An underwater “source” of magma has been found under the Yellowstone super volcano, raising fears of a large eruption along the way.
The researchers found a column of hot volcanic ash known as a “plume” of magma beneath the volcano, and they believe it extends from Mexico.
Experts suggest that the plume could be the source of the heat that drives much of the surface activity of the volcano, such as its world-famous bubbling springs.
The news comes after a series of four mini tremors in the area last week that raised fears that the Yellowstone super volcano is about to explode.
A magma plume is an unusual geological feature that lies at the boundary between the Earth’s core and the mantle, and rises through the mantle in the crust.
Although it is still only a theory, this abnormality would exist as a vertical stream of magma. Whether or not there is a mantle plume beneath Yellowstone National Park has been hotly debated for decades.
Using new imaging techniques, two researchers at the University of Texas suggest that they have finally found evidence of the elusive spine.
They analyzed the seismic activity around Yellowstone using data obtained by the US Array network, which has listening stations located throughout North America.
Based on these readings, the team discovered a channel 45 by 34 miles (72 × 55 km) where seismic waves are slower.
They suggest that this “long, thin, sloping area” is full of unusually warm material and forms part of a mantle plume that extends from Mexico.
The researchers calculated that the mantle is warmer than any of its surroundings, reaching temperatures of around 600 to 800 degrees Celsius (1,100-1,450 ° F).
This hot column may be enough to boost surface activity in the park, scientists said, and may explain a recent increase in volcanic activity in the area.
Previous studies have not been able to identify if a magma feather runs under the park because the imaging techniques available to scientists were not accurate enough.
The researchers, led by Dr. Peter Nelson, a geologist at the University of Texas, wrote in their article: “Our results support a deep origin for the Yellowstone access point and also provide evidence for the existence of fine thermal mantle plumes that are currently beyond the resolution of global tomography models.”
Some are concerned that the recent increased volcanic activity in Yellowstone may indicate that the park’s subsurface super volcano may be about to explode.
Below the surface of Yellowstone, which traverses parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, is the super volcano Caldera, which erupted approximately 630,000 years ago.