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NASA wants to save humanity from death by supervolcano

Published Oct 8th, 2018 4:20PM EDT

We live with the knowledge that any number of end-of-the-world scenarios could be right around the corner. From drug-resistant disease outbreaks to impacts from large asteroids, there’s plenty of ways that humanity could ultimately meet its doom, but one of the least-talked-about is the very real possibility of a supervolcano springing to life and throwing Earth’s ecosystems into total disarray.

One such supervolcano lurks right beneath our noses. It’s situated beneath Yellowstone National Park, and the massive amount of superheated liquid rock that boils far under our feet is what powers Old Faithful and the other geothermal activity in the area. One day, that activity could shift from a tourist attraction to a catastrophe, and NASA is working hard to figure out how to avoid disaster.

As BBC reports, NASA has been toiling away at various potential countermeasures to the eruption of a supervolcano. One such option is to actually chill the volcano out far in advance of it causing trouble, but that’s easier said than done. According to NASA researchers, the threat of a Yellowstone supervolcano could be mitigated if roughly 35% of its heat could be efficiently transferred.

Actually pulling such a thing off is obviously very difficult, but the scientists have proposed that pumping water into the volcano could solve the problem. NASA’s proposal includes the construction of a geothermal plant that would pump water into a hole drilled several miles into the lurking volcano. That water would come back at an extremely high temperature and it could be harnessed to generate electricity, helping to offset the estimated $3.46 billion investment.

Convincing politicians to devote that kind of money to a project is nearly impossible, but dangling the carrot of geothermal energy that could eventually be sold at a profit might be enough to sway opinions. Oh, and the whole “saving humanity from utter destruction” thing is obviously icing on the cake.

None of this is by any means a done deal, but with past research suggesting that Yellowstone’s supervolcano could spring to life more rapidly than previously thought, it might not be a bad idea to start thinking of the solution now rather than later.