Magma Amassing Beneath Supervolcano at Yellowstone National Park, Scientists Say

Fairley said measuring the amount of magma amassing beneath Yellowstone directly informs researchers on the likelihood of an imminent eruption. If magma is coming up slowly, an eruption is probably a long way off, Fairley said.

Scientists with Washington State University and the University of Idaho have devised a new way to estimate the amount of magma beneath Yellowstone National Park’s supervolcano by measuring the heat lost through the park’s various geologic features.

Jerry Fairley, a professor with the department of geological sciences at the UI and one of the lead researchers on the study, said the new method involved dosing several hot springs with a benign, stable hydrogen isotope called deuterium.

Deuterium, Fairley explained, is a pervasive chemical throughout nature. He said scientists measured the amount of time it took for deuterium levels to return to normal as well as the temperatures of the hot springs to estimate the amount of water running through the system and the amount of heat lost.

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While their conclusions are still subject to debate, Fairley said the research has shown the magma beneath Yellowstone may be amassing much more quickly than was previously estimated.

“The work that we’ve done, it seems to indicate that there could potentially be up to twice as much heat being discharged as was previously thought,” Fairley said. “If there is twice as much heat coming up as we thought previously, that means there’s twice as much magma coming up.”

Produced by Mary Greeley:



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