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

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)