What Makes Yellowstone So “Explosive”? New Study Of The Park’s Sub-Surface Tries To Find Out

First Posted: Nov 10, 2016 05:00 AM EST

Scientists have long pondered over what is it that makes "Old Faithful" blow, but without any major breakthrough. But that stagnant status quo could change soon as a new study of Yellowstone's plumbing tries to find out what makes it so explosive.

To solve this old puzzle, a group of researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey has launched a massive effort to map the subterranean systems of hot water and rock that collectively form the plumbing for Yellowstone's famous geysers. Representatives from the University of Wyoming and Aarhus University in Denmark are participating in this extensive geological survey that began this week.

A giant, hoop-like electromagnetic monitor has also been deployed 200 feet above site with the help of helicopters.

"Nobody knows anything about the flow paths of hot water. Does it travel down and back up? Does it travel laterally?" Carol Finn, one of the researchers, told Wyoming Public Media.

"This is really kind of a last frontier if you will, in Yellowstone, of being able to look at a large part that's underground that people have not looked at.....This survey can visualize the geology and the water down to about 500 meters, so 1,500 feet."

The electromagnetic study will allow the researchers to get to the underlying factors that led to the formation of geysers that, in turn, could help explain the huge hydrothermal explosions. Worth noting, one such explosion that occurred approximately 13,000 years ago is believed to have led to the formation of a giant 1.5-mile crater. It is considered the largest crater of its kind on Earth even today.

Together with existing geochemical, geophysical, borehole and geological data, the new sub-surface map of the region is expected to bridge the massive knowledge gap between deeper magmatic system and hydrothermal systems.

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