Monday, June 4, 2018

Science & Technology: Research Helps Inform How Heat is Transported to the Earth's Surface from Molten Rock

Researchers find new way to estimate magma beneath Yellowstone supervolcano (

Researchers at Washington State University and the University of Idaho have found a new way to estimate how fast magma is recharging beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano. While their findings offer no help in predicting if the volcano will erupt, they can now get a better understanding of a key factor—a pool of basalt magma recharging the system—in how it works.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, the researchers "spiked" several hot springs in Yellowstone National Park with deuterium, a stable hydrogen isotope. The researchers used the length of time needed for deuterium concentrations to return to background levels and the temperature of the hot springs to calculate the amount of water and heat flowing out of the springs. Using deuterium for estimating heat flow is safe for the environment and has no visual impact to distract from the park visitors' experience.

The team found that previous studies underestimated the amount of water coursing through the springs and the amount of heat leaving the springs. The data also allowed the team to estimate the amount of magma entering the supervolcano from the mantle.

The study also has implications for geothermal energy, helping inform how heat is transported to the earth's surface from molten rock.

Direct measurement of advective heat flux from several Yellowstone hot springs, Wyoming, USA, by Nicholas McMillan  Peter Larson  Jerry Fairley Joseph Mulvaney-Norris  Cary Lindsey. Geosphere (2018). DOI: