The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has discovered a massive reserve of helium underneath Yellowstone that is believed to be 2,000,000,000 (yes, billion) years old— and it’s escaping by the second.
In fact, there is so much helium escaping the park (about 60 tons of helium annually) that the lost gas alone could fill an entire Goodyear blimp every single week. The highest emissions of helium are coming from openings like the Heart Lake Geyser Basin in the Yellowstone caldera.
The leaking helium was found by accident; a side effect of an investigation into the increasing volcanic activity in Yellowstone over the past few years.
Published in Nature, lead author Jacob Lowernstern and his team say that the helium began escaping Yellowstone about 2 million years ago. Before then, the helium – a byproduct of decaying uranium and thorium – had been accumulating in the crustal rocks until volcanic and seismic activity induced by the Yellowstone hotspot below cracked and opened the crust, allowing the noble gas to escape into the atmosphere.
So, what does the discovery of this huge store of escaping helium mean for the seemingly cyclical shortages that have been affecting helium-dependent industries roughly every 4 or 5 years? Well, nothing. Since Yellowstone is a protected national park, there is no chance of any kind of extraction operation being established.