A new study confirms the existence of a gargantuan reservoir of magma beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano. Researchers used the latest technology to locate and take images of the huge lava reservoir underneath the famous national park. It is located from 12-28 miles below the surface, and is almost five times larger than the shallower, hot melted rock zone that causes the Yellowstone geysers and led to the supervolcano’s last eruption around 70,000 years ago.
The new research was published in in the Thursday edition of the academic journal ScienceExpress.
Statement from study co-author
“Every additional thing we learn about the Yellowstone volcanic system is one more piece in the puzzle, and that gets us closer to really understanding how the volcanic system works,” commented Fan-Chi Lin of the University of Utah, a co-author of the study. “If we could better understand the transport properties of magmatic fluids, we could get a better understanding of the timing and, therefore, where we are in the volcanic cycle.”
More on new Yellowstone supervolcano research
It turns out the magma reservoir underneath the Yellowstone supervolcano is 11,000 cubic-miles (46,000 cubic kilometers) in volume, which is about the volume around 300 Lake Tahoes.
Researchers noted some time ago that far more carbon dioxide was being released from the ground at Yellowstone than could be explained by the smaller, shallower reservoir that had already been found. The smaller reservoir was located using a local seismic array. The array used data from local earthquakes to determine the structures within the crust.
However, in order to see deeper, the researchers had to have a wider array so they could see how seismic waves from earthquakes farther distances away behaved as they passed under Yellowstone. Scientists point out that seismic waves enable them to learn a great deal about the Earth’s crust because they travel slower through hot rocks than through cold rocks. Of note, the data for the wider seismic network came from the USArray, a portable, temporary seismic network that’s been back and forth across the U.S. since 2004.