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Researchers at Washington State University and the University of Idaho have found a new way to estimate how fast magma is recharging beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano.
Unfortunately, the findings will not help the volcanologists predict a Yellowstone eruption, which some believe is overdue.
But the outcome of the study will help better understand how pools of basalt magma recharge the volcano.
Peter Larson, Washington State University School of Environment, likened the recharging process to burning fuel underneath a pressurised boiler.
The Yellowstone expert said: “It is the coal in the furnace that is heating things up. It’s heating up the boiler.
“The boiler is what explodes. This tells us what is heating up the boiler.”
Dr Larson, alongside his colleagues, looked at a plume of basalt magma – a molten rock rich in iron and magnesium – heating up a silica-rich rhyolite rock.
The volcanic rhyolite is what typically blasts to the surface in the event of a volcano eruption.
Dr Larson said: “This gives us an idea of how much magma is recharging the volcano every year.”
The startling finding was published in the latest issue of the science journal Geosphere.
In the study, the researchers injected a number of hot springs across Yellowstone with deuterium, a hydrogen isotope, to calculate the amount of water and heat leaking from the springs.
The study claims the deuterium measurements were “larger in every case” than in previous field inspection estimates.
The researchers wrote: “The heat flow data, when paired with conductive heat loss estimates in the vicinity of the springs, suggest that current estimates of thermal discharge at Yellowstone may underestimate heat loss from the caldera and offer insights on the rate of magma supplied by the mantle.”
The researchers concluded previous studies underestimated the amount of water circulating through the springs as well as the amount of heat seeping from them.
The Yellowstone volcano study comes after the world-famous Steamboat Geyser in the heart of Yellowstone National Park spectacularly erupted for the eight time this year on Monday morning, local time.
The hot-water fountain has been unusually active since its first eruption on March 15 but authorities have assured locals the activity is all part of the natural, geological processes at Yellowstone.
Jeff Hungerford, chief Yellowstone geologist said: “Geysers are the surface expression of the volcano that lies beneath us here.
“The water works down through all of the flows that you see around us, and it’s super-heated and comes up and expresses itself as steam and hot water.”
Yellowstone volcano last erupted an estimated 640,000 years ago, spewing 2,000 more volcanic ash than Mount St Helens did in 1980.