Yellowstone National Park’s supervolcano has substantially more magma reserves under the caldera than scientists previously thought, according to new research.
Also, according to an article published Thursday in Science, newly found lava flows at shallow depths that have fueled previous eruptions.
MORE: Lava oozing from Mauna Loa approaches the main highway on the Big Island of Hawaii
The researchers mapped the seismic wave velocity under Yellowstone volcano using a technique called seismic tomography. This 3D modeling of seismic waveforms measures the volume of melt and makes assumptions about the distribution of how melt spreads underground in the Yellowstone magma reservoir, Ross Maguire, an assistant professor in the geology department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and lead author of the study told ABC News.
“We found that Yellowstone’s crustal magma reservoir is likely to contain more melt than previously thought,” Maguire said, adding that there is up to 20 percent more melt at shallow depths.
Previous studies have suggested the partial melt fraction was between 5% and 15%, Maguire said.
Yellowstone’s magma reservoir isn’t so much “one big magma reservoir,” with accumulation all in one body, Maguire said, but rather a “snow cone,” in which there’s liquid between solids, such as sediment and mineral crystals, Kari M. Cooper, a professor and chair of the department of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California Davis, told ABC News.
MORE: A recent history of volcanic eruptions and their impact as Mauna Loa erupts
The findings show that it’s possible there are some relatively small to moderate-sized magma bodies lying beneath Yellowstone that could be mobilized and ejected, Cooper said. Yellowstone tends to garner a lot of attention due to the potential for “catastrophic and explosive eruptions,” Maguire said, but it’s not the most common type of eruption in the park.
“They would be similar in size to what happened in Yellowstone’s very recent history that produced a series of lava flows that filled the most recent caldera after the last really big eruption,” he said.
Despite the new finding, the research doesn’t indicate a meltup will happen any time soon, the scientists said. There are no signs of “increasing volcanic unrest” in Yellowstone, Maguire said.
“That doesn’t really change the threat assessment at all, because we already knew that we already knew this was the recent activity,” Cooper said. “We already knew that was the type of activity most likely to happen next.”
MORE: National Park Week: Why conserving these ‘living laboratories’ is so important
However, a key issue in assessing volcanic eruption hazards is ascertaining how much magma is beneath the surface and where, and continuous monitoring of the subsurface is important to provide a clear picture if the situation starts to change dramatically, the researchers said. .
Additionally, Yellowstone is closely monitored by the US Geological Survey and the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Cooper said.
Yellowstone supervolcano has far more magma than previously thought, scientists originally appeared on abcnews.go.com