One of the greatest threats to humanity and most life on Earth is not, surprisingly nuclear war, or even climate change. The Yellowstone national park in the US is home to one of the biggest supervolcanoes in the planet and a full-scale eruption from it has the potential to wipe out humanity from existence, now NASA wants to try and contain it.
The problem with Yellowstone is not that it is the only supervolcano on Earth. It is the only one that is ready to erupt at any time. While there are always reports that keep pointing out how the volcano is not ready to erupt any time. The truth of the matter is that no one can really say for sure when it will happen, only that it will.
According to a report by BusinessInsider, roughly every 100,000 years, there is a supervolcano eruption that envelopes the entire planet. If one were to happen now, a worldwide volcanic winter would plunge the planet in hunger. Volcanic winter is a state where the lower atmosphere gets filled with ash and it effectively plunges the entire planet in shade, cooling down the Earth. The report quotes a Guardian report where they have pointed out that the food reservoirs right now could run out in about 74 days.
NASA intends to actually try and stop the volcano from going off. One way to do this is to cool it off from above using water. The insides of large volcanoes tend to get increasingly hotter as it builds up gasses and in turn causes more magma to melt. Eventually, the intense heat will end up causing an eruption, it is inevitable.
"Building a big aqueduct uphill into a mountainous region would be both costly and difficult, and people don't want their water spent that way," Brian Wilcox of NASA JPL told BBC.
The space agency has other ideas as well, notes the report. By drilling into the supervolcano to a depth of about 10 km, water can be forced into it at high pressures to slowly cool it off over time. The idea is not to drill directly into the magma chambers as that would actually trigger an eruption but to go from the side and funnel water in. While this plan could work, it would cost NASA about $3.46 billion in funds.
NASA goes on to explain that "Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around US$0.10/kWh," so there is some incentive to actually go ahead with the project, apart from the fact that it could actually save all of the humankind.
"Yellowstone explodes roughly every 600,000 years," says NASA, "and it's about 600,000 years since it last exploded. That should be making us sit up and pay attention."