Supervolcano Trigger Not Needed for Yellowstone Eruption, Say Findings

Tuesday, 07 Jan 2014 07:53 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A supervolcano trigger isn't needed for an eruption to occur without warning, according  to a recently released European study on the mammoth volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park.

Due to the supervolcano's massive size and its sheer volume of liquid magma beneath the surface, a trigger is unnecessary to cause an eruption, claims the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, the BBC reported.

"We knew the clock was ticking but we didn't know how fast: what would it take to trigger a super-eruption?" Wim Malfait, the study's lead author said, the BBC reported.

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"Now we know you don't need any extra factor – a supervolcano can erupt due to its enormous size alone," Malfait added. "Once you get enough melt, you can start an eruption just like that."

"Magma penetrating into the cracks will eventually reach the Earth's surface. And as it rises, it will expand violently - causing an explosion," added Carmen Sanchez-Valle, who also participated in the study, which was published in the Nature Geoscience Journal.

In early December, a separate study conducted by researchers from the University of Utah showed that the hot molten rock beneath Yellowstone National Park is 2 ½ times larger than previously estimated.

According to the study, the supervolcano 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.

Consequently, if the supervolcano were to erupt it would be devastating to the U.S., having a potential force of approximately 2,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens, the study concluded.

"We do believe there will be another eruption, we just don't know when," lead author Jamie Farrell of the University of Utah told the Associated Press in December.

"It would be a global event," Farrell added. "There would be a lot of destruction and a lot of impacts around the globe."

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In his assessment of the situation, Malfait compared such an eruption to an "asteroid impact," adding "the risk at any given time is small, but when it happens the consequences will be catastrophic."

The last Yellowstone eruption happened 640,000 years ago, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The result was ash being spewed across the entire continent of North America with molten rock rivers measuring hundreds of miles long and miles of thick smoke impacting the world's climate for several centuries.

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