A geologist at the University of Illinois has suggested the source of Yellowstone’s volcanic activity could be found off the west coast of the United States.
Dr Lijun Lium, an associate professor at the department of Geology, used supercomputer 3D modelling to establish new models of plate tectonic movements which may have given rise to Yellowstone.
The presented hypothesis radically changes the way scientists explain Yellowstone’s fuelling and formation processes.
Julie Angel, associate professor of Earth science at Parkland Staerkel Planetarium, said: “Instead of the well accepted hypothesis of this material coming from deep in the mantle, he’s proposing that it’s the subduction of the ocean plate; the Nazca Plate, off the west coast of North America beneath the North American Plate, that’s causing the material to be shoved up closer to the surface
“He’s proposing that that’s the heat source and that’s the source of this molten material for the Yellowstone Volcano, not from deep in the Earth; the mantle.
“That was the big takeaway.”
Professor Angel said there is good potential in the Yellowstone hypothesis.
The commonly accepted theory is the Yellowstone camera formed several millions of years ago in what is today the modern US.
A gigantic eruption of magma toward’s the Earth’s surface some 630,000 years ago pushed the planet’s crust upwards into the shape we see today.
He’s proposing that that’s the source of this molten material for the Yellowstone Volcano
Bob Smith, seismologist at the University of Utah, explained: “This crustal magma body is a little dimple that creates the uplift.
“It’s like putting your finger under a rubber membrane and pushing it up and the sides expand.”
The resulting caldera, or volcanic depression, measures roughly 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km).
Yellowstone volcano: A new theory suggests tectonic plates formed the supervolcano
Yellowstone volcano: The supervolcano last erupted around 630,000
But Dr Lium’s new research has challenged this version of events and Professor Angel thinks there is potential in it.
The expert said: “With more research, with more people taking a look at this process, with more data being collected via this three-dimensional technology, I believe that it could be a competing hypothesis for Yellowstone.”
The news comes after a team of scientists at the University of Oregon have found evidence suggesting the presence of new body of magma underneath the Yellowstone supervolcano.
Yellowstone volcano: The caldera is between 35 and 45 miles wide
The research used powerful computer modelling to prove a mid-crustal layer of hardened molten tock separates two magma chambers.
Ilya Bindeman, a professor at Department of Earth Sciences who co-authored the research, said: “The results of the modelling matches observations done by sending seismic waves through the area.
“This work appears to validate initial assumptions and gives us more information about Yellowstone’s magma locations.”