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 (a low-silica rock type) and extends from 20 to 50 km (12 to 30 mi) beneath the surface. Even though the deeper chamber is about 4.5 times larger than the shallow chamber, it contains only about 2% melt.
The method that scientists use to discern this information is similar to medical CT scans that bounce X-rays through the human body to make three-dimensional pictures of internal tissue. In an analogous manner, a method called seismic tomography uses hundreds to thousands of earthquakes recorded by dozens of stations to measure the speed of seismic waves through the Earth--data that allow geophysicists to make three-dimensional pictures of structures beneath the surface. Scientists compare these seismic velocities and infer the composition by comparing them with average, thermally undisturbed values.