New details have emerged surrounding NASA’s plan to cool down the Yellowstone Caldera, also known as the Yellowstone supervolcano, to prevent a catastrophic eruption.
It may sound more like the plot of a disaster movie, but the devastation that a supervolcano eruption would cause is serious business.
Brian Wilcox, a former member of the NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Defense, and a team of researchers worked on projects to thwart asteroid and comet strikes. But Wilcox determined that the supervolcano poses an even worse threat.
“I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat,” said Wilcox.
Geologists have predicted that the Yellowstone volcano is timed to erupt every 600,000 years. The last known eruption was 640,000 years ago, which is why Wilcox and other scientists suspect that we are past due for an eruption.
There has also been an uptick in volcanic activity in the past few months that has caused eyebrows to raise and supervolcanoes to make headlines. Researchers from the University of Utah Seismograph Stations have been observing and recording a massive swarm of mini eruptions since June 12th. The researchers noted that there have been over a thousand volcanic events throughout the summer of 2017.
Those might seem like terrifying numbers, but the majority of geologists and experts still say the danger of a supervolcanic eruption is low.
Wilcox detailed one of NASA’s plans to cool the magma chamber and nullify the risk of an impending eruption. The plan involves drilling directly into the magma chamber and pumping in tons of water to cool it, effectively creating a mega power plant. But any attempt to drill into the magma pocket could weaken the integrity of it and actually cause an eruption to occur.
“If you drill into the top of the magma chamber and try and cool it from there, this would be very risky. This could make the cap over the magma chamber more brittle and prone to fracture. And you might trigger the release of harmful volatile gases in the magma at the top of the chamber which would otherwise not be released,” Wilcox told the BBC.
The plan to cool Yellowstone is nowhere near fruition, but with a predicted eruption lang past due, this strategy may be humanity’s best bet to negate the worldwide destruction that a supervolcano eruption would cause.