A recent scientific discovery has drastically changed our view of the global carbon cycle and identified a new significant risk.
Researchers have discovered a giant lake or reservoir made up of molten carbon sitting below the western US.
In total the lake covers approximately 700,000 square miles, approximately the size of Mexico, and sits 217 miles beneath Yellowstone National Park – a super volcano with the power of a massive eruption.
Like a supervolcanic eruption, this molten carbon reservoir – primarily carbonate – could immediately change the global climate for over a decade if it were to be released. Release of just 1 percent of the mantle’s carbon would equate to burning 2.3 trillion barrels of oil. This gives some perspective on just how important it is to understand this deep carbon system.
Thankfully there is little risk in the near future of this happening beause there exists no immediate pathway to the surface.
Why and how this lake of molten carbonate exists in the first place
This giant reservoir of molten carbonates is a result of the Pacific Plate subducting underneath the North American Plate. As the Pacific Plate subducts, it experiences increasingly high pressures and temperatures. This, combined with the presence of gasses such as CO2 and water locked away in the rock, allows for partial melting of the plate. This is a similar process by which the Rockies Mountains formed in the western US.