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ASU geologists discover clues to past eruption at Yellowstone

This undated photo provided by Robert B. Smith shows the Grand Prismatic hot spring in Yellowstone National Park's that is among the park's myriad hydrothermal features created by the fact that Yellowstone is a supervolcano, the largest type of volcano on Earth. Scientists have discovered a new, deeper reservoir of partly molten rock beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano. But they said the find doesn’t change the chances of a volcanic eruption. (Robert B. Smith via AP)

PHOENIX — Sometimes to learn about the future you must look to the past, an adage that has been taken to heart by Arizona State University scientists researching the volcanic history of Yellowstone National Park.

The team at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration made a noticeable discovery about a supervolcano that lies underneath the famed park that turned heads online last week. It was originally thought the last eruption of the volcano 650,000 years ago was the result of a millennia of magma build-up.

Instead, the ASU researchers found that it likely took just decades.

“What we found was there was a reheating event,” Christy Till, the woman heading the project, explained.

“New magma came into the shallow sub-surface below the volcano and our preliminary results suggest that happened only decades before the eruption.”

Till said that reheating event eventually led to the eruption.

“The magma went from being relatively cool to sitting there, mostly crystal, with just a little of coagulated magma, but something heated it up to more molten magma and therefore ready to erupt,” she said.

To make the discovery, Till said her team studied crystals formed prior to the eruption.

“Crystals have these zones in them — tree rings — that allow us to reconstruct the conditions in the magma chamber prior to the eruption,” she said.

Till was quick to quell online speculation that the study showed the Yellowstone supervolcano could again ready itself for another massive eruption much quicker than originally thought, possibly sometime in the relatively near future.

She said her team was just looking into the most recent eruption and said the volcano was much more likely to experience a series of smaller flows rather than one big boom.

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