Yellowstone Helium Leaks: What Do They Mean?By: Ellisha Rader Mannering - February 22, 2014
Yellowstone National Park releases a variety of gases every day. These gases range from carbon dioxide to methane and according to scientists, helium. Although helium is a gas that is commonly leaked from volcanic rocks, scientists have discovered that the helium they have found is millions of years old and is just now being released from rocks that are deep below Yellowstone’s surface.
Scientists believe that the helium is slipping out of rocks that were formed during the Archaean eon, about 2.5 billion years ago. These rocks contain minerals and heavy elements that have slowly decayed over time and allowed helium to build up underneath the surface.
Bill Evans, a researcher with the USGS in Menlo Park, California, explained how the helium is released,
“Volcanoes most always form on the edges of tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust. But Yellowstone sits directly over the middle of a plate,” he said. “It’s a part of the crust that formed a very long time ago, billions of years ago, and it’s basically been stable since that time. They’ve had this boring, peaceful existence and now suddenly they’re put on the front burner.”
He went on to explain how important the helium discovery is to scientists and why they need to study it more saying, “It’s kind of an interesting thought to us, how these rocks behave, because it’s very rare on the face of the Earth to have [volcanism] come into rocks that have been that stable for that long.”
Scientists plan to study the helium and the rocks that are releasing it to determine what exactly is happening and why the helium is being released.
The super volcano that is situated below Yellowstone is due to erupt and many people are wondering when it will happen. Scientists have assured nearby residents that before it erupts, it will start to show signs and give off signals that an eruption will occur. Many are wondering if the recent leak of helium could be one of these signs.
Do you think the helium leaks could be a sign that a volcanic eruption will occur soon?
Image via Wikimedia Commons