NASA has a $ 3.46 billion plan to cool Yellowstone and collect energy

Located beneath the scenic hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park, there is a giant magma chamber that could one day erupt like a supervolcano. According to NASA, the supervolcano is one of the greatest natural threats to human civilization and is significantly more dangerous than the threat of asteroids.

That’s why NASA has developed an ambitious plan to ensure that the volcano remains dormant and 2017 BBC report explained. As a bonus, NASA’s method will also provide electricity to the surrounding region, although the project will cost a staggering $ 3.46 billion.

Drilling holes on the side of a volcano

Both a the impact of the asteroid that completed civilization and the eruption of the camera, called the Yellowstone Caldera, is very unlikely to happen in our lifetime. The odds are 5-10 a kilometer wide asteroid – like the one that destroyed the dinosaurs – hitting Earth is almost negligible at 0.000001%, while Yellowstone it is not expected to explode at any time for the next 10,000 years.

And yet in 2017, Brian Wilcox, who was a A member of NASA’s Planetary Defense Advisory Board, which is conducting a study on the threat from asteroids and comets, said he “came to the conclusion during that study that the threat from the supervolcano was significantly greater than the threat from the asteroid or comet.” . There are approximately 20 supervolcanoes on Earth, and large eruptions occur on average once every 100,000 years. The long volcanic winter of a supervolcano eruption could prevent humanity from having enough food for the world’s population, leading to widespread starvation.

In his interview for BBC, Wilcox explained NASA’s plans to prevent this from happening. The US space agency itself acknowledges that the plan is not without risk, although it could help mitigate a potentially deadly threat to humanity. The plan envisions holes drilled in the lower sides of the volcano, outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.

The project organizers will then pump cold high-pressure water into and from the supervolcano. The incoming water will cool the volcano, while the outgoing water will reach temperatures of about 350°C (662°F) and can be used to generate electricity.

Supervolcanoes can feed surrounding areas for “tens of thousands of years”

“Yellowstone is currently emitting about 6GW of heat,” Wilcox told BBC in 2017. “By drilling in this way, it can be used to create a geothermal plant that generates electricity at extremely competitive prices of about $ 0.10 / kWh.” According to Wilcox, at this stage the plan is only theoretical and no data are available. for the risks of drilling off the side of a volcano.

However, Wilcox believes the $ 3.46 billion experiment could be funded by geothermal companies, which will see a return on investment and which will “receive electricity that can power the area for potentially tens of thousands of years.” “On top of that, the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption that would devastate humanity,” Wilcox said.

As well as seeking to find a method to mitigate the threat from supervolcanoes such as Yellowstone, NASA also hopes that the outlined approach will encourage others in the scientific community to engage with the problem. Ironically, these massive potentially destructive magmatic chambers have the potential to provide energy and mitigate the effects. of climate change, the most urgent existential threat to humanity.

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