Yellowstone National Park has seen some of the largest volcanic eruptions on Earth. Now, geoscientists have completely imaged the subterranean plumbing system where they have found two large magma chambers large enough to fill the Grand Canyon 11 times.
Researchers used a technique that is called seismic tomography to a produce for the first time a complete picture of the volcanic “plumbing system” from the Earth’s mantle up to the surface.
Seismic tomography is analogous to a CT scan of the body, using seismic waves as they travel through the Earth to image the subsurface, distinguishing between rocks of various densities. They also combined both local and distant earthquake measurements to image Yellowstone’s complete magma system.
Previously unknown magma reservoir:
Scientists had already known about a plume that brings molten rock up from deep in the mantle to a region about 60 kilometers below the surface. And they had also imaged a shallow magma chamber about 10 kilometers below the surface, which contains about 10,000 cubic kilometers of molten material. The new study, published in the journal Science, revealed they have found a deeper one, 4.5 times larger, that sits between 20 and 50 kilometers below the surface.
Yellowstone magma chamber found:
“They found the missing link between the mantle plume and the shallow magma chamber,” says Peter Cervelli, a geophysicist in Anchorage, Alaska, who works at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Wrote Science Mag on their website.
The biggest volcanic eruption ever awaits mankind (documentary):
“The existence of the second magma chamber does not make it any more or less likely that a large volcanic eruption at Yellowstone will occur. These findings do not change the current volcanic hazard at Yellowstone,” University of Utah seismologist Jamie Farrell said.
“However, these new findings do provide us, and other researchers, the information needed to gain a better understanding of how magma moves from the mantle to the surface,” Farrell added.
The deeper magma chamber means that the shallow chamber can be replenished again and again.
“Knowing that you have this additional reservoir tells you, you could have a much bigger volume erupt over a relatively short time scale,” says co-author Victor Tsai, a geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
It will be interesting to see what else they may discover.
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