What’s Under the Yellowstone Volcano? Twice as much magma as thought

What’s Under the Yellowstone Volcano? Twice as much magma as thought

Yellowstone Caldera, sometimes called Yellowstone Supervolcano, is a volcanic caldera and supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park in the western United States. The caldera measures 43 by 28 miles (70 by 45 kilometers).

The researcher’s experience, energy and empathy leave a legacy.

The late MSU researcher Min Chen contributed to the new seismic tomography of magma deposits beneath the Yellowstone volcano.

When Ross Maguire was a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University (MSU), he wanted to study the volume and distribution of molten magma beneath the Yellowstone volcano. Maguire used a technique called seismic tomography, which uses ground vibrations known as seismic waves to create a 3D picture of what’s happening beneath the Earth’s surface. Using this method, Maguire was able to create an image of the magma chamber framework that shows where the magma was located. But these are not sharp images.

As a result of these new images, with key contributions from Chen, Maguire and his team were able to see that there is, in fact, twice that amount of magma within the Yellowstone magma system.

“I was looking for people with expertise in a particular type of seismic computed tomography called waveform tomography,” said Maguire, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). “Min Chen was truly a world expert in this.”

Min Chen was an assistant professor at MSU in the Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences. Using the power of supercomputing, Chen developed the method applied to Maguire’s images to more accurately model how seismic waves travel through the Earth. Chen’s creativity and skill brought these images into sharper focus, revealing more information about the amount of molten magma beneath the Yellowstone volcano.

“We didn’t see an increase in the amount of magma,” Maguire said. “We just saw a clearer picture of what was already there.”

Min Chen

Min Chen. Credit: MSU

Previous images showed that the Yellowstone volcano had a low concentration of magma, only 10%, surrounded by a solid crystalline framework. As a result of these new images, with key contributions from Chen, Maguire and his team were able to see that there is, in fact, twice that amount of magma within the Yellowstone magma system.

“To be clear, the new discovery does not indicate that a future eruption is likely,” Maguire said. “Any sign of change in the system would be captured by the network of geophysical instruments that continuously monitors Yellowstone.”

Unfortunately, Chen never got to see the final results. His unexpected death in 2021 continues to send shock waves throughout the earth science community, which mourns the loss of his passion and expertise.

“Computational seismology is still relatively new at MSU,” said Songqiao “Shawn” Wei, an endowed assistant professor of geological sciences in MSU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, who was Chen’s colleague. “Once the pandemic hit, Chen made his lectures and research discussions available on Zoom where researchers and students from around the world could participate. That’s how many seismologists from around the world got to know MSU.” .

Their meetings were a place attended by gifted undergraduates, postdoctoral candidates, or just anyone interested. Chen had prospective graduate students and experienced seismologists from around the world join his virtual calls.

Chen cared deeply about the well-being and careers of his students. He fostered an inclusive and multidisciplinary environment in which he encouraged his students and postdoctoral candidates to become well-rounded scientists and to build long-term collaborations. He even held virtual seminars on life outside of academia to help students nurture their careers and hobbies. Chen led by example: She was an avid soccer player and could dance the tango.

Diversity in science was another area Chen felt strongly about. She championed and championed research opportunities for women and underrepresented groups. To honor Chen, his colleagues created a commemorative coexistence on its behalf to provide support to graduate students to increase diversity in computational and earth sciences. In another tribute to his life and love of gardening, Chen’s classmates also planted a memorial tree in the Engineering Building plaza on the MSU campus.

Chen was truly a leader in her field and was awarded a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Faculty Award addressee in 2020 to perform detailed seismic imaging of North America to study Earth’s solid outer layer.

“He had a lot of energy,” Maguire said. “She was focused on making sure people could be successful while she was incredibly successful.”

Maguire’s research, which shows some of Chen’s legacy, is published in the journal science.


“Magma Accumulation Deep in the Former Rhyolite Storage Beneath the Yellowstone Caldera,” by Ross Maguire, Brandon Schmandt, Jiaqi Li, Chengxin Jiang, Guoliang Li, Justin Wilgus, and Min Chen, 1 Dec 2012, science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.ade0347

“What’s Beneath Yellowstone? There’s More Magma Than Previously Recognized, But It May Not Be Eruptible” by Kari M. Cooper, December 1, 2012 science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.ade8435

#Whats #Yellowstone #Volcano #magma #thought

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