Scientists to map Yellowstone National Park’s underground plumbing

Scientists to map Yellowstone National Park’s underground plumbing

An international team of scientists have plans to fly a massive, electromagnetic ring over the Yellowstone National Park in order to map the park’s underground plumbing.

The project is part of a new initiative that aims to provide scientists with a new insight into Yellowstone’s hydrothermal explosions that have taken place irregularly throughout the area’s history.

To map the park’s hidden plumbing, scientists from the USGS, University of Wyoming, and Aarhus University of Denmark will examine the flow of hot water through Old Faithful and several other geysers of Yellowstone.

USGS lead researcher Carol Finn said in a statement, “Nobody knows anything about the flow paths [of hot water. Does it travel down and back up? Does it travel laterally?”

The researchers will fly a large hoop-shaped electromagnetic system with the help of a helicopter over the Yellowstone National Park for around a month. The system will be able to differentiate water from rock up to the depth of 1,500 feet below the surface.

Around 14,000 years ago, an eruption produced a mile-wide crater at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake. Now, scientists have estimated that Yellowstone supervolcano can erupt with 2,000 times the force of Mount St. Helens. Understanding the park’s hydrothermal blueprint is thus essential for better planning to ensure tourists’ safety and future development.

A report published by CS Monitor informed, "Hydrothermal explosions, though rare in Yellowstone, can be powerful. About 13,800 years ago, one such eruption produced a mile-wide crater at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake. By understanding the park’s hydrothermal blueprint, administrators could better plan for tourist safety and future development. Last year, seismologists from the University of Utah discovered a new magma chamber, some 30 miles wide, beneath the park’s surface. The discovery seemed to support what many have theorized – that Yellowstone is actually a massive 'supervolcano'."

These observations, combined with existing geophysical, geochemical, geological and borehole data, will help close a major knowledge gap between the surface hydrothermal systems and the deeper magmatic system. For example, research shows that the hot water spurting from Yellowstone's geysers originates as old precipitation, snow and rain that percolates down into the crust, is heated and ultimately returns to the surface. This process takes hundreds if not thousands of years. Little, however, is currently known about the paths taken by the waters.

Get a cordless drill set.