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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Lava Land

Air Date: Week of

Yellowstone’s on the rise and molten lava’s on the move. Alex Gutierrez reports.


GUTIERREZ: In America's heartland lies one of the world's largest ‘super volcanoes.’ Its last eruption was 1000 times more powerful than that of Mt. St. Helens, and it’s capable of covering half the continent in volcanic ash. Now, this super volcano is rising up from the ground.

No, that's not the plot of a holiday blockbuster. It's the findings of University of Utah seismologists. Yellowstone National Park hosts one of the world's largest volcano fields. Its many geysers and hot springs suggest that the park lies above a ‘hot spot,’ an area of the earth's crust that has experienced volcanic activity for an incredibly long period of time – in this case about four million years.

Now scientists say that parts of the park floor are rising at record rates. Since 2004, the floor of the park has risen approximately three inches per year. Usually, the elevation changes no more than a fraction of an inch.

Researchers believe that this movement is due to a massive injection of molten rock six miles beneath the park's surface. They used a computer simulation to reveal that a slab of magma the size of Los Angeles has been putting pressure on the area and likely causing the uplift.

But this activity shouldn't be cause for alarm. The rate of land uplift has slowed, and there is no other evidence that Yellowstone will be erupting anytime soon. Instead of fretting about hot lava, tourists to the park can focus their attention on keeping their distance from the bears.

That's this week's note on emerging science. I'm Alexandra Gutierrez.



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