That said, it's obvious that this plan is just the start of serious investigation into how we can engineer mitigations to an eruption at Yellowstone. I would be interested in seeing a model of the impact that surface-level cooling would have on the pressures deeper in the system. If we prevent an eruption now, are we making it worse in the future?
Other solutions I can envision might be to deliberately trigger smaller eruptions over longer timescales at the boundaries of the caldera. We could also look at large-scale mitigations for volcanic particulates in the atmosphere, including solutions that may require several hundred or thousand years of advanced preparation for success. If we could control the impact of a significant yellowstone eruption to a single hemisphere, or limit the duration to a single summer, most ecosystems would be able to recover quickly.
But the plan of drilling into the bottom of the magma chamber from the sides sounds like it might be safe enough. The pressure is much higher there, which ironically is safer because it keeps dissolved gases from coming out of solution, which is what starts the eruption process. That, at least, is my non-expert understanding.
http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175627/tomgram%3A_david_vine... might be an article on it.
Just like the Hawaiian spot has left a chain of islands and sea mounts in its wake, the Yellowstone hotspot is -- slowly -- on the move.
IIRC, there was another spot that moved through the southern U.S. and broke the then extant mountain chain that curved westward from the current Appalachian chain. The famous open-air "you pick it" diamond mine in Arkansas might be attributable to it.
On a separate note, its National Aeronautic and Space Administration. Not just "Space". The next time some political bozo complains about the Earth "not being its mission. As well, studying the Earth provides NASA and others insight into what they encounter and will encounter on other planets -- out there in space. Meaning not just direct visitations, but also interpreting collected signals (telescopes et al.)
Anyway, in addition to that, I'm glad SOMEBODY is studying the Earth. We didn't develop our modern society by turning away from the facts and experience in front of our eyes.
There's a good display of this at one of the visitors centers within the park.
The reactors at Chernobyl were 3.2GW thermal designs and they had four of them. I guess I would have thought a super volcano that can cause human mass extinction would be... more powerful?
> When all is said and done, a massive eruption at Yellowstone, or any other caldera for that matter, isn’t a question we should answer by trying to stop it. Instead, we need to build resilience into our society to survive after such an event.
Why? This doesn't make much sense to me. Seems much better to prevent a giant catastrophe from happening in the first place than trying to pick up the pieces when it's done (an ounce of prevention and all that).
Furthermore, his arguments get totally hand-wavy when it comes to whether a power plant could remove heat fast enough to prevent an eruption. At the end of the day, all you need is a higher wattage out than in, and I see no reason that would be impossible.
A mark of a resilient society could be the ability and will to (1) predict the development of events and sense probable future catastrophes long in advance, and to (2) invest into preventive measures that would show effectiveness many lifetimes later.
Concrete actions might range from cooling down volcanoes like per TFA, to colonizing other worlds, to systematic construction and maintenance of contingency infrastructure, to deliberate collective mindset shifts.
Perhaps what we both can agree on is that it’s this long-term consciousness that we (as humanity) may be lacking.
It's just a different objective, although they overlap.
I'd guess there'd be a lot of sudden interest in energy-efficient LED grow lights and there'd be an over-supply of beef in the short term because there's no food for the cattle, so we might as well eat them.
Long term, it's all about being able to have enough indoor hydroponic/aeroponic space to grow enough food for ~7.5 billion people, which sounds really difficult and impractical.
I find it interesting that one possible benefit of Elon Musk's Mars plan is that the same space/energy/resource efficient food production technology that will be needed on Mars is the same technology we would need on Earth in order to ride out certain catastrophes. By creating an interplanetary "insurance policy" to ensure human survival, we may improve our ability to survive on Earth.
I can't find the research I read a few years ago but from what I understand growing indoors is crazy practical. Plants need less sun light, essentially zero pesticides, can grow much faster and if you build your structures vertically you'll be able to farm the same amount of food on orders of magnitude less space.
I don't know if we're at the point where it can be practical today, especially with so much subsidy in farming, but I'm very optimistic about it moving to automated systems within buildings that wouldn't even need the sun.
Ideally, we need a couple of years food in storage together with detailed plans for how to grow food indoors (if needed).
It's just not realistic. Sure we can significantly enlarge our buffer but two or more years? I can't see that happening in any practical sense.
Even having a single years buffer would be very worthwhile. As I mentioned in the OP if we have a catastrophic event in the northern summer the poor are in serious trouble.
Once the stockpile was established and the process of cycling it set up, then the cost should be relatively minor.
More importantly what is the alternative? Let everyone starve?
Moreover, wrt to the 72 days raised by ggpp, one would just shrink the surplus to 72 days for the smaller population.
Food insecurity is purely a function of the inefficiency of our society's means of food distribution.
So it could be could be coincidence on the timing of the Toba eruption and the genetic narrowing down of the human race at almost the same time. But something happened 70,000 years ago, if not Toba, what was it? Maybe the onset of the ice age + Toba + other things occurring close together in time.
If "m3" is jargon related to volcanos, geology, drilling, or geothermic power generation, I submit to you that most HN readers will be unfamiliar with the term.
Or maybe it's just me.
>Cooling Yellowstone in this manner would happen at a rate of one metre a year, taking of the order of tens of thousands of years until just cold rock was left.
And I think that sentence is vague enough that any argument using only it as a basis will be pretty weak.
I suspect if you asked power companies if they'd go for it they would jump at the opportunity, but TFA jumps the gun and suggests that the government may need to offer incentives to get started.
In short: Let's use peoples fear of global calamity to get them to allow drilling and building in a national park and get free money from the government too.
It's more fair to judge NASA's space capabilities against all the other groups that take gov't money. They are much better at space than, say, the Department of Labor.
Just because there are recent, private entrants, who built much of their technology on the foundation work done by NASA, does not mean NASA should be mocked in this manner.
Electricity is hard to send long distances and central planning projects have shown to be their own disasters time-and-time again through history. "This time around though" we have more established population centers so maybe we can pull it off? Not sure! If the power could be produced cheap enough, it might pay off to maintain the massive power grid to send electricity to population centers...
What would truly be revolutionary is phase change electricity storage mechanism! Imagine being able to "ship" electricity on conventional roads, or even in existing pipelines, much the way we do with hydrocarbons.
Batteries charge roughly at the same rate they discharge, making electric cars a PITA. A conventional automobile can be "charged up" with enough potential energy in 8 mins in what takes the fastest chargers 75mins.
That's why people get excited about Hydrogen. Surplus energy can be used to produce H2 via electrolysis. The process is pretty inefficient, but that perhaps doesn't matter if the energy source is abundant enough.
However, the infrastructure required for H2 distribution would be expensive. You can't use existing gas pipelines. It's probably more practical and affordable to just build long-distance HVDC connectors to export 6GW of energy.
Maybe someday we'll have steam pipelines instead of gas pipelines?
I used water as only an example. I don't think steam is generally thought of in terms of energy storage.
If the concern of the Earth being wiped out is legitimate, then focus instead on colonizing Space. The end result is the same: preserving human civilization.