NASA looks for ways to save the earth from Yellowstone's Supervo - | Montana's News Leader | Billings, MT

NASA looks for ways to save the earth from Yellowstone's Supervolcano

Posted: Updated:

When you look at Yellowstone National Park’s geysers, you may be in awe with the science.

But scientific pioneers at NASA call it one of the greatest natural threats to the world: the supervolcano.

They are studying Yellowstone’s caldera to find a solution and stop the supervolcano from erupting.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Task Force’s main goal was to look at ways to protect Earth from asteroids and comets. But Brian Wilcox, who is on NASA’s Administrative Council Task Force on Planetary Defense, says he learned a threat much worse than an asteroid exists.

“During the course, I had come to the conclusion that super volcanoes are actually a greater threat than asteroids," said Wilcox, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Wilcox says all of these natural disasters can have harmful effects on the world.

"In all three (cases), they would cause an extended winter, where the sky is dark and nothing grows because there's no light to grow food," said Wilcox.

Wilcox says it’s the supervolcanos across the world that could leave the most damage.

There are around 20 known supervolcanoes on Earth, with major eruptions occurring on average once every 100,000 years. One of the greatest threats an eruption may pose is thought to be starvation. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that food reserves worldwide would last 74 days.

In the study, Wilcox and his partners developed a theory that could potentially stop the super volcano.

“The idea would be to drill a perimeter around the outside of the park, with geothermal wells to extract heat from the hot rock around and under the magma chamber," Wilcox said. "We would be trying to get as far under is possible to pull the heat out of the bottom."

He says a positive outcome could come from this method. 

"You would get electric power from the geothermal wells that would be at a competitive price, and so the investment in all the wells and the infrastructure will not be wasted," said Wilcox.

But this solution could also backfire, if not done carefully. According to Wilcox, it could cause the volcano to erupt early if they rush into it.

"We wanted to make sure that we do no harm, and not trigger a volcano that we were trying to stop," said Wilcox.

NASA puts the price tag for the infrastructure at about $3.46 billion.

There are many questions around the supervolcano, like how big it will be or how it will affect people, but Wilcox says his study opens a new question.

"Is it possible to stop a super volcano from erupting?” said Wilcox. “As far as I know, we’re the first who have asked that question. Now the question is, will someone start to look at that and have a spirited debate about what the best course of action is?"

  • Most Popular