Heat From Below the Pacific Ocean Is Fueling Yellowstone

It appears that the mantle plume under the western U.S. is sinking deeper into the earth through time. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
It appears that the mantle plume under the western U.S. is sinking deeper into the earth through time. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

While we read stories in the national media of a possible catastrophic eruption of the Yellowstone volcanic area, scientists are not so sure of the likelihood of such an event. In an effort to better understand the region’s subsurface geology, geologists are taking another look at geologic history.

Geology professor Lijun Liu, who led the new research, has found that Yellowstone volcanism is far more complex and dynamic than previously thought, saying in a statement:

In new study, which was published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the researchers used a method called seismic tomography to see deep into the subsurface of the western U.S. This helped to piece together the geologic history behind the volcanism.

The team then used supercomputers to run different tectonic scenarios to detect a range of possible geologic histories over the past 20 million years. The results showed little support for the traditional mantle plume hypothesis. Graduate student Quan Zhou, who was part of the team, explained:

One of the variables entered into their model was heat, because hot subsurface material like what you would find in a mantle plume should rise vertically toward the surface. However, in their model, that was not what they saw: Liu explained:

For many years, the mantle plume hypothesis has been contentious; nevertheless, this new finding adds to the evidence for a revised tectonic scenario, the researchers said, adding:

From left: Jiashun Hu, graduate student; Quan Zhou, graduate student; and Lijun Liu, professor of geology. (Image: via L. Brian Stauffer )

From left: Jiashun Hu, graduate student; Quan Zhou, graduate student; and Lijun Liu, professor of geology. (Image: L. Brian Stauffer )

As for the recent stories in the national media, researchers say it is still too early to know the possibility of a violent demise of Yellowstone occurring anytime soon, Liu went on to say:

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