Scientists at Royal Holloway University in London have discovered that much of the western United States is sitting on a boiling area of the Earth’s mantle–and its melting underground as we speak. 

The pool of molten carbon is 1.8 million square kilometers (about 700,000 square miles), roughly the same size as Mexico, and will create serious chaos when it inevitably erupts.

Researchers, however, say that at the moment, the lava is not an imminent threat to the United States, but the fireball will eventually have to make its way to the surface. They speculate that the release will happen slowly over time, but they do say if it were to happen all at once, the United States, and the Earth itself, would be thrown into a serious state of emergency.

The discovery of this molten lake also tells scientists something about the Earth’s carbon emission. In 2011, the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency only estimated the planet’s carbon emission to be around 10 billion metric tons. However, scientists now believe the Earth’s upper mantle, where the lake of molten carbon sits, gives off an estimated 100 trillion metric tons of carbon.

Although the molten lake lies over 200 miles underneath Earth’s surface, Dr. Sash Hier-Majumder of Royal Holloway explains how they discovered it and what it may mean going forward:

“It would be impossible for us to drill far enough down to physically ‘see’ Earth’s mantle, so using this massive group of sensors we have to paint a picture of it using mathematical equations to interpret what is beneath us.

Under the western US is a huge underground partially-molten reservoir of liquid carbonate.

Majumder also states that even if one percent of the carbon from the molten area was emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere, it would be the equivalent to “burning 2.3 trillion barrels of oil.”
And although it has been established not to be an immediate threat, one day, humans will have to deal with the carbon leaking into the atmosphere.

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