Is Yellowstone about to blow? Vast fissure sparks URGENT closure in Grand Teton National Park6 min read

0
182

A fissure has opened up in Grand Teton National Park just 60 miles (100km) from the Yellowstone volcano, prompting officials to immediately close the area.

Experts have detected expanding cracks in the rock buttress, which is being closely monitored by geologists for movement.

It is not known how the fissure opened but the area, which sits over the Yellowstone supervolcano, has been urgently shut down due to ‘elevated potential for rockfall’.

While it hasn’t blown its top for more than 600,000 years, scientists are working to better understand Yellowstone in the hopes of predicting the next eruption.

Scroll down for video

A fissure has opened up in Grand Teton National Park just 60 miles (100km) from the Yellowstone volcano, prompting officials to immediately shut down the area

A fissure has opened up in Grand Teton National Park just 60 miles (100km) from the Yellowstone volcano, prompting officials to immediately shut down the area

According to a spokesperson for the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, it is not known how long the closure will be in place.

‘The Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point areas are currently closed due to elevated potential for rockfall,’ the statement read.

The Hidden Falls is 100-foot (30-metre) waterfall near the eastern end of Cascade Canyon and Inspiration Point is a stop on a trek overlooking Jenny Lake. 

‘The area was closed to protect human safety on July 10 after expanding cracks in a rock buttress were detected.

‘Geologists are monitoring the buttress for movement and have initiated a risk assessment for the area.’

However, according to the spokesperson, other parts of the park are still open, such as the immediate area around Jenny Lake.

The area is not far from the potentially devastating Yellowstone Volcano.

Vast eruptions from the Yellowstone Volcano occurred 2.2 million, 1.3 million and 630,000 years ago.

When it last erupted, the supervolcano produced one of the largest known blasts on Earth, spewing more than 2,000 times as much ash as Mount St Helens did when it erupted in 1980, killing 57 people.

The Hidden Falls (pictured) is 100-foot (30-metre) waterfall near the eastern end of Cascade Canyon.  The area is not far from the potentially devastating Yellowstone Volcano

The Hidden Falls (pictured) is 100-foot (30-metre) waterfall near the eastern end of Cascade Canyon.  The area is not far from the potentially devastating Yellowstone Volcano

Yellowstone is currently recharging as its magma chambers fill with molten rock from the Earth’s mantle – the subsurface layer beneath the crust.

Last month, it was revealed scientists have devised a new way to find out how quickly magma is building up beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano.

The technique allows experts to accurately estimate the amount of magma entering the supervolcano from deep beneath Earth’s crust in a process known as recharging.

While the new method does not allow scientists to predict when Yellowstone will erupt, it could help to better understand how the volcano replenishes its deadly magma stores.

Inspiration Point (pictured) is a stop on a trek near Jenny Lake. Vast eruptions from the Yellowstone Volcano occurred 2.2 million, 1.3 million and 630,000 years ago

Inspiration Point (pictured) is a stop on a trek near Jenny Lake. Vast eruptions from the Yellowstone Volcano occurred 2.2 million, 1.3 million and 630,000 years ago

Researchers at Washington State University said these pools of molten volcanic rock build in subsurface magma chambers and are key to the eruption process.

‘It is the coal in the furnace that’s heating things up,’ said study coauthor Professor Peter Larson.

‘It’s heating up the boiler. The boiler is what explodes.

‘This tells us what is heating the boiler.’

Researchers 'spiked' several hot springs in Yellowstone National Park with the stable radioactive isotope deuterium (pictured). The deuterium was harmless to the environment and approved for use by park officials

Researchers ‘spiked’ several hot springs in Yellowstone National Park with the stable radioactive isotope deuterium (pictured). The deuterium was harmless to the environment and approved for use by park officials

Once these chambers are filled, the landform could explode at any time, potentially erupting within months or several millennia after a magma recharge.

The eruption occurs when the magma chambers burst, throwing as much as 240 cubic miles (1,000 cubic kilometres) of magma into the air.

A key driver of the volcano’s destructive power is an explosive, silica-rich volcanic rock called rhyolite that breaks through the Earth’s crust during an eruption.

In the new study Professor Larson and his colleagues focused on the plume of magma heating the rhyolite from below.

When it last blew the supervolcano produced one of the largest known blasts on Earth, spewing more than 2,000 times as much ash as Mount St. Helens did when it erupted in 1980 (pictured), killing 57 people in the most disastrous eruption in US history 

When it last blew the supervolcano produced one of the largest known blasts on Earth, spewing more than 2,000 times as much ash as Mount St. Helens did when it erupted in 1980 (pictured), killing 57 people in the most disastrous eruption in US history 

‘This gives us an idea of how much magma is recharging the volcano every year,’ said Professor Larson.

The researchers ‘spiked’ several hot springs in Yellowstone National Park with the stable radioactive isotope deuterium.

Researchers said the chemical was harmless to the environment and approved for use by park officials. 

The hot springs the team spiked are closely linked to a maze of hydrothermal vents that play a key role in the Yellowstone volcanic system.  

Using the temperature of the springs and the time taken for the deuterium to return to normal background radiation levels, the team was able to calculate the amount of water and heat flowing out of the springs.

Check this out  Doggy diaries! Hilarious day in the life of man's best friend

Researchers found that previous studies underestimated the amount of water coursing through the springs and the amount of heat leaving the springs. 

COULD AN ERUPTION AT THE YELLOWSTONE SUPERVOLCANO BE PREVENTED?

Previous research found a relatively small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface

Recent research found a small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface

Nasa believes drilling up to six miles (10km) down into the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park to pump in water at high pressure could cool it.

Despite the fact that the mission would cost $3.46 billion (£2.63 billion), Nasa considers it ‘the most viable solution.’ 

Using the heat as a resource also poses an opportunity to pay for plan – it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10 (£0.08) per kWh.

But this method of subduing a supervolcano has the potential to backfire and trigger the supervolcanic eruption Nasa is trying to prevent.

‘Drilling into the top of the magma chamber ‘would be very risky;’ however, carefully drilling from the lower sides could work. 

This USGS graphic shows how a 'super eruption' of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

This USGS graphic shows how a ‘super eruption’ of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

Even besides the potential devastating risks, the plan to cool Yellowstone with drilling is not simple.

Doing so would be an excruciatingly slow process that one happen at the rate of one metre a year, meaning it would take tens of thousands of years to cool it completely. 

And still, there wouldn’t be a guarantee it would be successful for at least hundreds or possibly thousands of years.