By now most people know that Yellowstone National Park lies on top of a massive supervolcano which has the potential to unleash a planet-altering eruption. However a team of researchers from the University of Utah just discovered that the volcano’s magma chamber is about 2.5 times bigger than earlier believed. It is estimated to be over 55 miles in length, containing over 200-600 cubic km of molten rock.

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The Utah team is expected to present their findings at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, where they will outline how, if the volcano ever erupts, the results would be catastrophic for the world. Speaking to BBC News, Prof Bob Smith said: “We’ve always thought it would be bigger… but this finding is astounding.”

The team mapped the magma chamber using a network of seismometers that were situated around the park. Dr Jamie Farrell, from the University of Utah, said: “We record earthquakes in and around Yellowstone, and we measure the seismic waves as they travel through the ground. “The waves travel slower through hot and partially molten material… with this, we can measure what’s beneath.”

The last major eruption, which occurred 640,000 years ago, sent ash across the whole of North America, affecting the planet’s climate. It is unclear when the Yellowstone supervolcano will erupt again, but scientists believe we are overdue for an eruption by 60,000 years. “You can only use the time between eruptions (to work out the frequency), so in a sense you only have two numbers to get to that 700,000 year figure,” Smith explained.

+ American Geophysical Union

Via BBC News