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Yelowstone Beast

Is the Yellowstone supervolcano DYING? Researchers say dormant volcano may never erupt again

  • Last eruption was 70,000 years ago
  • Volcano could be reclassified as 'extinct' - despite researchers recently finding it was 2.5 times bigger than they thought

It is believed to be the world's biggest volcano, and if it erupted, much of the US would be covered in ash.

However, researchers believe the massive supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park in the US - which researchers recently found was 2.5 times bigger than they thought - could actually soon be dead.

Researchers analysed water and gas, and sat it could already be on its deathbed.

According to Ken Sims, from the University of Wyoming, the air and water samples taken from the world's largest volcano suggest it could be dying.

The team looked at the acidity in water samples and radon in the air as part of their study into the condition of Yellowstone.

They also analysed how water and gas mix as they rise from the ground in a bid to improve methods of predicting eruptions and identify the most volatile areas of the park.

At present, Yellowstone is classified as dormant, having not erupted for 70,000 years.

If it becomes an extinct volcano, it will never erupt again.

In early November, a team of University of Wyoming researchers led by Sims spread tarps on the snowy ground near white terraces outside Mammoth Hot Springs, where pools are stacked like small mountains filled with crystal-clear water.

'I have gotten radium out of that,' said Ken Sims, a UW geology and geophysics professor and National Geographic explorer.

'We should sample down there.'

Sims knelt next to a mound of delicate formations and pulled machines out of boxes and backpacks: a radon detector with lights and a ticker-tape measurement recorder, a pH detector to record acid levels.

Both would help him know how the water and gas interact.

'It looks like it's boiling,' Sims said.

'But it is actually from steam or CO2.'

Sims was studying how fast water and gas mix as they rise to the surface.

His research could ultimately help scientists understand what causes steam eruptions.

If they know how fast steam and water interact in the park, they could better predict when an area will become more volatile.

Despite fears the supervolcano may be extinct, the park remains one of the foremost research laboratories in the world, drawing internationally renowned scientists studying everything from earthquakes to the origins of life to the power of that volcano lurking beneath the ground.

'Yellowstone is so over the top in so many ways it sometimes screams at you the answer that's happening other places,' said Jacob Lowenstern, scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

The unique park has a 40-mile-long slush of molten rock and crystal under the nation's first national park.

Instead of a cone with a hole, the caldera is an interconnected maze of gas and water covering almost 60 miles of Wyoming's northwest corner, along with parts of Montana and Idaho.

More than 10,000 mud pots, boiling rivers and geysers act as nature's pressure-release valves, keeping the heated monster from exploding.

And they move.

Mammoth Terraces, in the northern portion of the park, can grow vertically up to 3 feet per year and extend horizontally even farther.

Rising water dissolves limestone under the surface; CO2 bubbles off and leaves behind white calcium carbonate.

The terraces build until vents clog and pressure from gases force a weaker spot to open somewhere else.

'The heat from the Yellowstone volcano is what drives the hydrothermal system,' said Henry Heasler, the park's geologist.

'It gets hot and rises, and the magma chamber, or reservoir, is at a relatively shallow depth.'