Yellowstone Volcano unleashed two unknown mega-eruptions, scientists have discovered, adding that the volcano's power may be waning. Scientists have discovered evidence of two unknown "colossal" eruptions in Yellowstone's history. One of the eruptions is Yellowstone Volcano's biggest ever eruption.
However, scientists believe this is evidence the caldera's power is waning. The researchers used a combination of techniques, including bulk chemistry, magnetic data, and radio-isotopic dates to determine the eruptions which spread over tens of thousands of square kilometers and altered the planet's climate.
What Does Volcanology Has to Say?
Dr. Thomas Knott, a volcanologist at the University of Leicester and the paper's lead author, said: "We discovered that deposits previously believed to belong to multiple, smaller eruptions were in fact colossal sheets of volcanic material from two previously unknown super-eruptions at about 9.0 and 8.7 million years ago.
The younger of the two, the Grey's landing super-eruption, is now the largest recorded event of the entire Snake-River-Yellowstone volcanic province. It is one of the top five eruptions of all time. The Grey's Landing eruption enameled an area the size of New Jersey in searing-hot a volcanic glass that instantly sterilized the land surface.
Particulates would have choked the stratosphere, raining fine ash over the entire United States and gradually encompassing the globe. These two new eruptions bring the total number of recorded Miocene super-eruptions at the Yellowstone-Snake River volcanic province to six.
The study indicates that, during the Miocene period, Yellowstone erupted on average every 500,000 years. However, the study also shows that the power of Yellowstone has been waning with every eruption.
The Evidence of Its Eruptive Power
Furthermore, the power has been declining "intensely", reducing by a factor of three each time. Mr Knott said: "It, therefore, seems that the Yellowstone hotspot has experienced a three-fold decrease in its capacity to produce super-eruption events. This is a very significant decline."
While the experts said it could be almost a million years before Yellowstone next erupts, it is "a must" that the USGS continues to monitor it just in case it throws up any unexpected surprises. Mr Knott said: "We have demonstrated that the recurrence rate of Yellowstone super-eruptions appears to be once every 1.5 million years.
The last super-eruption there was 630,000 years ago, suggesting we may have up to 900,000 years before another eruption of this scale occurs. However, experts are preparing for the worst now, and are studying how a major eruption, which could instantly wipe out large swathes of the US, could be prevented.
One NASA employee believes he has found a unique way to stop a major eruption – by feeding cold water into Yellowstone’s magma chambers. NASA engineer Brian Wilcox hopes to stave off the threat of a super-eruption is to cool down the magma in the chambers inside the volcano.
Around 60 to 70 percent of the heat generated by Yellowstone seeps into the atmosphere, but the remainder builds up inside. If enough builds up, it can trigger an eruption.
By drilling 10 kilometers into Yellowstone, the NASA employee believes that it would be possible to pump high-pressure water which will allow the cool liquid to absorb some of the heat, before it is pumped out again.
Should We Fear Another Eruption?
Mr Wilcox told journalist Bryan Walsh in the latter’s new book End Times that the plan could cost $3.5bn (£2.9bn) and would have the added benefit of using the steam from the water and magma combo to create carbon-free geothermal electricity at a much cheaper rate than any alternative energy currently available on the market.
Mr Wilcox told Mr Walsh: “The thing that makes Yellowstone a force of nature is that it stores up the heat for hundreds of thousands of years before it all goes kablooey all at once. It would be good if we drained away that heat before it could do a lot of damage.”
Others, however, are not so convinced about the feasibility of Mr Wilcox’s idea. USGS scientist Jake Lowenstern told Mr Walsh: “It all seems a bit fanciful.”
When she's not at her desk absorbing all the latest news and producing fresh content for her audience Carmina loves to spend time at coffe shops and dancing at local music festivals.