What's Below Yellowstone? More Magma Than Once Thought

Jun 13, 2018

Scientists think there may be as much as twice the amount of magma below Yellowstone's supervolcano than what they once believed. This was discovered using a new way to estimate just how much magma is below the earth's surface. 

Jerry Fairley is a professor in hydrogeology at the University of Idaho and one of the scientists behind the new method. He said first they get an overall estimate of how much heat is being lost throughout the park.

"All the heat that's being discharged through Yellowstone—the heat that runs the geysers, the heat that is responsible for hot springs, as well as heat that is discharged as steam—all of that originally starts out as magma coming up from the mantle," said Fairley. 

 

That heat roughly translates into how much magma is down below. Fairley said the new method uses a hydrogen isotope to determine the amount and heat of the water moving through the park’s hot springs. That ultimately helps them get an idea of the temperature down below, and as a result, just how much magma there is. 

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.