Yellowstone National Park attracts more than 3 million visitors
each year to see its beautiful landscapes, stunning geysers, and magnificent hot pools.
But scientists are amazed by the discovery that the supervolcano lying beneath the surface of the park contains a giant pool of molten magma that is 2.5 times bigger than originally thought — and that if it blew, the destruction would be catastrophic.
An eruption could be enough to wipe out the United States, killing millions of people, according to an Australian news report
A team of scientists from the University of Utah found the cavern stretches for more than 55 miles long, 22 miles wide and up to nine miles deep — and it contains between 125 billion and 185 billion cubic miles of molten rock.
The staggering findings were presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
in San Francisco this week.
Professor Bob Smith, of the University of Utah, told the BBC
, “We’ve been working there for a long time, and we’ve always thought it would be bigger. But this finding is astounding."
Smith said there had only been three major eruptions to date. The first was 2.1 million years ago, the second came 1.3 million years ago and the last was 640,000 years ago.
Scientists know that the last eruption spewed ash across the whole of North America while the streams of molten rock were hundreds of miles long, and several miles thick. Also, the smoke and debris cloud created by the eruption changed the world's climate for several centuries.
To measure the extent of the magma chamber, the scientific team placed seismometers around the park.
Dr Jamie Farrell, from the University of Utah, said: "We record earthquakes in and around Yellowstone, and we measure the seismic waves as they travel through the ground. The waves travel slower through hot and partially molten material. With this, we can measure what’s beneath."
A supervolcano is different from the type of volcano that wiped Pompeii of the map in Roman times in that it does not have a cone of ash and lava sitting on the surface.
Instead, supervolcanos like Yellowstone have a collapsed core that has formed massive pools of molten magma rock under the surface, called calderas.
Now the big bang theory is that, according to geological analysis of rock and sediment layers, another eruption is almost due, says the BBC.
Smith said that on average the Yellowstone supervolcano is likely to erupt every 700,000 years. But he said don't bet on it -- it could come even come some 60,000 years earlier.
“You can only use the time between eruptions, so in a sense you only have two numbers to get to that 700,000-year figure,” he added. "How many people would buy something on the stock market on two days of stock data.”
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