April Fool's: Mighty Super Volcano Lies Beneath Sydney

Sydney sits atop a super volcano which while not predicted to erupt in the next 10,000 years has slowed down the progress of two of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects.

Editor's note: This story was written for April Fool's Day, which means the story is not true.

A slew of documents released under the Commonwealth Government’s 30-year rule revealed a report from a Sydney University’s Institute of Volcanology outlining the size of the volcano lying underneath the city.

There was some suspicion the volcano existed according to sources who have worked on both the Sydney Light Rail and WestConnex projects. One unnamed Sydney geologist says rock temperatures just 2m beneath Sydney’s “glorious sandstone base” hinted at a “larger heat source below”.

The geologist says while the delays have been blamed on problems dealing with the utilities along the 12.5km light rail route, a large part of the blame can be attributed to volcanic activity.

“We particularly noted warmer temperatures in a number of the lagoons in Sydney’s Centennial Park and bubbles rising near the Opera Bar at East Circular Quay. This could also prove problematic for any third harbour crossing in the coming years as well,” the geologist says.

Interestingly, neither the state or federal government have provided a comment so far, although a source within the federal government has said they were aware of some volcanic activity in Australia as Sydney is near the Newer Volcanics Province.

According to the Institute of Volcanology’s current Volcanologist-in-residence Professor Leonard Spock, the volcano formed in the Precambrian and the subsequent Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras (541 to 66 million years ago).

“From the end of the Mesozoic through the early Cenozoic, mountain-building processes formed the Great Dividing Range and during the Cenozoic era (approximately the last 66 million years of Earth’s history), widespread mountain-building, volcanism, faulting, and glaciation sculpted the Sydney Basin,” Professor Spock tells National Geographic exclusively.

He says he was “gobsmacked” when he saw the released documents and had no idea the study had been completed in the Institute’s past.

“There is no record of it in our archives but one of our older colleagues, who was a student at the time, remembers a series of boxes being removed by Australian Federal Police in 1988. She said it was during the nation’s Bicentennial celebrations and there was a lot of activity right across the campus.”

Spock says the discovery really backs up the statement that we know more about the surface of the moon than what lies beneath us.

As for a potential eruption, Professor Spock says “nothing can be done to prevent an eruption. The temperatures, pressures, physical characteristics of partially molten rock, and immensity of the magma chamber are beyond human ability to impact - much less control.”

Yet while an eruption is theoretically possible, “it is very unlikely in the next thousand or even 10,000 years.”

On a very positive note, Professor Spock and the geologist agree the volcanic activity could be a boon to the city’s energy needs.

They say there is enormous potential to build geothermal power plants that could supply the energy needs of Sydney thousands of times over for up to 16,000 years.

“We would have energy beyond the timetable of the next eruption and by harnessing the power of the volcano we may be able to get a better understanding of how to mitigate against excessive volcanic damage,” Professor Spock says.

He explains geothermal stations create electricity by relying on liquid or vapor heated deep within the Earth.

“We could drill down into the high-temperature bedrock below the sandstone, create an open reservoir and pump liquid into it to be heated.

“It would be cheaper than one coal-fired power plant and would service Sydney’s energy needs for millennia to come.”

Happy April Fools! 

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