Lying in wait beneath Yellowstone National Park is a giant magma chamber which is responsible for the geysers and hot-springs that make the region so popular for tourists. This giant magma chamber could potentially be one of the greatest threats to humanity, topping other apocalyptic threats such as giant asteroids. This magma chamber is classified as a super volcano. The super volcano classification comes from its historic ability to displace over 240 cubic miles of deposits, according to the US Geological Survey. While this specific volcano has had several eruptions of this magnitude (the last one occurring 640,000 years ago) scientists put the chances of another catastrophic eruption at 1 in 730,000.
After a report on super-volcanos by the BBC, Nasa scientists reached out with previously unknown plans to reduce the likelihood of a super-volcano eruption in Yellowstone. According to the BBC, “When Nasa scientists came to consider the problem, they found that the most logical solution could simply be to cool a super-volcano down. A volcano the size of Yellowstone is essentially a gigantic heat generator, equivalent to six industrial power plants.” The BBC report goes on to say, “Nasa estimates that if a 35% increase in heat transfer could be achieved from its magma chamber, Yellowstone would no longer pose a threat.”
The Nasa scientists have proposed drilling 6 miles into the volcano and circulating water through it to displace some of the heat. This project would cost an estimated $3.46 Billion according to the BBC report. This cost, say the scientists, could be justified by creating a geo-thermal power plant. The water that they would circulate to displace heat from the volcano could run a geothermal power plant for thousands of years. This would provide abundant and affordable electric power at an estimated $0.10/kWh. The trick to doing this would be to drill into the bottom part of the magma chamber which would theoretically minimize the dangers of such a project in terms of the potential to release harmful gasses or to compromise the crust of the volcano causing eruptions.
While the idea is fascinating, there is no certainty that it would work. It is likely that none of us would live long enough to see a substantial decrease in the temperature of the magma chamber. In short, there is not much likelihood of this project getting up off the ground. The scientists note that the idea is intended to avert catastrophe in the long term. The short-term benefit for taking on such a project would be the abundant geothermal energy it would generate.
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