A Super Volcano That Could Erupt Any Day, Anytime
Yellowstone National Park is one of the must-see locations in the U.S., but underneath it is one of about 20 Super Volcanoes around the world that could erupt at any time. A super volcano is one that ejects more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of pumice and ash in a single eruption. The result of a super-eruption would be soot in the atmosphere blocking sunlight and cooling the planet for years, changing the global climate enough to kill a significant number of species, possibly including us. This is scarier than a comet or asteroid impact because we can’t send Bruce Willis to blow it up. It is right in our backyard. So, naturally, NASA has come up with a way to delay that devastating event and generate clean energy in the process.
Seismologists believe that the super volcano under Yellowstone erupts once every 600,000 or so years. The odds we will see it are low, but we are coming up on that thermal breaking point where it will blow eventually. NASA’s plan is to cool the magma chambers inside the super volcano so it doesn’t blow. Most of the Yellowstone’s heat – between 60 and 70 per cent- is lost through leaking, via hot springs. Experts say that cutting 35-per cent of the remaining heat could stop this super volcano from erupting. Volcanic heat is already used by people in Iceland to heat and power their homes.
NASA’s plan is to drill as far as 10-kilometres down inside the Yellowstone Caldera and pump in high-pressure water to absorb the heat. Coming out of the volcano, that scorching water would be used to power a geothermal energy plant. There are a couple of ways to do it….In Flash Steam Power Plant, the super hot water could be brought to a cooling tank, and as it cools, it would turn into water vapour, a process called Flash Vaporization. That vapour could then drive a turbine which powers the generator, providing energy. Another option is a Binary Cycle Power Plant that uses something called a heat transfer fluid. The fluid turns into vapour as the superheated water passes through a heat transfer tank. But, again, it is the vapour that runs the turbine to power the generator. In either case, there are lots of benefits to geothermal power, which could provide energy to the surrounding area for as much as for 10,000 years! It is clean, available around the clock, has low emissions, and a small footprint, and because of that, a minimal environmental impact.
The problem with this crazy planet-saving, energy-yielding NASA plan is that – it is not perfect. A misplaced drill could trigger a super-eruption, and the 3.46 billion dollar price tag is pretty much a non-starter. But the eruption will happen in its due course, even, if we don’t do something. It is inevitable. And though $3.46 billion sounds like a lot- the U.S. government spends that about every eight hours. And this might be worth saving the planet, and if nothing else when NASA releases the details, this could researchers thinking about other solutions to do this bubbling time bomb.
Yellowstone National Park is amazing and if you visit, you might want to make a website of pictures to share.