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Politics & Policy

Good News: NASA Is Working on Super-Volcano Mitigation

Old School readers of the Corner will recall that one of my obsessions about a dozen years ago was the obvious need to develop volcano-lancing technology, ideally airborne-laser volcano-lancing technology. The Vulcan menace is real and it is underappreciated. Unfortunately, my first Airborne-Laser Volcano-Lancing posts have been lost to the mists of time. If any truly gifted Google-fu masters can find links, I’d be grateful to see them.

Anyway, my prescience is finally being vindicated. NASA has finally recognized that the massive super-volcano underneath Yellowstone is in dire need of lancing:

“When people first considered the idea of defending the Earth from an asteroid impact, they reacted in a similar way to the super volcano threat,” Wilcox said. “People thought, ‘As puny as we are, how can humans possibly prevent an asteroid from hitting the Earth’.”

NASA, however, has an idea.

NASA’s researchers have told the BBC they have explored what it would take to avert a super volcano catastrophe.

The answer: find a way to cool the magma down.

Supervolcanos only spill over when the molten rock is hot enough to become highly fluid.

In a slightly cooler state, it gets thicker. Stickier.

It’s not going anywhere fast.

To achieve this, the Jet Propulsion Labs team calculated a super volcano on the brink of eruption would have to be cooled some 35 per cent.

They propose to do this by pricking the supervolcano’s surface, to let off steam.

But this in itself poses risks.

Drill too deep, and the vent could cause an explosive depressurization that may set off the exact kind of eruption the scientists were trying to avoid.

Instead, the NASA scientists propose, a 10km deep hole into the hydrothermal water below and to the sides of the magma chamber. These fluids, which form Yellowstone’s famous heat pools and geysers, already drain some 60-70 per cent of the heat from the magma chamber below.

NASA proposes that, in an emergency, this enormous body of heated water can be injected with cooler water, extracting yet more heat.

This could prevent the super volcano’s magma from reaching the temperature at which it would erupt.

No word yet on the airborne lasers. Still this is progress.

Faster, please.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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