"Don't Mess With Yellowstone Supervolcano" Geologists Warn NASA

Tyler Durden's picture

Two weeks ago, we reported that Brian Wilcox, a former member of the NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Defense, had shared a report on what the Space Agency considered one of the greatest natural threats to human civilization: the Yellowstone "supervolcano."

Following an article published by BBC about super volcanoes last month, a group of NASA researchers got in touch with the media to share a report previously unseen outside the space agency about the threat Yellowstone poses, and what they hypothesize could possibly be done about it. 

“I was a member of the NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for NASA to defend the planet from asteroids and comets,” explains Brian Wilcox of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. 

“I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.”

Yellowstone currently leaks about 60 to 70% of its heat into the atmosphere through stream water which seeps into the magma chamber through cracks, while the rest of the heat builds up as magma and dissolves into volatile gasses. The heat and pressure will reach the threshold, meaning an explosion is inevitable. When NASA scientists considered the fact that a super volcano’s eruption would plunge the earth into a volcanic winter, destroying most sources of food, starvation would then become a real possibility.  Food reserves would only last about 74 days, according to the UN, after an eruption of a super volcano, like that under Yellowstone.  And they have devised a risky plan that could end up blowing up in their faces.  Literally.

Wilcox hypothesized that if enough heat was removed, and the temperature of the super volcano dropped, it would never erupt. But he wants to see a 35% decrease in temperature, and how to achieve that, is incredibly risky. One possibility is to simply increase the amount of water in the supervolcano. As it turns to steam. the water would release the heat into the atmosphere, making global warming alarmists tremble.

“Building a big aqueduct uphill into a mountainous region would be both costly and difficult, and people don’t want their water spent that way,” Wilcox says. “People are desperate for water all over the world and so a major infrastructure project, where the only way the water is used is to cool down a supervolcano, would be very controversial.”

So, NASA came up with an alternative plan: the smartest people on earth believe the most viable solution could be to drill up to 10km down into the super volcano and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F), thus slowly day by day extracting heat from the volcano. And while such a project would come at an estimated cost of around $3.46 billion, it comes with an enticing catch which could convince politicians (taxpayers) to make the investment.

“Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” Wilcox says. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh. You would have to give the geothermal companies incentives to drill somewhat deeper and use hotter water than they usually would, but you would pay back your initial investment, and get electricity which can power the surrounding area for a period of potentially tens of thousands of years. And the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption which would devastate humanity.”

To be sure, NASA itself admitted that drilling into a super volcano comes with its own risks, like the eruption that scientists are desperate to prevent. Triggering an eruption by drilling would be disastrous.

“The most important thing with this is to do no harm,” Wilcox says. “If you drill into the top of the magma chamber and try and cool it from there, this would be very risky. This could make the cap over the magma chamber more brittle and prone to fracture. And you might trigger the release of harmful volatile gases in the magma at the top of the chamber which would otherwise not be released.”

Now, it is others' turn to slam the NASA plan: according to a geologist at Yellowstone national park, the proposal could have dire consequences, including killing countless animals.

According to the Star, Dr Jefferson Hungerford, who works at Yellowstone, has warned NASA scientists to stay away from the volcano. He said that: “messing with a mass that sits underneath our dynamic Yellowstone would potentially be harmful to life around us.

“It would potentially be a dangerous thing to play around with.” And he questioned whether the drilling could even work, saying “we’re not there scientifically”.

More importantly, Dr Hungerford said there is no need for anything to be done proactively at Yellowstone, adding: “We won’t see [an eruption]. Very likely we will never see it.

Perhaps he is correct: the Earth has 20 known supervolcanoes, which if they erupt, would trigger planet-changing effects. Major eruptions are incredibly rare, with the last one approximately 26,500 years ago in New Zealand. But if a similar event occurred today, it would cause a nuclear winter with humans wiped out in just a few months from starvation.

For now, what some of the smartest people in the world disagreeing on what to do next, the increasingly more precarious status quo is the most likely outcome.

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Swampster's picture

a giant drill penetrating into the magmaaaaaaaa

MozartIII's picture

The magma chamber covers 3 states. Exactly where are these nasa scientists goin to drill their hole to stop 3 states of magma. The stupid in this country is beyond words. Please drill the hole, then fill it with the Nasa dudes & all of our politicians. I will add to the list after the first bunch is in the hole for their country!!

Richard Chesler's picture

We're from NASA and we're here to help, lol


The Cooler King's picture

Need Another Supervolcano Armageddon

NoDebt's picture

Please drill a hole into the magma chamber and drop George Soros into it.  This would have two benefits:

1.  Soros would be gone.

2.  Well, to be honest, isn't #1 a good enough reason all by itself?


Manthong's picture


Oh hell…

·        Run debt up to astronomical unredeemable amounts

·        Provoke Russia with ridiculous assertions

·        Destabilize MENA and Europe at the same time

·        Mis-educate the youth to imbecility

·        Drill lots of holes in a supervolcano caldera

What could possibly go wrong?

BuddyEffed's picture

Add more material to the caldera lid?   Could make it harder for the magma to push through and blow up.  Landfill the whole area with an extra quarter mile thick of resistance. \s

Same solution for Fukushima?   Quarter mile thick lid?

sincerely_yours's picture

REMEMBER that one:

"Don't Mess With the Ozone Layer"

What a joke these "scientists!" http://wp.me/p4OZ4v-2M

Whoa Dammit's picture

A 5.3 eartquake just happened on the Idaho / Wyoming border of Yellowstone.

auricle's picture

Nasa doesn't answer to geologists. That's like psychologists telling the army they can't bomb Afghanistan because it would foment terror instead of destroying it. 

Manthong's picture


I thought NASA guys were about the great space beyond.

Then the Magic Negro seemed to make it about muslim outreach.

Maybe they are still on that gig and looking to the down-low.

I suggest they should be looking towards the sky.

The Alarmist's picture

Hi, NASA. You might want to look at the impact of fracking before drilling around a supervolcano, because it hasn't all been sweetness and light around the various fracking sites of the world.

UndroppedClanger's picture

National Apocalyptic Supervolcano Administration

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

The've got a long way to go since they can't even put a mouse into orbit!

brokenspoke's picture

But, but, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn last night!

EddieLomax's picture

The problem isn't bombing afghanistan, its welcoming thousands of its stone age inhabitants into the west and expecting to adopt our values.

HowardBeale's picture

Swarm of earthquakes...



And, Kim Jong Un created a 6.3 playing with nukes...

a Smudge by any other name's picture

All we need is a really big cork.

Ghost of Porky's picture

Stick Michael Moore's fat ass in the hole.

Scuba Steve's picture


Like fat melting from a steak on the barbie ... LOL.

Manthong's picture



You people are disgusting.

The very thought of Michael Moore’s effluence of any sort should provoke mass nausea and maybe contribute to the Bush opium epidemic.  

JelloBeyonce's picture

And several billion fewer corksuckers on the planet.

Mr 9x19's picture

i don't see the point of drilling into a volcano,  yuan gold backed for oil to break petro dollar would trigger ww3 sooner than starting the drilling of the volcano...

SilverRhino's picture

yuan gold backed for oil to break petro dollar would trigger ww3 sooner

Actually that just kicked off yesterday ... 

Hans-Zandvliet's picture

Any serious comments arround here?

Looks like most treat this issue like entertainment!

Obviously tapping into the geothermal heat of Yellowstone's interior carries certain risks, but, on the other hand it could check a far greater risk of a super-volcano eruption, while benefiting from an enormous amount of energy.

I'm not a geologist, nor an environmentalist, nor a geothermal energy expert, so I'm not able to assess the geological risks, technical difficulties and environmental consequences. But I am a civil engineer and I do see (in theory) the possibilities to reduce risks while harvesting much needed alternative sources of energy.

In stead of treating the issue like a cheap source of entertainment (who can post the funniest comment?), it should be discussed seriously, like adults: weighing the advantages, disadvantages and risks.

Beowulf55's picture

I am an environmental scientist and geologist and I say STFU with you idiotic ideas that have no basis in reality.

Rabidcephalopod's picture

I'm a civil engineer too. Thermodynamics is the crux of the issue: A huge concentrated heat source. NASA's solution? Cool it off with water. Sounds plausible - until you consider the size of the "cooling" required. This is a huge joke, and the fact that NASA has nothing better to do than spend time thinking about it is telling...

MRob's picture

Hmm, not sure I agree with that. The article says that the magma leaks 6GW of heat, compare this with the largest georthermal plant in the world (in CA) that produces 1.5GW of electricity. Given that steam turbines hit about 40% efficiency, that means it is using about 3.75GW of heat. So we're in the range already, and as we'd be adding a fraction to the existing cooling there would be no need to try and hit 6GW (which wouldnt work anyway). The size of the magma pool is interesting, but I am guessing there are flows inside of it. If you start pulling out heat I would expect this to increase the convective flows in that region. No, from a thermal point of view it seems to makes sense, even if there are lots of uncertainties, the problem is purely a safety consideration - based on the fact that nobody has ever attempted this before. Myself, I think its a good idea that could do with more research/modelling/feasibility testing etc, with a major nod to designing fail safes like multiple tungstun plugs deep down in the drill shafts that can be slammed into place in emergency conditions.

(trained as a mechanical engineer fyi)

Kayman's picture

If geothermal plants, per se, caused volcanoes to increase the  risk of exploding, then we would have already seen it.  There are geothermal plants all over the world, including active volcano Iceland.

So dismissing the idea out of hand is just so much drivel.

BarkingCat's picture

I believe that civil engineers designed the original Tacoma Narrows bridge in Washington state.



Do we really want to try this with a super vulcano?

Debt-Is-Not-Money's picture

Mechanical engineers make weapons,

Civil engineers make TARGETS!

UndroppedClanger's picture

Leaving aside the issue of, 'Who appointed you Fun Rationer?', it should be discussed seriously, but not by laymen. Even experts in the field don't have enough information to adequately assess the ramifications of the proposal as there's no magic mirror into the goings on of the interior of a magma chamber so any debate by the commentariat of a finance website is, at best, futile, and at worst creates the risk of leading readers of the debate to erroneously believe they've acquired an informed opinion. I mean, seriously, I vaguely recall one past comment on another Yellowstone article suggesting pumping liquid nitrogen into the magma <headdesk>

malek's picture

Are you that fucking stupid?
That Yellowstone pressure cooker has been loaded up over ~600,000 years, especially with extremely compressed gases,

and now you believe any dumbfuck that proposes to do a "controlled" release WITHIN A FEW YEARS or even just drilling holes to "cool-down" core magma??

Lockesmith's picture

No drilling is going to set off the volcano. We are dealing with forces beyond human comprehension.

If, somehow, NASA managed to pull of the cooling they want, that could even exacerbate the situation long term, because the Earth's crust needs these volcanic eruptions and earthquakes to relieve tension. If it can't do that gradually, it will all go at once.

DownWithYogaPants's picture

Calling BS.  First best guess is drilling is of 0% risk.  

OverTheHedge's picture

Excellent news. We'd better put you in charge, stat. If you say it's not a problem, then obviously it's not a problem. The scientific method at work.

MozartIII's picture

Yes, Yes, Yes & Hell Fucking YES!!!!!!!!!!!!

GotGalt's picture

I dunno, Soros would probably enjoy it

booboo's picture

Last words heard over the NASA drill team network prior to the super eruption "Here hold my beer"

NoDecaf's picture

Paging Steve Mnuchin
Paging Steve Mnuchin

We need a magma check in yellowstone.

"Yep, it's all here"

Stroke's picture

"Paging Steve Mnuchin"......We need some pics of your hot wife

Creepy_Azz_Crackaah's picture

Super Storm Sandy was named super storm because it wasn't strong enough to be a hurricane or tropical storm.  Probably the same thing happening here but with volcanic activity.

Urban Roman's picture

We'll put the Arkema refrigeration engineers on the job. That's the ticket!

Sambo's picture

Ha ha... The best one I have heard since 1986. It was Need Another Seven Astronauts after the Challenger disaster.