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I recently read an article about a team in Iceland that had managed to drill directly into magma coming up from the earth's mantle, and then use the resulting bore-hole to generate steam to power turbines. This generated significant amounts of electricity, but would also presumably cool the magma slightly.

If we did this sort of energy extraction on a much larger scale in active hotspots, could it prevent volcanic eruptions, or at least significantly diminish their potential danger? Might it possibly work as a prophylactic against a possible supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone?

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  • $\begingroup$ There are at least three questions here: 1) geothermal energy extraction, 2) volcanic hazard mitigation, and 3) super-volcanos. An answer to one of these alone would be difficult enough, and providing a sensible answer to a single case of all three may not be possible here. There is a lot of science and engineering efforts applied to each of the three individually - you might consider narrowing the scope of your questions. @mart's answer is valid, but I think one shouldn't take it to mean that the possibility of these ideas is somehow ruled out by physics. $\endgroup$ – Mark Rovetta Jan 30 '14 at 17:56
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Ballpark estimate, I'm not a geoscientist so I don't kn ow if the whole idea even makes sense:

This abstract of a paywalled articel states $4*10^{10} W$ Energy release and a mass flux of $3 * 10^4 kg s^{-1}$. So we are talking roundabout $1.3*10^6 J kg^{-1}$. A supervolcano eruption is typically defined as yielding more than $450 km^3$ magma. Assuming a density 10 kg/l of magma, we have a lower bound for the energy budget of a supervolcano of $5.85*10^{15}J$. You would have to make an appreciable dent into this energy budget.

The civilized world use of energy in 2008 was 474 Exajoules or $4.74*10^{20}J$. So we'd need 'just' steam turbines equivalent a millionth of humanities power budget to make a dent into the supervolcano. Writing the environmental impact statement for releasing this power into the environment as low grade heat might prove challenging.

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  • $\begingroup$ My suspicion is that IRL (in real life) releasing the pressure is the main problem. A massive hot lava flow would just ruin a few vacationers' weekend :-), but if we could avoid a major explosion w/ resultant ash distribution, most of the impending disaster would be avoided. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jan 30 '14 at 12:46

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