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U of U Seismologists Reveal Massive Yellowstone Magma Chamber

A team of seismologists, including four from the University of Utah, revealed research this week that shows the">Yellowstone supervolcano is connected to a magma chamber that is more than 11 times the size of the Grand Canyon.

The 12 to 28-mile deep crustal magma reservoir has never been imaged before. It connects the well-known upper chamber to the Yellowstone hotspot plume below. Fan-Chi Lin is a study co-author and an assistant geology and geophysics professor at the U.

“So this discovery really tells us that there is also another magma reservoir in between which can now connect the mantle plume and also the magma chamber in the upper crust,” says Lin.

He says they used data from the National Science Foundation’s EarthArray of 2,000 seismometers across the country in combination with the 60 monitors in the park operated by the University of Utah. 

“And that provides us much more data coverage and that’s so why now can do these kinds of studies,” Lin says.

He says it’s typical with a discovery like this that it leads to more questions.

“So we would like to first try to look [at] different volcanic systems and see whether this kind of system is common or not,” says Lin, “Another thing we really want to do is study more details about this magma chamber.”

Lin says the new discovery is no indication of an increased threat of eruption and he highly recommends visiting the park.

Co-authors of study, published Thursday in the journal Science, include Hsin-Hua Huang, Jamie Farrell and U of U researcher and professor emeritus Robert Smith. Scientists from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of Technology were also part of the team.

Bob Nelson is a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in mass communications. He began his radio career at KUER in 1978 when it was still in Kingsbury Hall. That’s also where he met his wife, Maria Shilaos, in 1981. Bob left KUER for commercial radio where he worked for 25 years, and he is thrilled to be back at KUER. Bob and his family are part of an explorer group, fondly known as The Hordes and Masses, which has been seeking out ghost towns and little-known places in Utah for more than twenty years.
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