So Could We Tap Into This Baby? Yellowstone Supervolcano Grows in Stature


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Yellowstone Magma Pocket

Big. Really, really big. Not billions of cubic miles big, though.

This story going around Facebook has a serious error that seems to obscure an important core of truth.

The supervolcano that lies beneath Yellowstone National Park is 2.5 times larger than previously thought, it was revealed at an American Geophysical Union meeting.

Scientists knew the supervolcano was big, and set out to find out just how big, in order to assess the threat level. What they discovered, they said, was “astounding.”

Between 125 and 185 billion cubic miles of magma is pooled under the surface, representing an existential threat to America, as well as the rest of the world. One scientist estimates an eruption would be 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens.

185 billion cubic miles?  As in a cube that’s 5700 miles on each side?  I don’t think so!  But if you presume that what was meant was 185 billion cubic meters, which would translate to about 44.4 cubic miles of lava — or a cube (if you really wanted to stuff it all into a large box) of about 3.5 miles per side, then it makes a lot more sense.  Although, as it stretches more than 55 miles below the surface, it might be better analogized to a 55-mile long cylinder of with a one-mile long diameter of hot magma.  (MUCH easier to imagine, isn’t it?)  Or just use the image above, gleaned from this page.

So with that out of the way, let’s go to the underlying story:

“We know there’s been these really large volcanic eruptions in the past and what we’re seeing now matches that,” [Dr. James Farrell of the University of Utah] said. “We see that there is indeed a large magma reservoir and that there is the potential for large volcanic eruptions in the future, although that would be in the far future.”

A recent scientific study indicates that the underground volcano is nearly 2.5 times bigger than originally thought, stretching more than 55 miles beneath the surface.

The last eruption from the Yellowstone super volcano took place 640,000 years ago. Researchers told BBCNews that ash was sent across North America following the eruption.

“These are really big volcanic eruptions and it would definitely be a global event. It would not only affect the U.S. but it would affect the world,” Farrell stated. “All this material that is shot up in the atmosphere would eventually circle the earth and would affect the climate throughout the world.”

So, obviously, the question is: how do we make money off of this?  Um, by that I mean: is it possible to use this even larger-than-expected source of energy as a source of geothermal power — ideally before it kills us all?  I would think that defusing this source of doom and using it to live a fossil-free life might be something on which we could get 80% or so of the country to agree (although maybe closer to 50% in Orange County.)

Your thoughts?  Could we slant drill to Yellowstone from OC and drink their hot milkshake?  (Answer: no.)


About Greg Diamond

Worker's rights attorney now moving into "good governance" litigation. North Vice Chair of Democratic Party of Orange County and occasional candidate. Proud to be prolix. Unless otherwise specifically stated, his writings never speak for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level. He tries to either suppress or openly acknowledge his partisan, issue, ideological, and "good government" biases in most of his writing here. If you have a question about any particular writing, just ask him about it and (unless you are an pseudonymous troll) he will probably answer you at painful length. He lives in Brea but generally doesn't blog about it. A family member works as a campaign treasurer for Wendy Gabriella in AD-73; he doesn't directly profit from that relatively small compensation and it doesn't affect his coverage. He does advise some campaigns informally and without compensation, although in 2014 he may receive some compensation for campaign consulting and fundraising for the campaign of Jorge Lopez for Orange County Assessor.