Can we drill into Yellowstone to stop it from erupting?

In some cases, limited scientific drilling for research can help us understand magmatic and hydrothermal (hot water) systems; however, drilling to mitigate a volcanic threat is a much different subject with unknown consequences, high costs, and severe environmental impacts. In addition to the enormous expense and technological difficulties in drilling through hot, mushy rock, drilling is unlikely to have much effect on whatever magma is stored beneath Yellowstone. At near-magmatic temperatures and pressures, any hole would rapidly become sealed by minerals crystallizing from the natural fluids that are present at those depths.

Additionally, Yellowstone National Park is protected from geothermal resource development. World-famous features like Old Faithful Geyser and Grand Prismatic Spring depend on heat provided by the magma chamber deep below Yellowstone's surface. Any allowed geothermal extraction would lower the pressure on the existing geysers and hot springs, altering their behavior and, in many cases, causing them to disappear.

Concerns about volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone typically involve a cataclysmic, caldera-forming event, but it’s unknown whether any such eruption will ever occur there again. Current seismic imaging of the magma reservoir reveals a system that is too crystalline to erupt on a grand scale.

Even if there were significant “eruptable” magma beneath Yellowstone, drilling into it in an attempt to release pressure would have a devastating effect. Scientific research has proven again and again that depressurization is one of the factors that drives magma toward the surface to erupt. So attempts at cooling and depressurizing magma systems would have many unintended, negative consequences, including making an eruption more likely.

A program of large-scale magma quenching will not be undertaken at Yellowstone or elsewhere in the foreseeable future. 

Learn more: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

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When was the last time Yellowstone erupted?

The most recent volcanic activity at Yellowstone consisted of rhyolitic lava flows that erupted approximately 70,000 years ago. The largest of these flows formed the Pitchstone Plateau in southwestern Yellowstone National Park. Learn more: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

How big is the magma chamber under Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is underlain by two magma bodies . The shallower one is composed of rhyolite (a high-silica rock type) and stretches from 5 km to about 17 km (3 to 10 mi) beneath the surface and is about 90 km (55 mi) long and about 40 km (25 mi) wide. The chamber is mostly solid, with only about 5-15% melt. The deeper reservoir is composed of basalt...

How much volcanic activity has there been at Yellowstone since the most recent giant eruption?

Since the most recent giant ( caldera-forming ) eruption 631,000 years ago, approximately 80 relatively nonexplosive eruptions have occurred. Of these eruptions, at least 27 were rhyolite lava flows in the caldera, 13 were rhyolite lava flows outside the caldera, and 40 were basalt vents outside the caldera. The most recent volcanic eruption at...

How do scientists know what’s going on beneath the ground at Yellowstone? Is Yellowstone monitored for volcanic activity?

Yellowstone Volcano is monitored for signs of volcanic activity. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), is a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, the University of Utah, the University of Wyoming, UNAVCO, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the Idaho Geological Survey, and the Wyoming State...

Is Yellowstone overdue for an eruption? When will Yellowstone erupt?

Yellowstone is not overdue for an eruption . Volcanoes do not work in predictable ways and their eruptions do not follow predictable schedules. Even so, the math doesn’t work out for the volcano to be “overdue” for an eruption. In terms of large explosions, Yellowstone has experienced three at 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. This comes out...

Can we use the heat from Yellowstone for energy?

Geothermal energy (heat energy from the Earth's interior), is used to generate electricity in a variety of places throughout the world. Although Yellowstone and its surroundings are a significant geothermal resource, the Park itself is off limits to development. Geothermal developments often cause a decrease in the flow of nearby hot springs and...

Could a large Yellowstone eruption significantly change the climate?

If another catastrophic, caldera-forming Yellowstone eruption were to occur, it would probably alter global weather patterns and have enormous impacts on human activity (especially agricultural production) for many years. At this time, however, scientists do not have the ability to predict specific consequences or durations of possible global...

What is the relationship between volcanism and the geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone?

Heat and volcanic gases from slowly cooling magma rise and warm the dense salty water that occupies fractured rocks above the Yellowstone magma chamber. That brine, in turn, transfers its heat to overlying fresh groundwater, which is recharged by rainfall and snowmelt from the surface. Water boiling at depth below the surface is hotter than the...
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Date published: May 6, 2019

The National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS) will help USGS better monitor nation’s most dangerous volcanoes

In September 2004, USGS scientists detected sudden, but unmistakable, signs that Mount St. Helens was waking up. Volcano monitors had picked up the occurrence of hundreds of small earthquakes and other signals that the volcano’s crater floor had begun to rise. Within a week, several eruptions blasted clouds of ash into the atmosphere, and soon after, a new lava dome emerged in the crater.

Date published: December 19, 2018

Which U.S. volcanoes pose a threat?

USGS Volcanic Threat Assessment updates the 2005 rankings.

Filter Total Items: 12
boiling water and white steam blasting up out of erupting geyser with snow on the ground
December 31, 2017

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser erupts on a clear winter day in Yellowstone National Park

May 26, 2016

Forecasting Ashfall Impacts from a Yellowstone Supereruption

  • Yellowstone is one of a few dozen volcanoes on earth capable of "supereruptions" that expel more than 1,000 cubic km of ash and debris.
  • The plumes from such eruptions can rise 30 to 50 km into the atmosphere, three to five times as high as most jets fly.
  • Yellowstone has produced three supereruptions in the past 2.1 million years. The most recent was
...
Attribution: Yellowstone
column of white water and steam shooting up out of the ground. blue skies.
July 31, 2015

Great Fountain Geyser, Yellowstone

Great Fountain Geyser erupting in Yellowstone National Park on a clear day.

steam rising from a geyser on a quiet river bank
January 31, 2015

Riverside Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

Riverside Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

erupting geyser with rainbow in midground. tall trees in background
November 30, 2014

Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

eruption of Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

January 22, 2014

The Yellowstone Volcano: Past, Present and Future

Public Lecture on Yellowstone Volcano by Jake Lowenstern at Menlo Park, CA on January 23, 2014. The Q&A at the end of the talk can be found on the original source video (Source URL).

video thumbnail: Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic features at Yellowstone: "How do we know Yellowstone is a
volcano?", "What is a Supervolcano?", "What is a Caldera?","Why are there geysers at Yellowstone?",
and "What are the other geologic hazards in Yellowstone?"

View

...
Attribution: Yellowstone
video thumbnail: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to provide a tour of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory: "What is YVO?", "How
do you monitor volcanic activity at Yellowstone?", "How are satellites used to study deformation?", "Do
you monitor geysers or any other aspect of the Park?", "Are

...
Attribution: Yellowstone
video thumbnail: Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone: When was the last supereruption at
Yellowstone?", "Have any eruptions occurred since the last supereruption?", "Is Yellowstone overdue for
an eruption?", "What does the magma below indicate about a

...
Attribution: Yellowstone
Scenery: Valley surrounded by forested mountains. Multiple wisps of steam rise from the valley floor at various locations.
June 30, 2006

Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Aerial view of Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Image: Ear Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Ear Spring, Yellowstone National Park

USGS scientist Dr. David P. Krabbenhoft sampling Ear Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, for dissolved mercury species. Old Faithful is erupting in the background.