NASA is saving us all from Yellowstone supervolcano

Yellowstone National Park is best known for being one of the richest sites of natural beauty in the world. That beauty, it turns out, is only skin deep; what lurks underneath is a deadly magna chamber, otherwise known as a potential supervolcano. And NASA reckons it’s a potential source of demise for us all.

Right now, there are about 20 known supervolcanoes on the planet. And although their major eruptions only occur once every 100,000 years, the consequences could be devastating. In 2012, the UN estimated that the global food reserves would dwindle enormously, leaving enough food to last just 74 days. Given the choice between a slow, embattled, hungry death, or instant obliteration by lava, I know which I’d opt for…

NASA, in the meantime, has proffered a solution. To keep the magna chamber in check, it believes all that’s needed is to cool the supervolcano down. And while Yellowstone’s volcano leaks around 60-70% of the heat it emanates into the atmosphere, accounting for all those delightful geysers and hot springs it houses, the remainder builds up below the ground. This heat dissolves volatile gases and rocks, and when it reaches a certain level, explosion is inevitable.

NASA reckons the best way of dealing with this build-up of heat is to pump high-pressure water 10km down into the site of the magna chamber, in effect cooling the area down. It’s quite the undertaking, and with predicted costs of $3.46 billion (£2.7 billion), it doesn’t come cheap either. But, as ever with NASA, there’s a genius solution, and it’s this: water pumped down would circulate back round at a temperature of 350˚C (662˚F), which lays the foundations for a geothermal plant generating electric power at the price of $0.10/kWh – an extremely competitive price tag.

Oh, NASA. As if saving the planet from fiery extinction wasn’t enough, it had to go and lay the blueprints for a colossal renewable energy plant. Talk about a double-pronged attack.

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