Supercomputer Reveals Yellowstone՚s Magma Transition Zone

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Computer models helped researchers simulate conditions beneath Yellowstone, North America՚s largest super volcano, allowing them to discover zone that controls movement of magma that flows out from Earth՚s mantle during eruption.

Yellowstone՚s Magma Transition Zone
  • Last caldera forming eruption occurred 630,000 years ago; last large volume of lava surfaced 70,000 years ago.

How Was Transition Zone Found?

  • Researchers wrote new code for supercomputer modelling to better understand where magma is more likely to accumulate in crust.
  • Study focused on magmatic system behind eruptions, specifically where magma that erupts comes from & where it accumulates.
  • Results, published in Geophysical Research Letters, showed transition zone 3 to 6 miles below surface where cold & rigid rocks of upper crust give way to hot & partially molten rock.

What Are Transition Zones?

  • Transition zone traps rising magmas & causes them to collect & solidify in sill spanning up to 9 miles thick.
Magma Mid-Crustal Sill
  • Mid-crustal sill separates magma bodies. Upper one contains gas-rich rhyolitic magma that can erupt in explosions.
  • Other super volcanoes around world may have similar structures.

Does Not Help Predict Timing of Future Eruptions

  • Researchers work does not help predict timing of future eruptions but rather provides never-before-seen look, which can help explain structure of magmatic plumbing system that fuels volcanic eruptions.

Significance of Discovery of Yellowstone՚s Crustal Magma

  • Overall, this new image of Yellowstone՚s crustal magma reservoir provides better understanding of magmatic volume, melt configuration, & fluid state that control its potential for future volcanism & its joint volcano-earthquake hazard, as well as basis for assessing temporal changes in reservoir properties that could portend new volcanism.

Predicting Next Yellowstone Eruption

  • Forecasting volcanic eruption has significantly advanced over past decades.
  • Most scientists think that there are observable clues that can offer hint at next eruption of Yellowstone decades before it happens.
  • USGS said that precursors to volcanic eruptions include rapid ground deformation & strong earthquake swarms, which typically occur days to weeks before actual eruption.
  • Build-up to larger eruptions would include intense precursory activity (far exceeding background levels) at multiple spots within Yellowstone volcano.
  • As at many caldera systems around world, small earthquakes, ground uplift & subsidence, & gas releases at Yellowstone are commonplace events & do not reflect impending eruptions.

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