Massive magma pool found deep below Yellowstone

Discovery explains why supervolcano exhales so much carbon dioxide, but doesn’t up risk of eruption

Yellowstone's magma reservoir

HOT STUFF   Scientists have spotted a massive magma reservoir buried deep inside the Yellowstone supervolcano, connecting the mantle plume that fuels the volcanic system to a smaller magma chamber closer to the surface.

H.-H. Huang et al/Science 2015

View the video

Every day, the supervolcano lurking under Yellowstone National Park belches up 45,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide — much more than could be produced by the known magma chamber that lies just below the surface. Now, scientists have spotted a source of the excess gas, and it’s a doozy. They’ve discovered a magma pool containing enough hot rock to fill the Grand Canyon 11 times, the researchers report online April 23 in Science.

Geophysicist Hsin-Hua Huang of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and colleagues found the missing magma by carefully tracking the seismic waves from nearly 5,000 earthquakes that echoed off the supervolcano’s insides. The newfound magma reservoir, which sits 20 kilometers beneath the surface, connects the magma-oozing hot spot that fuels the volcanic system to the near-surface magma chamber. At 46,000 cubic kilometers, this reservoir holds more than four times the volume of the smaller chamber.

While large, the researchers say, the reservoir is only 2 percent melted rock and is too deep to contribute to a supervolcanic eruption akin to the explosion that formed the Yellowstone caldera around 640,000 years ago. The estimated odds of an impending Yellowstone doomsday remain exceedingly slim, the authors assure. Even so, the discovery should help volcanologists better assess the hazards posed by the supervolcano.

VOLCANIC PLUMBING   A new view of the magma inside the Yellowstone supervolcano reveals a previously unseen large magma reservoir (red) connecting the magma plume that feeds the volcanic system (yellow) to a smaller, known magma reservoir closer to the surface (orange).

Credit: Hsin-Hua Huang/University of Utah Department of Geology and Geophysics.

More Stories from Science News on Earth