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Thread: Prevention of supervulcano eruptions by "decompressive craniectomy"

  1. #1 Prevention of supervulcano eruptions by "decompressive craniectomy" 
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    So I was wondering...Since Supervulcanoes like the one below the Yellowstone are bound to blow up someday and bound to cause an unimaginable cataclysm of mass extinction...has anyone thought or maybe even attempted to prevent that from happening? And if yes, what's the idea behind that?

    As you can tell from the title the best my brain could come up with was drilling a hole in the ground and try to release some of the pressure before it goes critical. However I bet someone with more knowledge about all of this has already dismissed that idea as a load of crap. So yeah...what are Geologists doing to prevent Doomsday?


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    There was a very similar question a short while back:

    Can we save the world from Yellowstone? (Balloon Theory)


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    First: Thanks for the redirect! I tried searching up the tags but came up empty. Don't know maybe I'm doing it wrong...However on a different note: When I came here I hoped this would be a safe haven from the usual non-stop internet type ranting and pointless arguing not having anything to do with the topic at hand. But that thread appeared to be sorta...y'know...discouraging in that regard. Is that a common thing I wonder.
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    Also since this is kinda like a "repost": should I delete this whole thing?
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    The problem (about the ranting) is that the majority of our members are human and that's the way they tend to behave. We have introduced a tighter policy of requiring more seemly conduct. I participate in several forums and have visited many more. I think this one is actually quite well disciplined, but we can and will improve.

    As to releasing pressure by drilling a hole into the magma chamber, this is really fraught with difficulty. I summarise some of the more obvious ones here. I can address details on each point if you have specific questions.

    1.We currently lack the technology to drill into a magma chamber because of the temperatures involved. We are not a short way from being able to develop such technologies, but a very long way.
    2. The sheer size of the magma chamber and the amount of magma that would have to be "bled" off would require the drilling of scores of boreholes.
    3. There is no extant technology with which we could control the outpouring of magma.
    4. That said, it is likely that the magma would solidify in its passage up the borehole, thus achieving nothing.

    What might work is the following:
    Explode a series of subterranean nuclear bombs to create large caverns.
    Connect these to the magma chamber by generating zone of weakness between the two by fracking.
    Buy a lottery ticket, since if the first two steps work, you are on a roll and will probably win the jackpot also.
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    That...was pretty much all I needed, thanks. "The problem about the ranting is that the majority of our members are human and that's the way they tend to behave" I sort of feel like an ass now
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    You are most welcome and you are right to mention the ranting. I am sure that many potential members are put off membership of this and other science forums because of the perceived belligerence and hostility in many threads. Sometimes passion and enthusiasm spill over into aggression and anger.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    You are most welcome and you are right to mention the ranting. I am sure that many potential members are put off membership of this and other science forums because of the perceived belligerence and hostility in many threads. Sometimes passion and enthusiasm spill over into aggression and anger.
    This exchange amused me. You are right of course about human nature. Specifically, from my 33 yr career in a large commercial organisation, I have come to the conclusion that what a lot of people cannot resist is a game of "Spot-the-Pillock".
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    The idea of venting the magma chamber in a controled way seems like the only option other than just letting it blow up. The actual technology is the problem. We want to avoid the "stick a pin in a balloon" effect. We need to start developing volcano taming technology. When we can routinely decompress reguar volcanos, then we can think realisticly about taming yellow stone.
    It would seem that the US government definately has a pony in this race. So do the govenments of all the states in the Yellowstone area.
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    Unfortunately, magic tricks are not real. Do you have any proposals for how such technology might be developed? If not, then your suggestion is of no value/significance. It is the equivalent of saying "there is a problem, but all we have to do is find a solution to it". Do you have any suggestions?
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    Unfortunately, magic tricks are not real. Do you have any proposals for how such technology might be developed? If not, then your suggestion is of no value/significance. It is the equivalent of saying "there is a problem, but all we have to do is find a solution to it". Do you have any suggestions?
    Since I'm not a volcanologist what I am suggesting was mostly "throw money at it". That is invest in building the knowledge base by funding volcanologic research. If pushed beyond that I would ask how volcanos like the big island of Hawaii manage their natural venting ie: continuos lava eruption as opposed to the explosive "Mt St Helens type eruption. As to a boring technique: cutting into a magma chamber with a solid metal drill bit does not sound possible, but how about drilling with either a lasar or a plasma torch? I would recommend against using any explosive technique that would generate shock wave to fracture rock.
    Indeed there is a point in saying "there is a problem, we need to find a solution" because that is the first step to finding a solution. The alternative is saying "we have no problem', or "There is nothing we can do".
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sealeaf View Post
    Since I'm not a volcanologist what I am suggesting was mostly "throw money at it". That is invest in building the knowledge base by funding volcanologic research.
    I almost became a vulcanologist, so I cannot object to that. But the problem is technical, not scientific.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sealeaf View Post
    If pushed beyond that I would ask how volcanos like the big island of Hawaii manage their natural venting ie: continuos lava eruption as opposed to the explosive "Mt St Helens type eruption.
    This aspect of eruptions is as thoroughly understood as just about anything in geology. It is a consequence of the composition of the magma. The more acidic magmas, with low temperature mineral assemblages tend to produce explosive eruptions. The higher temperature basic magmas are comparatively quiescent. Gas content plays an important role, but is generally subsidiary to that primary concept: acidic - bad; basic - good.

    As to a boring technique: cutting into a magma chamber with a solid metal drill bit does not sound possible, but how about drilling with either a lasar or a plasma torch?
    1. How are you intending to operate a laser at the temperatures present in the borehole in the vicinity of the magma chamber. The electronics will fry. We have problems with the comparatively mild temperatures in geothermal wells.
    2. How are you going to remove the product of the laser? A complex, expensive and well tested system is in place to deal with cuttings generated by conventional drilling. It evolved over the course of many decades.
    3. The global market for drill bits in the oil and gas industry is worth billions of dollars. No one has got anywhere near producing a viable commercial system. And even if you did you still have to deal with problem 2.

    On top of that, as I mentioned previously:

    2. The sheer size of the magma chamber and the amount of magma that would have to be "bled" off would require the drilling of scores of boreholes.
    3. There is no extant technology with which we could control the outpouring of magma.
    4. That said, it is likely that the magma would solidify in its passage up the borehole, thus achieving nothing.


    The alternative is saying "we have no problem', or "There is nothing we can do".
    There is nothing we can presently do. And whatever it is we might do, drilling holes, by any means, into the magma chamber will not be part of the solution.
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    If some of you like doing back of the envelope calculations then try this:

    Determine the total mass of the Yellowstone magma chambers.Determine their temperature.
    Calculate the total heat that would be required to be removed to solidify the greater part of the chamber.
    Calculate the total heat that could be removed by a practical number of geothermal wells operating in and around the caldera for, say 1,000 years.
    Compare the two values and decide whether or not the approach is plausible.

    (Extra credits for spotting a possible showstopper with the idea.)
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    In order to prevent a devastating explosion in the relatively near future something needs to be done. The alternative to doing something is doing nothing. That is what I expect to be done. It is the traditional political response.
    If we can't reduce the pressure in the magma chamber, the "decompressive" approach, can we reduce the temperature? Is there anyway to cool the magma in place? When I used to ccok with a pressure cooker, I remember putting the hot pressure cooker in the sink and running water on it so that I could open the cooker immediately and serve dinner. Could we possibly reduce the temperature of the rock around the magma chamber?
    I'm hesitant to suggest drilling any holes because disrupting the continuity of that rock does not sound like a good idea, but I don't have an alternative in mind.
    .
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sealeaf View Post
    In order to prevent a devastating explosion in the relatively near future something needs to be done. The alternative to doing something is doing nothing. That is what I expect to be done. It is the traditional political response.
    If we can't reduce the pressure in the magma chamber, the "decompressive" approach, can we reduce the temperature? Is there anyway to cool the magma in place? When I used to ccok with a pressure cooker, I remember putting the hot pressure cooker in the sink and running water on it so that I could open the cooker immediately and serve dinner. Could we possibly reduce the temperature of the rock around the magma chamber?
    I'm hesitant to suggest drilling any holes because disrupting the continuity of that rock does not sound like a good idea, but I don't have an alternative in mind.
    .
    This seems to be symptomatic of the "Somebody Do Something" mindset. You are ignoring John G's points about scale.

    Face it: the scale of the forces and quantities involved is far beyond humanity's capacity. The only Do Something response that is appropriate is a massive evacuation contingency plan.
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    If some of you like doing back of the envelope calculations then try this:

    Determine the total mass of the Yellowstone magma chambers.Determine their temperature.
    Calculate the total heat that would be required to be removed to solidify the greater part of the chamber.
    Calculate the total heat that could be removed by a practical number of geothermal wells operating in and around the caldera for, say 1,000 years.
    Compare the two values and decide whether or not the approach is plausible.

    (Extra credits for spotting a possible showstopper with the idea.)
    I'll take those extra credits only. Skimmed both URL of the Volcanic Threads. The two miss some really important points long read as a kid in the early 1970 National Geographic on Crater Lake. It is about Boyles & Charles Law of fluid dynamics pressure, AFAIK. What is believed (in best theory), a rupture happens. Then too much pressure is lost to maintain the pool supporting the overlying rock. Then the whole dozens of miles of overlying rock collapses, releasing huge amounts of dissolved and not so dissolved highly pressurized gas. Much of the dissolved gas soon undissolves from the molten froth, in the form of pumice or raw, superheated gas. This is very different than Mt. St. Helens, which is believed to have built up steam from lava hitting an aquifer, rising 5 feet a day or so for over a month.

    It is not so different than when, in New Zealand or a man made borehole in Utah, baking soda (or other material) is forced down a geyser, making it explode on cue for tourist's delights. This would make the situation far more tricky to play around with, especially using nukes as some posters desired. Pinpricks lack much effect, as Galt suggested.


    Oh, and the world record known so far is not Toba, but La Garita Caldera - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 5,000 times that of Mt. St. Helens, enough to fill Lake Michigan, albeit tens of millions of years ago in southern Colorado.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jjmckane View Post

    It is not so different than when, in New Zealand .... baking soda (or other material) is forced down a geyser, making it explode on cue for tourist's delights. .....
    Where did you get that idea from?
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    jjmcane - yes the dissolved gas was a major concern for me. We have inadequate data on how it might behave in any of the various prevention scenarios. We could precipitate an eruption in fifty years that would not have occurred naturally for another five thousand or more.

    I am not absolutely saying that we could not cool it. I don't know, That is why I provided a means to calculate if we could get to within an order of magnitude of the desired result. I'm just too lazy to seek out the numbers myself.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jjmckane View Post

    It is not so different than when, in New Zealand .... baking soda (or other material) is forced down a geyser, making it explode on cue for tourist's delights. .....
    Where did you get that idea from?

    "The spectacular Wairoa geyser spurted up to 50 metres high. Eruptions could be triggered by soap, which appears to have two effects: it reduces the surface tension of the water, and a reaction between soap and mineralised water creates nuclei for soap bubbles to form on. The geyser was sometimes artificially induced for important visitors." That is one and there are others. Heck, a Science Professor checking my invention notebooks several years ago set off rockets by merely uncorking a 2 liter plastic soda bottle with a water solution, baking soda I think. Some of his students' machines flew 250 feet or more. Like the force of ice on a granite boulder, this is the force of solutions, water or magma based.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Etsin View Post
    So I was wondering...Since Supervulcanoes like the one below the Yellowstone are bound to blow up someday and bound to cause an unimaginable cataclysm of mass extinction...has anyone thought or maybe even attempted to prevent that from happening? And if yes, what's the idea behind that?

    As you can tell from the title the best my brain could come up with was drilling a hole in the ground and try to release some of the pressure before it goes critical. However I bet someone with more knowledge about all of this has already dismissed that idea as a load of crap. So yeah...what are Geologists doing to prevent Doomsday?
    What you have failed to consider is space-time, which I will now break up into its two chief components space and time. Without checking the net to confirm, what I recall is that when the super-volcano erupts it will destroy pretty much all of the central one-third of the United States. Basically any place between the western border of Indiana and the eastern part of California will be utterly destroyed. The Canadians and Mexicans will not need to wait for news reports. They will know when it happens. I think you do not really understand how vast the United States is. However, your describing the eruption as 'an unimaginable cataclysm of mass extinction' is a fair summation. So much for the 'space' aspect.

    As for time, do you remember The Great Tsunami? I'm sure you do. it was in all the papers. No! Not that tsunami, the Great one! The one when people have forgotten everything else about us and our wild, whacky, wonderful time will still know about it. Yes, that Great Tsunami! Well, a few months after that, the mass media sported headlines that geologists predicted that there would be another equally massive earthquake. That was 'the grabber' as the journos call an alarmist headline. Reading further, one could learn that it was certainly true. Geologists are absolutely sure there will be another such quake and possibly a subsequent tsunami within... the next two hundred and fifty thousand years!

    So you are correct - the giant caldera volcano is bound to blow, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.
    And what does the Lord require of you but to love justice, to be merciful and to walk humbly with Him?
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    jjmcane - yes the dissolved gas was a major concern for me. We have inadequate data on how it might behave in any of the various prevention scenarios. We could precipitate an eruption in fifty years that would not have occurred naturally for another five thousand or more.

    I am not absolutely saying that we could not cool it. I don't know, That is why I provided a means to calculate if we could get to within an order of magnitude of the desired result. I'm just too lazy to seek out the numbers myself.
    With all due respect, number figures beyond the rough type are just educated guesses. With calderas, best of my knowledge, it is the weight of the overlying rock with the depressurization of the gas dissolved in the magma. Like a steam engine, the chamber contracts, but unlike a steam engine, the walls are flimsy, full of faults, and normally quickly rupture in many places, this releasing much remaining C02. The release is not unlike a chain reaction limnic eruption: Limnic eruption - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which involves Henry's Law.


    Calculations are at best subject to review. The favored source is instead those who have most extensive experience in deep rock drilling, that of oil/gas production. Essentially, one is exploring areas for millions of years untouched by living effect (other than microbe extremophiles which normally live down there or sometimes are accidentally introduced when the biocide drillers need to use in preventing complications with microbes gumming up the works). All rock is different, just as the poster above which says that all magma is different. My favorite is Oldoinyo Lengai, which has a very low temperature carbonate lava only a little hotter than roofing tar. Black, it turns white in a few days, glows in the dark but not in daytime.

    In short, to play around with this stuff we need direct experience in areas not populated or troublesome like Yellowstone. And since super volcanoes are by their nature very rare events, this becomes a problem, even more than supernova are rare compared to the smaller nova. Number crunching only give theories, and geologists get oilmen angry all the time by wrong projections (One Texas Tech Dean told me in 2009 of a friend of his that was ready to shoot with bullets a geologists that had the nerve to blurt out 'well, at least we know what is down there now' after losing ten million dollars in a dry hole!)

    It is simply impossible to accurately tell by surface rocks that layer out what is supposed to be deeper in the geologic basin. It is more so in volcanic terrain, as it is full of all sorts of erratic issues, like Mt. Shasta/Mt. St. Helens literally shoving city blocks of solid rock material to skim across lakes at 500 miles an hour as if a on a boogie board or a skipping stone. Mt. St. Helens in fact made one of the largest water waves known, some 700 feet tall iirc on Spirit Lake northside. The geologic pathway lava goes through normally does not go through the remnants of that, but equally diverse issues, making prediction next to impossible without no profit drilling, and poor even with the profitable drilling of geothermal, oil, gas, etc. Much more complicated than that of a horizontal layer cake geologic basin, and we have huge problems even with simple layering with pressure, gas, etc.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jjmckane View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    jjmcane - yes the dissolved gas was a major concern for me. We have inadequate data on how it might behave in any of the various prevention scenarios. We could precipitate an eruption in fifty years that would not have occurred naturally for another five thousand or more.

    I am not absolutely saying that we could not cool it. I don't know, That is why I provided a means to calculate if we could get to within an order of magnitude of the desired result. I'm just too lazy to seek out the numbers myself.
    With all due respect, number figures beyond the rough type are just educated guesses. With calderas, best of my knowledge, it is the weight of the overlying rock with the depressurization of the gas dissolved in the magma. Like a steam engine, the chamber contracts, but unlike a steam engine, the walls are flimsy, full of faults, and normally quickly rupture in many places, this releasing much remaining C02. The release is not unlike a chain reaction limnic eruption: Limnic eruption - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which involves Henry's Law.


    Calculations are at best subject to review. The favored source is instead those who have most extensive experience in deep rock drilling, that of oil/gas production. Essentially, one is exploring areas for millions of years untouched by living effect (other than microbe extremophiles which normally live down there or sometimes are accidentally introduced when the biocide drillers need to use in preventing complications with microbes gumming up the works). All rock is different, just as the poster above which says that all magma is different. My favorite is Oldoinyo Lengai, which has a very low temperature carbonate lava only a little hotter than roofing tar. Black, it turns white in a few days, glows in the dark but not in daytime.

    In short, to play around with this stuff we need direct experience in areas not populated or troublesome like Yellowstone. And since super volcanoes are by their nature very rare events, this becomes a problem, even more than supernova are rare compared to the smaller nova. Number crunching only give theories, and geologists get oilmen angry all the time by wrong projections (One Texas Tech Dean told me in 2009 of a friend of his that was ready to shoot with bullets a geologists that had the nerve to blurt out 'well, at least we know what is down there now' after losing ten million dollars in a dry hole!)

    It is simply impossible to accurately tell by surface rocks that layer out what is supposed to be deeper in the geologic basin. It is more so in volcanic terrain, as it is full of all sorts of erratic issues, like Mt. Shasta/Mt. St. Helens literally shoving city blocks of solid rock material to skim across lakes at 500 miles an hour as if a on a boogie board or a skipping stone. Mt. St. Helens in fact made one of the largest water waves known, some 700 feet tall iirc on Spirit Lake northside. The geologic pathway lava goes through normally does not go through the remnants of that, but equally diverse issues, making prediction next to impossible without no profit drilling, and poor even with the profitable drilling of geothermal, oil, gas, etc. Much more complicated than that of a horizontal layer cake geologic basin, and we have huge problems even with simple layering with pressure, gas, etc.
    Umm. Yours is a good answer too! What I was trying to say, but you have said with so much more technical accuracy, is that a super-volcano is elemental. We can no more hope to prevent or dissipate a super-volcanic event than we could prevent the super-nova of the sun.
    And what does the Lord require of you but to love justice, to be merciful and to walk humbly with Him?
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  24. #23  
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    Quote Originally Posted by 甘肃人 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by jjmckane View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt View Post
    jjmcane - yes the dissolved gas was a major concern for me. We have inadequate data on how it might behave in any of the various prevention scenarios. We could precipitate an eruption in fifty years that would not have occurred naturally for another five thousand or more.

    I am not absolutely saying that we could not cool it. I don't know, That is why I provided a means to calculate if we could get to within an order of magnitude of the desired result. I'm just too lazy to seek out the numbers myself.
    With all due respect, number figures beyond the rough type are just educated guesses. With calderas, best of my knowledge, it is the weight of the overlying rock with the depressurization of the gas dissolved in the magma. Like a steam engine, the chamber contracts, but unlike a steam engine, the walls are flimsy, full of faults, and normally quickly rupture in many places, this releasing much remaining C02. The release is not unlike a chain reaction limnic eruption: Limnic eruption - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which involves Henry's Law.


    Calculations are at best subject to review. The favored source is instead those who have most extensive experience in deep rock drilling, that of oil/gas production. Essentially, one is exploring areas for millions of years untouched by living effect (other than microbe extremophiles which normally live down there or sometimes are accidentally introduced when the biocide drillers need to use in preventing complications with microbes gumming up the works). All rock is different, just as the poster above which says that all magma is different. My favorite is Oldoinyo Lengai, which has a very low temperature carbonate lava only a little hotter than roofing tar. Black, it turns white in a few days, glows in the dark but not in daytime.

    In short, to play around with this stuff we need direct experience in areas not populated or troublesome like Yellowstone. And since super volcanoes are by their nature very rare events, this becomes a problem, even more than supernova are rare compared to the smaller nova. Number crunching only give theories, and geologists get oilmen angry all the time by wrong projections (One Texas Tech Dean told me in 2009 of a friend of his that was ready to shoot with bullets a geologists that had the nerve to blurt out 'well, at least we know what is down there now' after losing ten million dollars in a dry hole!)

    It is simply impossible to accurately tell by surface rocks that layer out what is supposed to be deeper in the geologic basin. It is more so in volcanic terrain, as it is full of all sorts of erratic issues, like Mt. Shasta/Mt. St. Helens literally shoving city blocks of solid rock material to skim across lakes at 500 miles an hour as if a on a boogie board or a skipping stone. Mt. St. Helens in fact made one of the largest water waves known, some 700 feet tall iirc on Spirit Lake northside. The geologic pathway lava goes through normally does not go through the remnants of that, but equally diverse issues, making prediction next to impossible without no profit drilling, and poor even with the profitable drilling of geothermal, oil, gas, etc. Much more complicated than that of a horizontal layer cake geologic basin, and we have huge problems even with simple layering with pressure, gas, etc.
    Umm. Yours is a good answer too! What I was trying to say, but you have said with so much more technical accuracy, is that a super-volcano is elemental. We can no more hope to prevent or dissipate a super-volcanic event than we could prevent the super-nova of the sun.
    Indeed. The Krakatoa eruption, which was not that of a supervolcano, ejected about 10 cubic miles of material. Can anyone physically imagine a cubic mile of magma, let alone 10 or 100.
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