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Yellowstone Volcano: A Threat to the Entire USA?

Viewzone Magazine  |  Viewzone.com 42,441 views
December 11, 2009

If the current earthquake activity in the Yellowstone National Park continues to increase, the fragile caldera could collapse in on itself, opening up the pressurized magma and causing an explosion with ash and debris that would destroy crops and impede life all the way to New York City.

Mild tremors in the Yellowstone National Park are not rare. The region, with its geysers, like “Old Faithful,” and thermal pools has long been known as an area of geological instability. Despite the lack of a cone-shaped mountain or obvious volcano, scientists now know that almost the entire Yellowstone area is an enormous caldera.

There is ample evidence of huge volcanic explosions from the Yellowstone volcano in the past. Ash deposits reveal the eruptions happen with some periodicity and note the last catastrophic explosion was just 70,000 years ago. According to these geologic records, we are long overdue for the next “big one.”


At Yellowstone and some other volcanoes, some scientists theorize that the earth's crust fractures and cracks in a concentric or ring-fracture pattern. At some point these cracks reach the magma 'reservoir,' release the pressure, and the volcano explodes. The huge amount of material released causes the volcano to collapse into a huge crater — a caldera.
At Yellowstone and some other volcanoes, some scientists theorize that the earth's crust fractures and cracks in a concentric or ring-fracture pattern. At some point these cracks reach the magma 'reservoir,' release the pressure, and the volcano explodes. The huge amount of material released causes the volcano to collapse into a huge crater — a caldera.

With the discovery that this huge caldera exists, scientists were startled to learn that the surface of the caldera is bulging. Last year a report in the journal Science found the park’s central region was rising up at a rate of up to 7cm a year due to the movement of a pool of magma several miles below the surface. Scientists measured over two feet of uplift during the period 1923-1985.

This suggests that the underlying magma may be building up just below the surface of the land, preparing for a major “super-volcano” event. But as they carefully monitored the seismic activity in the region, they were comforted by the relative stability of both the frequency and number of earth tremors. But that has just changed.

More than 250 tremors have been recorded since Friday, December 26th, 2008, including nine greater than magnitude 3.0 on the Richter scale, according to the University of Utah. The largest, a magnitude 3.9, struck on Saturday and the area was shaken by a 3.3 tremor just after midday on Monday, December 29th.

While earthquakes are common in the giant park, which covers parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and experiences about 1,000 to 2,000 tremors a year, the intense burst of seismic activity lasting several days is being described as “unusual.”

“They’re certainly not normal,” said Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah. “We haven’t had earthquakes of this energy or extent in many years.”

Mr Smith, director of the Yellowstone Seismic Network, which operates seismic stations around the park, said the earthquakes have ranged in strength from barely detectable to Saturday’s 3.9. A magnitude 4 earthquake is capable of producing moderate damage. But the threat of earthquakes pales compared to what most scientists fear most — the collapse of the caldera and the ingnition of a super-volcano.

“This is an active volcanic and tectonic area, and these are the kinds of things we have to pay attention to,” he said. “We might be seeing something precursory.”

“Could it develop into a bigger fault or something related to hydrothermal activity? We don’t know. That’s what we’re there to do, to monitor it for public safety.”

Volcanologists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have predicted that the next major Yellowstone eruption would make Mt. St. Helens look like a mere geologic hiccup. The 1980 St. Helen's eruption sent 1.25 cubic miles of ash into the air; in comparison the next Yellowstone 'event' could potentially produce approximately 500 times that output volume (or 625 cubic miles). Crop failures resulting from the cataclysmic event could last for years as a consequence of that much particulate and sulfur dioxide content in the air.
Volcanologists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey have predicted that the next major Yellowstone eruption would make Mt. St. Helens look like a mere geologic hiccup. The 1980 St. Helen's eruption sent 1.25 cubic miles of ash into the air; in comparison the next Yellowstone 'event' could potentially produce approximately 500 times that output volume (or 625 cubic miles). Crop failures resulting from the cataclysmic event could last for years as a consequence of that much particulate and sulfur dioxide content in the air.

So far, all the quakes have been centred beneath the northwest end of Yellowstone Lake. No damage has been reported and a park spokeswoman said there does not yet appear to be cause for alarm.

Mr Smith said it was difficult to say what might be causing the current tremors. He added that the park’s famous geysers and hot springs were a reminder of the magma underground which turns ground water to steam.

“That’s just the surface manifestation of the enormous amount of heat that’s being released through the system,” he said.

In 1959, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake near Hebgen Lake just west of Yellowstone National Park triggered a landslide that killed 28 people. If the current earthquake activity continues to increase, the fragile caldera could collapse in on itself, opening up the pressurized magma and causing an explosion with ash and debris that would destroy crops and impede life all the way to New York City.

Is this happening now before our eyes? We’ll have to wait and see.


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8 comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    We’re going to join the dinosaurs. 50,000 years overdue of this and happen and minute. And day. How comforting!

  2. Jonathan says:

    **any minute. any day**

  3. RichardFromEngland says:

    I don’t this is a big worry, what about the energy problems America faces? That is more of a pressing issue than about this volcano.

    America won’t even have 308,000,000 people when these energy problems take place.

    Don’t worry about the Yellowstone volcano.

  4. Lt col. William Knight says:

    Yes you should be worried! Yellowstone volcano will kill most if not all of the residents who live with in 1000 miles of yellowstone. The US govt is keeping this out of the media for concernes of mass panic and disruption.This is only one thing the US is hidding due to this fact.We all need to prepare for 2012 because and the US knows this the world is going to change violently and fast in the next 3 to 13 months ahead. The fact is in the year 2012 “NASA said over 500,000,000 people will die due to this event.People dont know what is really going on in this world and that has to change right now or we the people will be NO MORE. C.R.ARMY 07162011

  5. admin says:

    Dear William Knight,
    I can only agree with you about the timing – 3 to 13 months, that is, starting from the end of October 2011. Though no exact dates are possible here. No surprise that NASA have stopped their space program (at least on the American continent) – they are better informed than anyone else about what to expect, geophysically. But there’s nothing we, the people, or any government, can do. It’s not the first time that such “things” happen to our planet, so there is hope that some of us survive it…

  6. Quadeja says:

    Hi , my name is deja and i am 12 years old i have looked up this volcano many , many times is there any way we can survive this and will we get put back in ice age and will the smoke cpver the sun from the whole planet please write back I have many questins for you im scared for my family and I so please help :(

  7. martin says:

    really u guys actully think this just because there a dumb movie (2012) saying that we will on die because of volcano do calculation these r actors they think dont know,+ how can people in space know on the ground earth im 12 and not even worrying THIS IS FAKE THE VOLCANO WONT ERUPT IN THESE YEARS WE GOT A LONG WAY TO GO WE WILL BE DEAD BY THE TIME THIS VOLCANO ERUPT SO STOP BEING A WUSS

  8. GT says:

    We can’t know for sure, but it WILL erupt. Noone knows when, but it will. It can take thousands of years or it can take hundreds… Who knows?