This Morning on the Mix Morning Fix, I told a story about NASA drilling a hole into Yellowstone to relieve some pressure under the crust, preventing the impending supervolcano explosion.
Well, I was kind of right.
Despite a recent spike in seismic activity in the area, the chance of a supervolcano eruption occurring this year is slim. According to the U.S Geological Survey, the yearly probability of another supervolcano eruption is only 1-in-730,000.
So for now, we’re pretty safe.
But wait! There’s more:
Just because it won’t happen for a while, doesn’t mean it will never happen. And when it does, it will be devastating. Were Yellowstone to “super-erupt,” it would cause a chain reaction of other eruptions killing many of us in the western part of the United States instantly.
If that weren’t enough, the ash and dust from the blast would destroy the majority of our food crops. So, for those of us who survive the initial blast, we’ll have no food and the economy will topple.
Never fear, science is here!
In an interview with the BBC, Brian Wilcox of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), had this to say:
“I was a member of the Nasa Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for Nasa to defend the planet from asteroids and comets… I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.”
Wilcox goes on to outline NASA’s potential plan to prevent a Yellowstone eruption. The gist of which is to drill about 30 thousand feet into the earth’s crust, pump water down, which would cool the molten rock little by little, day by day.
According to National Geographic, “These fluids rob the magma of their heat. By adding water to the fluids, NASA will cool down the volcano’s heat significantly.”
The cost of this project? $3.46 billion. Which is a lot of money. Especially when you consider one teeny, tiny detail found in the National Geographic article:
“The drill will not touch the magma, as that would cause massive depressurization and could even set Yellowstone off. It’ll sit above the magma, 10 km deep in the hydrothermal fluids.”
The good news? Scientists could use the steam generated from cooling system as a form of clean, renewable energy. A process that is already working very well in Iceland.
TL;DR The chance of a Yellowstone super-eruption is slim. But even if it were impending, NASA is planning on a way to stop it… Or the could blow us all up. It’s a bit of a gamble.