Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley’s Ubehebe Crater could explode again

January 24, 2012, 6:43 am

Conditions still ripe for massive steam-magma interactions

Along with heat exhaustion, flash floods, rock falls, rattlesnakes and scorpions, visitors to Death Valley may one day witness a phreatomagmatic explosion in Ubehebe Crater, one of many unusual geologic formations in the California national park.

Geologists recently took a close look at the crater, finding that it was formed more recently than previously thought, and that conditions for a sequel may exist today. Before the studies, geologists were vague on the age of the 600-foot deep crater, which formed when a rising plume of magma hit a pocket of underground water, creating an explosion. The most common estimate was about 6,000 years, based partly on Native American artifacts found under debris.

But a team based at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says the crater likely formed just 800 years ago, around the year 1200, basing their conclusion on dating isotopes in rocks blown out of the crater.

The scientists said that means there is probably still enough groundwater and magma around for another eventual reaction.