The Yellowstone volcano sits in between the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, inside the Yellowstone National Park in the US. The caldera is labelled a supervolcano due to its potential to create devastation on a global scale. It last had a supereruption some 630,000 years ago, but there has been a great deal of smaller activity since then.
Jacob Lowenstein, a leading scientist in charge of monitoring Yellowstone, revealed how the the park experiences hydrothermal explosions roughly every 1,000 years.
These occur when superheated water trapped below the surface converts rapidly from liquid to steam.
Boiling water, steam, mud, and rock fragments called breccia are ejected over an area of a few meters up to several kilometres in diameter.
Dr Lowenstein said in 2014: “There were a lot of these event within the past 15,000 years at Yellowstone.
Jacob Lowenstein warned of Yellowstone’s power
Yellowstone volcano poses a threat
As the pressure increases, so does the boiling temperature – like a pressure cooker
“The largest of them forms Mary Bay within Yellowstone Lake and it’s two miles across.
“So if you think about the way that geothermal systems are established, the boiling temperature of water at the surface is 100C.
“At Yellowstone, you’re at a higher elevation and it’s about 92C, but as you go down in the pressure increases and so does the boiling temperature – like a pressure cooker.
“So if that system depressurised, you’ll get water that’s way above its boiling point and it will catastrophically explode into steam – breaking rocks along the way and forming these very interesting landforms.”
Dr Lowenstein, who was speaking at a lecture at Menlo Park in California revealed how the last explosion of this magnitude happened over 3,000 years ago, making it overdue.
There have been a number of smaller eruptions
Yellowstone volcano’s geothermal explosions mapped
He added: “Here is a map of where these hydrothermal explosions have occurred at Yellowstone.
“A lot of them are near the north end of Yellowstone Lake – forming holes in the ground that are fairly large.
“This is a hazard that is present at Yellowstone today.”
It comes after Dr Lowenstein also revealed Yellowstone is overdue a volcanic eruption too.
He said during the same lecture: “Since the last caldera-forming eruption (630,000 years ago), there have been lava flows and in some cases, very big lava flows beneath the topography.”
Jacob Lowenstein was speaking at a lecture in 2014
Addressing a model of the landscape, he added: “This is one of the largest ones – it’s called the Pitchstone Plateau – and it’s about the size of Washington DC.
“It’s anywhere from about 50 to 400 feet in thickness and it’s 70,000 years old.
“So this is actually the last volcanic eruption at Yellowstone.”
A plateau is an area of highland, usually consisting of relatively flat terrain, that is raised significantly above the surrounding area, often left behind from an eruption.
Mr Lowenstein went on to reveal how if history repeats itself it would be a problem on a local scale.
He added: “Since that time, there has been no volcanism at Yellowstone.
“So all of these lava flows are what has been going on for the last 30 or 40 big eruptions at Yellowstone.
“If something like this happened today it would be a big deal.
“It would not have a lot of explosive activity and it would not be a national-scale emergency.
Yellowstone volcano is located in Yellowstone National Park
“It would be very much a local event, but it would still be very spectacular.”
Mr Lowenstein went on to detail how we are now overdue an eruption of this magnitude by 60,000 years.
He continued: “These events normally occur every 10,000 years and appear in groupings.
“But the last one was 70,000 years ago.”