A new study from NASA’s Jet Propulsion unit has determined that the threat of a supervolcanic eruption to life on Earth may be more pressing than any interstellar collisions. An eruption of a supervolcano, like that found in Yellowstone National Park in the United States, could trigger a collapse of the global agricultural and economic systems and result in the deaths of potentially millions of people. Although NASA scientists can’t predict when such an event would occur, they have already begun preparing a preventative measure: drilling into the magma chamber of a supervolcano to cool it down.
Although the potential consequences of a supervolcano eruption would be devastating, earthlings should rest easy knowing that the chance of such an eruption taking place this year is roughly 1-in-730,000. Even then, there is a chance that it could be nothing more than a little lava flow. Nonetheless, NASA scientists are preparing to deal with the problem before it happens.
Magma eruptions occur only when it is thoroughly melted by intense heat; cooling magma down by 35 percent would prevent a supervolcano from erupting. To do this, the scientists envision using a drill to puncture above the chamber, where hydrothermal fluids are pushed to the surface. Adding water in this highly pressurized environment would be sufficient to cool the magma.
To avoid fracturing the surrounding rock and potentially setting off an eruption, NASA scientists suggest drilling into the supervolcano from below. It is estimated that such a plan would cost around $3.5 billion, although governments would be encouraged to think of this as an investment: Excess heat could be captured and transformed into clean energy.