My friend Scott Denning, knowing that I am obsessed with helium, pointed me to this piece about helium outgassing from the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park.
The original publication in Nature is here, though it requires full access to the journal to read it entirely. I had to read the abstract more than once, since I don’t have a background in geophysics. But I gather that the overall point is the the outgassing rate for He-4 at Yellowstone is high enough that it can only be explained as the release of already pent-up gas, not through the slow generation of new gas via radioactive decay of elements like uranium and thorium.
This goes back to a point I’ve harped on again and again in my periodic (heh) screeds about helium. The helium we have now is the result of a slow accumulation over millions of years. The earth makes helium very, very slowly. (And the overall rate of that production must be declining as the radioactive elements that produce helium via alpha decay are, well, decaying.) So I’m sure the full importance of this result is lost on me.
Smithsonian Magazine also has a piece about this discovery. This adds an interesting caveat that the discovery adds uncertainty to the helium-dating technique that geophysicists use to date groundwater residence times.
Cool stuff. I’m not too worried about people trying to build a helium refinery inside Yellowstone. And anyway, even if they did, that eyesore will get destroyed with the supervolcano erupts and drives us all to extinction. So there’s that.