock contained within it. The upper magma chamber is made up of about nine percent molten rock and the lower magma reservoir is about two percent melt.
Previous studies have warned that because the Yellowstone National Park sits atop a vast reserve of molten rock, a super eruption could occur within the coming centuries. But researchers say that even with the new discovery the risk of an eruption has not increased as the volcanic system is no larger than before and therefore, no closer to erupting. Advanced imaging techniques have simply allowed researchers to form a better picture of the system.
"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," added co-author Fan-Chi Lin.
The volcanic plumbing system carries hot and partly molten rock upward from the top of the Yellowstone plume, which lies about 40 miles beneath the surface, to the magma reservoir and the magma chamber above it.
The existing magma chamber has not caused a super eruption at Yellowstone in 640,000 years ago. Prior to this eruption, it erupted 2 million and 1.2 million years ago.
"The actual hazard is the same, but now we have a much better understanding of the complete crustal magma system," emphasized study co-author Robert B. Smith, a research professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah.
And while Yellowstone is among the world's largest supervolcanoes, the annual chance that we may experience a super eruption in the near future is only one in 700,000.
However, the research team will continue to use seismic imaging data to study the vast magma reservoir located beneath Yellowstone, studying both its shallow crust and deeper structures.
The research was published in the journal Science.