Scientists Find More Magma Under Yellowstone

The newly discovered chamber beneath Yellowstone is 4.5 times larger than the reservoir scientists previously knew about.     Photo: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

Scientists Find More Magma Under Yellowstone

No greater risk of eruption

Researchers from the University of Utah and the California Institute of Technology published the results of their study to map Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Geyser in the journal Science on Thursday. They found a previously unknown magma chamber, which the Guardian reports holds enough molten rock to fill the Grand Canyon 11 times.

The team used seismic tomography, a sort of ultrasound technique, over five days in early April to map the ground underneath Yellowstone. According to the Guardian, scientists already knew of a large magma chamber. But this new one, holding 11,500 cubic miles of solid, spongelike, and molten rock, is 4.5 times bigger and sits 12 to 28 miles under the surface.

“The existence of the second magma chamber does not make it any more or less likely that a large volcanic eruption at Yellowstone will occur,” Jamie Farrell, a seismologist at the University of Utah, told the Guardian. “These findings do not change the current volcanic hazard at Yellowstone.” The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago, according to Science.

But this new discovery does mean that if Yellowstone’s hot spot were to blow its top, it would be a lot worse than previously thought. “Knowing that you have this additional reservoir tells you [that] you could have a much bigger volume erupt over a relatively short time scale,” Victor Tsai, co-author and geophysicist at CalTech, told Science.

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First Algae-Based Surfboard Unveiled

Workers at Avila Surfboards in Oceanside, California, prepare the world’s first algae surfboard blank for the application of a fiberglass shell.     Photo: Erik Jepsen/ UC San Diego Publications

First Algae-Based Surfboard Unveiled

Built by UC San Diego and surfing company

Stephen Mayfield, an algae geneticist and biology professor at UC San Diego, teamed up with professional surfer Rob Machado and Marty Gilchrist of Oceanside, California–based Arctic Foam, the largest surfboard blank manufacturer in North America, to produce a surfboard made largely of algae, Phys.org reported Friday. It was presented Tuesday to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at the premiere of National Geographic’s documentary World’s Smart Cities: San Diego.

“Our hope is that Mayor Faulconer will put this surfboard in his office so everyone can see how San Diego is a hub not only for innovation but also for collaboration at many different levels,” Mayfield told Phys.org. “An algae-based surfboard perfectly fits with the community and our connection with the ocean and surfing.”

The project began months ago at UC San Diego when students endeavored to produce biofuels from algae. Their idea was to use algae oil to create the precursor to a polyurethane board, which is usually made exclusively from petroleum. Petroleum is algae oil that has been fossilized over hundreds of millions of years and buried in the ground. The researchers chemically changed algae oil obtained from a renewable biotech company to expand into a foamlike substance that hardens to form a surfboard.

After UC San Diego performed the chemistry, Arctic Foam shaped the board and glassed it with fiberglass and renewable resin. Mayfield suggested that in the future, manufacturers could add a natural algae green color to show that the board is sustainable.

“As surfers, more than any other sport, you are totally connected and immersed in the ocean environment,” Mayfield told Phys.org. “And yet your connection to that environment is through a piece of plastic made from fossil fuels. This shows that we can still enjoy the ocean, but do so in an environmentally sustainable way.”

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Lake Mead Hits Record Low

Lake Mead's water has not been this low in 78 years.     Photo: Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

Lake Mead Hits Record Low

Drought imperils crucial Southwestern water source

The water level at Lake Mead is forecast to dip to 1,080.19 feet above sea level this coming Sunday and continue downward another seven feet by the end of June, according to a Thursday report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal

This is the lowest the lake has been since May 1937, when the reservoir was filling for the first time behind the newly built Hoover Dam. It augurs a difficult future for the Southwest, currently suffering a regionwide 15-year streak of low rainfall along the Colorado River.

“What’s going on is we can’t buy a storm in any way, shape, or form,” said Randy Julander, who supervises the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s snow survey program in Nevada, Utah, and California, in the Review-Journal. “There just isn’t any snowpack to melt. The scientific term is ‘diddly squat.’”

The main source of water for southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley, Lake Mead has been fitted with two intake pipes, plus a third deep-water intake that will be installed this summer. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is at work designing a pumping station that will keep the water flowing if and when Lake Mead drops by another 185 feet, at which point the Hoover Dam can no longer release water.

As Outside wrote last June, river experts generally perceive a 1,000-foot water mark on Lake Mead as a nightmare scenario that could be felt far beyond Las Vegas. Farmers, who receive federal power subsidies and rely on the Hoover Dam for electricity, would have to buy it on the market at five times the price, and banks following the real estate market in places as far away as Phoenix could back off from their investments.

“The last time they concluded that, it tanked the world economy,” Peter Culp, a Phoenix attorney who closely follows Colorado River policy, told Outside, saying he suspected emergency measures would kick in before then. “There’s no way you can let Mead hit 1,000. It would be so horribly stupid.”

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