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New Research Sheds Light on Yellowstone Caldera Mechanics

New research on fossilized ash left over from Yellowstone’s last caldera eruption has changed the timeline for possible activity going ahead.

It’s the latest revelation that’s come out of studying the caldera in recent years, including insights into Yellowstone’s eruption history and the magma plume that feeds Yellowstone’s thermal activity.

According to National Geographic, researchers Hannah Shamloo and Christy Till from Arizona State University spent several weeks studying samples from the Lava Creek Tuff (seen above), which was formed by the last eruption.

Analyzing the tuff’s mineral composition, researchers determined that “the critical changes in temperature and composition” related to a caldera eruption occurred in a matter of decades. Previously, researchers believed it would take centuries for these changes to take place.

Despite these revelations, the Yellowstone caldera is no nearer to erupting than before. The only change apparent with this research is our understanding of pre-eruption dynamics. From National Geographic:

“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” study co-author Hannah Shamloo told the New York Times.

Still, Yellowstone is one of the best monitored volcanoes in the world, notes Michael Poland, the current Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory for the U.S. Geological Survey. A variety of sensors and satellites are always looking for changes, and right now, the supervolcano does not seem to pose a threat.

“We see interesting things all the time … but we haven’t seen anything that would lead us to believe that the sort of magmatic event described by the researchers is happening,” says Poland via email, adding that the research overall is “somewhat preliminary, but quite tantalizing.”

Shamloo and Till previously presented their research at a 2016 meeting held by the American Geophysical Union. Shamloo presented updated findings at an August 2017 volcanology meeting in Oregon.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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