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What's REALLY beneath Yellowstone: Get closer to the truth

Digital writers

Wednesday, May 2, 2018, 2:03 PM - Yellowstone is one of the most popular National Parks in the U.S., but also a large and active volcano waiting to erupt. Colourful hot springs, geysers and mud spots make the Park a very attractive destination for tourists around the world. 

The first National Park ever established in the U.S., Yellowstone spans an area of 9,000 square kilometres, with 96 per cent of its surface in the state of Wyoming, and the rest of the extension divided between Idaho and Montana. 

The Yellowstone Caldera, also known as "supervolcano" because of the exceptionally large volcanic eruptions that formed it, is the largest volcanic system in North America.

WATCH BELOW: Kaleidoscope of colours flow through frozen Yellowstone landscape

It's been more than 2 million years since the Yellowstone volcano experienced its first major eruption. The last one occurred 640,000 years ago, and caused the ground to collapse into the magma reservoir leaving a giant caldera. 

Today, four to five miles below the surface, molten rock causes geysers and hot springs to constantly spout water vapor and other materials.

So when will the next big eruption occur?

After many years of research, scientists are now closer to resolving the enigma of what is going on with the magma beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano. Earlier this year, the findings of a team of geoscientists from the University of Texas revealed that the plume of magma that extended underneath the volcano, in between the earth's core and mantle, reached all the way to Mexico. 


A recent computer model study performed by another team of geoscientists from the University of Oregon has revealed 7 million years of underground activity, all the way to more recent times, where a dual magma chamber feeds the Yellowstone caldera. 

The crust sitting over the volcano plume of gooey material moves about 0.8 inches a year along with the motion of the North American tectonic plate. 

This movement is like a conveyor belt line along which the plume causes small eruptions. The new computerized results published in the April 16th issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that the head of the plume hit the crust about 6.75 million years ago. The more recent dual melt zones observed today formed around 1.25 million years ago. The data also suggests that the magma plume is 157 degrees Celcius hotter than the surrounding mantle. 

But what appears to be especially important to the ongoing research project is the geochemistry of the magma under Yellowstone. A better understanding of the interactions between the magma and the crust through the complex hydrothermal system of geysers and hot springs, will help inform of the future behaviour of the Yellowstone volcano. 

Image: Grand Prismatic Spring and Midway Geyser Basin. Wikimedia Commons/Brocken Inaglory

According to the team's leading geoscientists Ilya Bindeman and student coauthor Dylan Colón, computer models have come a long way to reveal details of the dynamics of the underlying magma. "Modelling tells you with maybe a third of a mile resolution the magma location, composition and volume. With additional detail the model could help predict the eruptive potential of the magma," the scientists say.

Back in February more than 200 earthquakes were reported around Yellowstone over a 10 day period (according to USGS) sparking fears of an imminent eruption.   Thankfully today, there is no evidence presented in these latest studies that suggests Yellowstone is moments away producing a major super volcanic eruption. 

According to Bindeman, the volcano will eventually produce an apocalyptic eruption, but not for another one or two million years. 

WATCH BELOW: Man dissolves in Yellowstone hot spring

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