There exists a fictional future world where we have determined space travel is impractical for the majority of the species, despite the fact that technology is more advanced than today. There are no antigravity or FTL drives. Besides a few people who will never come back, we are stuck on Earth. Nevertheless, population continues to grow.

This makes the Yellowstone volcano increasingly terrifying.

A massive government project is already in place to study how to defuse the super-volcano and will take action immediately when the job becomes feasible due to technological advancement. They have a budget equivalent to $5 trillion dollars today (or a quarter of North America's GDP for a single year). All technology required has to seem like it will be possible someday to the modern scientifically minded reader.

  • How would they try to do it?
  • How could they mess it up?
  • What happens when they do?

Your best bet would be to manually set off a series of smaller, "controlled" eruptions to bleed off the energy and pressure of the caldera.

You'd use underground mapping to identify weak points near the edge, then drill and set off explosives. Something small, like an atomic bomb. This will cause an eruption, and it will be nasty, but it's not the entire thing going off at once which would be catastrophic.

Some caveats:

  • You may need to do this multiple times. It may be that you can never defuse it, instead you just periodically take steps to reduce the risk of the entire thing going at once.
  • This is still pretty dangerous. You need really good mapping of the underground situation, the magma flows, etc - otherwise it's entirely possible that if you set off the eruption wrong, you'll end up triggering the full event by accident. I would highly recommend a series of small-scale tests on other volcanoes before you even touch Yellowstone.
  • This will likely render the area of the caldera somewhat unstable, so evacuation, as suggested by other answers, is still recommended.
  • 76
    $\begingroup$ "Something small, like an atomic bomb" +1 $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Nov 25 '15 at 19:09
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez if you compare it with the amount of energy that could be released by a "supervolcano" you find out that most atomic bombs will be, indeed, quite small. Also note that atomic bombs have a wide range of yield (from a few kilotons to the 100 megatons the Tzar bomba could theoretically have released). $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Nov 25 '15 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 A Tzar bomba wasn't an "atomic" bomb though. Still. compared to a "supervolcano"... it wasn't much at all. $\endgroup$ Nov 27 '15 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @user2338816 in general conversation, hydrogen bombs are called "atomic bombs". Yes, it's technically incorrect but most people don't know the difference and couldn't care less if they did. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Nov 27 '15 at 9:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @jwenting technically, nothing is correct about the word “atom”. About the only thing that would deserve to be called an atom are single electrons (or quarks etc.)... and these aren't called atoms by anybody. If you want to be precise, the correct terminology is fission bomb vs fusion bomb, and both aren't atomic but nuclear devices (hydrogen fusion bombs “thermonuclear”). $\endgroup$ Sep 19 '16 at 13:06

Your best bet and it is not a guarantee would be to start using geothermal power generated under that volcano. By 'sucking' out the heat faster than it is being pushed near the surface. This could provide a LOT of energy for powering the country. The hard part would be getting enough energy out to help, which might include actually drilling small 'pressure relief' areas to draw magma up, us the heat/energy and reduce the pressure below, like lancing a boil.

By using the magma to generate electricity it might actually pay for itself. And then the minerals in the magma can be 'mined' for raw material.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could you really suck out enough heat to make a difference? $\endgroup$
    – abcde
    Nov 26 '15 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly I'm not sure. More magma might do more, but it would still be useful in geothermal power generation $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Nov 26 '15 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ To use it for power you need a giant cold sink. There are rivers but are they enough? Giant closed loop pipeline to the deep sea? Is there such a thing as thermal superconductivity? $\endgroup$ Nov 26 '15 at 3:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @DougMcClean Yes, there is! Superfluids are known 'thermal superconductors'. It is not really conducting though, the heat is actually transported by convection. If you try to establish a thermal gradient, a temperature wave will propagate through them. Look for helium-2 and second sound. $\endgroup$ Nov 26 '15 at 9:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @bowlturner Not really; the Carnot efficiency sets a theoretical limit on how much waste heat you have to reject to a cold sink to generate a certain amount of energy from a heat engine, and it's (a) a lot (at least 25% for the highest near-surface magma temp I could find and freezing temperature water), and (b) strongly dependent on how cold your cold sink is. Having something hot is not enough to generate power, you need to have something cold near it that you are willing to warm up. That's why powerplants are by oceans or rivers and/or have giant cooling towers. $\endgroup$ Nov 26 '15 at 14:37
  1. Schedule the event instead of randomly encountering it: Use an atomic bomb or something to cause an eruption
  2. Before #1, prepare:
    a. Evacuate all locals
    b. Increase the chamber where magma builds up before eruption (to reduce pressure)
    c. Increase the vent opening to reduce pressure
    d. Install particle collectors above the vent to collect the smog coming out


  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Silver he does consider that. Parts 2:b,c,d are designed to reduce the blast. It could use alot more info and seems to dramatically underestimate the size of the volcano (the "locals" are the majority of the United States). Nevertheless, the answer is simular to the top rated one. $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Nov 25 '15 at 20:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @kaine this answer is "lets wait for the critical point and mitigate the effects", but the sheer size of the effects would make mitigation meaningless (unless you use magic!). The most voted answer is "release the energy in small bursts before it gets to the critical point", which is quite different. That said, I do not think it deserves a downvote either, because it attempts to answer the question positively(even provides references), and we should be lenient towards new users that try to give a positive answer. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Nov 26 '15 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ I downvoted to give him a reason to edit and improve his answer, with the idea that after a reasonable edit I remove the downvote or even upvote it. I think that before answering you should at the very least google the implications of your answer. $\endgroup$
    – Silver
    Nov 26 '15 at 14:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You have to realize: never in recorded human history has anyone seen an explosion, anywhere on our planet, that is remotely comparable to a supervolcano going off. 2d in particular sounds like "contain the toxic smoke from the burning oil rig by installing single sheets of cotton lace over and around the area" $\endgroup$ Nov 26 '15 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ This answer seems to have in mind a "regular" volcano, but in the specific case of the Yellowstone caldera, the explosion you're scheduling is one that, last time it went off, deposited approximately 240 cubic miles of rock across North America. This cannot fairly be described as "smog", and "local" means "the majority of the USA". Unfortunately the budget (only 1/4 of annual GDP) doesn't stretch to sacrificing a large proportion of capital assets... $\endgroup$ Nov 27 '15 at 14:03

One idea would build sort of a gigantic underground heat sink to draw heat energy away from the volcano and distribute it into the surrounding bedrock probably up to hundreds of miles away. The heat absorbing part of the structure would be deep, probably miles, underground as close to the magma chamber as is feasible. Huge heat pipes would draw the energy from the heat absorber up to cool layers of rock where immensely long, maybe hundreds of miles long, heat radiators would be installed to distribute the heat into the cool rock. This would have the effect of cooling the top part of the magma chamber, solidifying enough of the magma to keep the rest of the liquid magma underneath from forcing itself to the surface.

Naturally, some of the heat siphoned off from the volcano could be used to power probably most of humanity.

They could mess it up by drilling too close to the magma chamber, thus initiating an eruption. Other side effects might be earthquakes at the volcano and in the areas where the heat is being distributed.


If you could somehow flood Yellowstone with about 15,000 cubic miles of water (the lake only has 4 cubic miles of water), you could vent the magma chamber into the bottom of that artificial lake quickly, creating MASSIVE steam and Huge weather events. I think it would discharge the magma chamber safely and really fast.

However it would be near impossible to flood something on that scale that's 8000 feet above sea level.

The lake would have enough water weight and its non compressible nature might be able to contain the rate at which the magma is trying to evacuate the chamber. Displacing lots of water really quickly, and creating new land mass really quickly.

This event would displace an insane amount of water into the air and should be done in the summer as it will blanket the country in unfathomable amounts of water. 1.65168e+16 gallons potentially.

Maybe solving two major problems at once. Defusing Yellowstone, and displacing fresh water all over the world.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE Ryan! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jun 23 '17 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ You defuse a volcanic menace by flooding the entire world? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 24 '17 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ You could build a really big floating conservation centre to prevent the medium-sized mass extinction event from killing out too much of the land-based gene pool. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Oct 19 '17 at 16:23

Drill a hole and insert a PPA to create a BHA to relieve pressure.

The Portable Particle Accelerator allows users to accelerate particles anywhere without an external power source.

The Black Hole Anomaly is created to be small enough to be unstable and collapse after a few microseconds. During that time, it would suck up massive amounts of magma.

Once the Black Hole collapses, the remaining earth collapses to cover the hole while the remaining magma rises to fill the void until a happy medium is reached.

What could possibly go wrong?

The black hole could collapse before it gets big enough causing large amounts magma to churn wile filling the smaller void left and cause more pressure. This would be not good but results only in some eruptions.

A miscalculation could let the black hole grow larger than expected leaving a piece of earth missing. That would probably be BAD.

Other possible problems are numerous - such as accidently triggering the device while getting into an accident on the freeway. Dude, where's my freeway?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ RE: Black Hole collapses - Perhaps I am reading the wrong articles, but doesn't that happen rather explosively? Are you sure the cure wouldn't be worse than the disease? -- In 1974 Stephen Hawking argued that due to quantum effects, black holes "evaporate" ... His calculations show that the smaller the size of the black hole, the faster the evaporation rate, resulting in a sudden burst of particles as the micro black hole **suddenly explodes.** - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$
    – Zoredache
    Nov 26 '15 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Zoredache - Hmm - possibly. I was hoping Hawking Radiation. $\endgroup$ Nov 26 '15 at 0:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you want to see what this would entail, please watch this video: youtu.be/8nHBGFKLHZQ $\endgroup$
    – zagadka314
    Nov 26 '15 at 1:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it was small enough to evaporate, it would be a massive bomb. If it is not small enough… Well, you solved the volcano problem! $\endgroup$
    – zagadka314
    Nov 26 '15 at 1:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The mass sucked into a black hole doesn't disappear. It still has to go somewhere... $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Nov 26 '15 at 12:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.