Yellowstone National Park is a tourist hotspot in the US, visited by millions each year. The park is situated over a supervolcano that would be capable of a magnitude 8 eruption. So what is underneath the supervolcano?
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres reports a new study by Bernhard Steinberger and colleagues will soon appear in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.
The study is focused on the modelling of the Earth’s mantle and looks into what lies beneath the Yellowstone volcano.
Underneath the Yellowstone volcano lies a ‘mantle plume’, which is a chimney-like structure spanning thousands of kilometres deep to the border of the Earth’s core and mantle.
Mantle plumes are hot upwellings of rocks, thought to originate from the core-mantle boundary.
It is now thought the plumes origins lie under the Baja California, which is more than a thousand kilometres southwest of Yellowstone National Park.
Previous analysis of earthquake waves had suggested something like this may be possible.
But the idea of a ‘mantle plume’ did not reflect the movement of the Earth’s lithospheric plates, which are regions of the Earth’s crust.
Mr Steinberger said: “Our study contributes to a better understanding of intraplate volcanism and supports the hypothesis of a deep mantle plume.
“However, this has no impact on the risk assessment of the Yellowstone volcano.”
The Yellowstone volcano has erupted three times in the past.
Each eruption has left behind a large volcanic crater, known as a caldera.
When such supervolcanoes erupt, the impact on the environment and the climate is widespread.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) has revealed exactly what would happen if Yellowstone’s volcano erupted again.
The USGS site reads: “Parts of the surrounding states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming that are closest to Yellowstone would be affected by pyroclastic flows, while other places in the United States would be impacted by falling ash.
“Such eruptions usually form calderas, broad volcanic depressions created as the ground surface collapses as a result of withdrawal of partially molten rock (magma) below.
“Fortunately, the chances of this sort of eruption at Yellowstone are exceedingly small in the next few thousands of years.”
Eruptions of this kind are incredibly rare.
In fact, the last time Yellowstone erupted was about 630,000 years ago.
By current estimates, Yellowstone isn’t expected to erupt again for thousands of years.
As well as it’s volcano, the area is also famed for being an earthquake hotspot as the area sees approximately 700 to 3,000 earthquakes every year.
Although Yellowstone is one of the seismically most active areas in the US, most of the earthquakes are not felt.
Yellowstone often experiences ‘earthquake swarms’, which are a series of earthquakes over a short period of time in a localised area.
More than 3,000 earthquakes were recorded during three months on the northwest side of the park in 1985, the largest earthquake swarm on record.