Yellowstone National Park is as beautiful as it is dangerous according to a discovery made by researchers from the University of Utah. While scientists have long known the park is an enormous supervolcano, its exact size has puzzled geophysicists for decades.
New research from the group, using seismic technology to scan hundreds of feet below the park's surface, have made a bombshell discovery.
It turns out that in addition to Yellowstone's 300 active geysers and thousands of hissing steam vents, it is also the planet's greatest time bomb.
Using the new technique the scientists found that Yellowstone's magma reserves are many magnitudes greater than previously estimated. According to the new data there is enough molten rock lurking below the surface to fill the Grand Canyon nearly 14 times over. The bulk of it is in a newly discovered magma reservoir, which the scientists featured in a study published on Thursday in the journal Science.
The discovery will help scientists better understand why Yellowstone's previous eruptions, in prehistoric times, were some of Earth's largest explosions ever to be recorded.
Using their data the scientists also created the first three-dimensional model of the geothermal structure under Yellowstone.
The discovery illustrates that, for now, the supervolcano is stable. But when it does erupt, and it will eventually, the explosion and its effects will be felt around the world.
"If another large caldera-forming eruption were to occur at Yellowstone, its effects would be worldwide," the U.S Geological Survey said in a statement. The destruction would not only be felt in the immediate area, which would be covered in lava and ash, but also the rest of the world. The ash cloud would disrupt world air travel for possibly months, creating a major international situation.
For now though there is nothing to be alarmed about. "The actual hazard is the same, but now we have a much better understanding of the complete crustal magma system," said lead researcher Robert B. Smith.