January 18, 2020
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NARRATOR: Recently, scientists
have collected new data giving them a better
picture of Yellowstone’s underground plumbing. Right beneath the caldera,
from the last eruption, sits the magma chamber. And it’s fed by a plume of
magma stretching down 465 miles, northwest into Montana. It’s mostly solid rock, with
the potential to liquefy. And scientists are
closely monitoring it. Magma, or molten rock, is
rising through the plume into the magma chamber
at 2 inches a year. There’s no reason
for it to stop or it might come in spurts. Our images show wider
parts and narrower parts. So it’s like slugs
of material that are flowing in a sewer line. And this restless
Yellowstone Caldera is truly living, breathing. And every once in
a while, it burps. NARRATOR: The danger is that
the plume starts liquefying and moving up at a faster rate. Natural systems can throw
us a lot of curve balls. A lot of things can happen that
we’re not really ready for. NARRATOR: Scientist
Jake Lowenstern is looking for a
pattern connecting this supervolcano today and its
three prior major eruptions, 2.1 million years
ago, 1.3 million years ago, and 640,000 years ago. JAKE LOWENSTERN: In two of
the really large eruptions at Yellowstone so much
material comes out, entire mountain ranges end
up falling into the ground and essentially disappearing. NARRATOR: One 50-mile
stretch of mountains simply disappeared by collapsing
into the magma chamber. University of Toronto
geologist John Westgate has tracked the ash from
Yellowstone’s prior eruptions. JOHN WESTGATE: It covered
much of the United States. It occurs right out
of the Pacific Ocean. It’s even found in
the Gulf of Mexico. Up in northeast Montana is the
site that we’re working on. The total is over
7 meters thick. These eruptions are enormous. The amount of material
erupted from them, huge. NARRATOR: When Mt. St. Helens erupted
in May 1980, it blew up one side of the mountain
and triggered an avalanche of snow, mud, ash, and rock. Driven by the wind, the
ash landed in 11 states and up in into Canada. But that’s nothing
compared to the amount of ash from Yellowstone’s
last three major eruptions. In magnitude and volume, each
one was far greater than Mt. St. Helens. Today, there’s little
evidence of the supervolcano’s violent past. The 50 by 30 mile caldera
from the last eruption was covered by lava and ash
and smoothed over by glaciers. Forests now conceal the scars.

Tony wyaad