Yellowstone Emits As Much Carbon Dioxide as an Erupting Volcano

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Yellowstone National Park emits as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as some erupting volcanoes, analysis from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has found. However, this is still not nearly as much as humans produce.

Measuring the emission rates of Yellowstone is a challenge as there are no plumes of gas to examine, like there are from erupting volcanoes. The national park is also huge, with its gases spreading over an area twice the size of Rhode Island, state scientist in charge at the observatory, Michael Poland, wrote in a news report.

But geoscientists were able to measure the emissions by focusing on the ground around the Travertine hot springs and the neutral-chloride spring areas. By doing this, they could calculate the overall carbon emissions rate of the park.

A stock photo shows the landscape of Yellowstone National Park. Geoscientists have found that the park emits as much CO2 as some volcanoes.

Cheryl Ramalho/Getty

They found that Yellowstone releases as much CO2 as some volcanoes that are actively erupting, such as its very own Mud Volcano, which is in the floor of the Yellowstone Caldera.

Collectively the total emissions for Yellowstone is 24 metric tons per day, the news report said.

Poland told Newsweek that scientists knew Yellowstone had a high amount of CO2 from previous measurements.

“In the early 2000s, it was measured in a similar way, looking at the soil discharge from thermal areas. In fact, that earlier estimate was higher than the more recent estimate,” Poland said.

“Several calculations have been done over the past 20 years, and all suggest high levels of CO2 emission. It’s an example of the importance of what we call ‘diffuse’ degassing.

“Not all volcanic CO2 is emitted during eruptions. In fact, the vast majority is emitted by non-erupting volcanoes. Of course, an awful lot is also emitted by erupting volcanoes, but just because a volcano is not erupting does not mean there is no CO2 being emitted.”

While this amount of CO2 may seem like a lot, it is actually only about 10 percent of the amount generated from New York City, the report said.

In the grand scheme of things, Yellowstone’s emissions are not harmful to the atmosphere in the same way that human-caused emissions are.

“All volcanic CO2 emissions combined—including eruptive and diffuse—are still less than 1% of human emissions,” Poland said. “The most recent work really emphasized the importance of CO2 degassing from thermal areas in Yellowstone that are older, and that have cooled down significantly. One might have expected those areas to not emit much CO2, but they emit just as much as the warmer areas.”

The carbon emissions produced by Yellowstone do not harm the environment in any “significant way,” Poland said, although there have been some animal deaths that are likely a result of the emissions.

“In 2004, several dead bison were found near Norris Geyser Basin. And in 1897, an area called Death Gulch was discovered with several dead animals, including grizzly bears. In winter especially, during periods of low wind, inversion layers can form, and CO2 can be trapped in low areas, which is probably what caused these animal deaths.”

It is important to keep on top of the carbon emissions at Yellowstone as it can indicate how much magma is beneath a volcano. Scientists can then keep track of what is going on beneath the surface.

“It is also important to document overall CO2 emissions in this day and age. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone claim online or on social media that a single erupting volcano emits more CO2 than all humans have in our entire history on Earth,” Poland continued.

“This is obviously not true, and we know that because CO2 is something we can measure. These sorts of measurements at places like Yellowstone drive home the style of CO2 emissions at volcanoes, and also how much those emissions contribute to global CO2 levels. And it is clear that volcanic emissions are a paltry amount compared to what humans are putting into the atmosphere.”

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