Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Creating a stopwatch for volcanic eruptions


ASU professor strives to better understand the potential for future eruptions at Yellowstone volcano by studying those in the recent past

We've long known that beneath the scenic landscapes of Yellowstone National Park sleeps a supervolcano with a giant chamber of hot, partly molten rock below it.

ASU professor Christy Till strives to better understand the potential for future eruptions at Yellowstone volcano by studying those in the recent past. She and paper co-author Jorge Vazquez examine Yellowstone lavas in the field.

Credit: Naomi Thompson

Though it hasn't risen from slumber in nearly 70,000 years, many wonder when Yellowstone volcano will awaken and erupt again. According to new research at Arizona State University, there may be a way to predict when that happens.

While geological processes don't follow a schedule, petrologist Christy Till, a professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, has produced one way to estimate when Yellowstone might erupt again.

"We find that the last time Yellowstone erupted after sitting dormant for a long time, the eruption was triggered within 10 months of new magma moving into the base of the volcano, while other times it erupted closer to the 10 year mark," says Till.

The new study, published Wednesday in the journal Geology, is based on examinations of the volcano's distant past combined with advanced microanalytical techniques. Till and her colleagues were the first to use NanoSIMS ion probe measurements to document very sharp chemical concentration gradients in magma crystals, which allow a calculation of the timescale between reheating and eruption for the magma.

This does not mean that Yellowstone will erupt in 10 months, or even 10 years. The countdown clock starts ticking when there is evidence of magma moving into the crust. If that happens, there will be some notice as Yellowstone is monitored by numerous instruments that can detect precursors to eruptions such as earthquake swarms caused by magma moving beneath the surface.

And if history is a good predictor of the future, the next eruption won't be cataclysmic.

Geologic evidence suggests that Yellowstone has produced three enormous eruptions within the past 2.1 million years, but these are not the only type of eruptions that can occur. Volcanologists say there have been more than 23 smaller eruptions at Yellowstone since the last major eruption approximately 640,000 years ago. The most recent small eruption occurred approximately 70,000 years ago.

If a magma doesn't erupt, it will sit in the crust and slowly cool, forming crystals. The magma will sit in that state - mostly crystals with a tiny amount of liquid magma - for a very long time. Over thousands of years, the last little bit of this magma will crystallize unless it becomes reheated and reignites another eruption.

For Till and her colleagues, the question was, "How quickly can you reheat a cooled magma chamber and get it to erupt?"

Till collected samples from lava flows and analyzed the crystals in them with the NanoSIMS. The crystals from the magma chamber grow zones like tree rings, which allow a reconstruction of their history and changes in their environment through time.

"Our results suggest an eruption at the beginning of Yellowstone's most recent volcanic cycle was triggered within 10 months after reheating of a mostly crystallized magma reservoir following a 220,000-year period of volcanic quiescence," says Till. "A similarly energetic reheating of Yellowstone's current sub-surface magma bodies could end approximately 70,000 years of volcanic repose and lead to a future eruption over similar timescales."

Media Contact

Nikki Cassis


Nikki Cassis | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica
26.10.2016 | University of California - Irvine

nachricht Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere
25.10.2016 | American Geophysical Union

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Steering a fusion plasma toward stability

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Bioluminescent sensor causes brain cells to glow in the dark

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Activation of 2 genes linked to development of atherosclerosis

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>