GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

All posts tagged supervolcano

Cliff Geyser

Cliff Geyser on Iron Spring Creek

One topic that frequently comes up in the articles and blog posts on YellowstoneTreasures.com is the fact that Yellowstone is on a hot spot, which is the reason for all the wonderful hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. You can find lots of our interesting posts and pages about the supervolcano here: Search Results for “supervolcano.”

Recently we happened upon this 2015 Q&A on Quora.com that busts several myths at once, in a friendly and concise way.

Q. Does it look like Yellowstone is going to erupt soon?

A. There are no signs that we know of that point to an eruption any time soon. However, since we have never seen a volcano like Yellowstone erupt, we can’t be sure what the warning signs of an eruption would be. Some sensationalist sources take every little twitch from the volcano, and even events unrelated to geologic activity, as signs of an impending eruption. Don’t take them seriously.

In better news, at least one study has suggested that the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is partially solidified to the point that it currently cannot erupt unless it gets a fresh batch of hot magma from the mantle.

One little misconception that should be covered here: Yellowstone is not “overdue” for an eruption. The little factoid that Yellowstone erupts regularly every 600,000 years is untrue. So-called super eruptions occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago, which gives intervals between eruptions of 800,000 and 660,000 years, though three eruptions are not enough to establish a reliable recurrence interval.

Credit: This answer on Quora was written by Nicholas Schiff, B.S. Geology, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA.

In the guidebook: There’s much more in Yellowstone Treasures about the Yellowstone hot spot and supervolcano, especially in the Geological History chapter, pages 303 to 318.

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Is Yellowstone about to blow?

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Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls is near the edge of the Yellowstone Caldera. A good place to see the caldera rim is between there and Madison Junction.


Frequently I hear the question “Is Yellowstone about to blow?” as I run into acquaintances here at Lake Park Retirement Center. My best answer is usually “Not on my watch” or maybe “I’m going there again soon, and I definitely don’t worry about that.” We have treated the supervolcano issue in several posts on this website in recent years. Here also is a recent reassuring statement I found thanks to the Yellowstone Insider website. The news was about a 100-foot-long fissure found near Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.

Yellowstone’s magma chamber, most geologists agree, currently does not contain the volume of magma needed for such a large-scale eruption, and the process of replenishing that chamber occurs on slow timescales. The USGS considers the risk of a caldera-forming apocalypse at Yellowstone in the next couple of thousand years to be “exceedingly low.”

In short, if a volcanic super-eruption at Yellowstone Park were imminent, the signs would be much clearer than a 100-foot crack in a rock wall. (Source: https://www.snopes.com/news/2018/07/18/fissure-opens-near-yellowstone-causing-park-closures-irresponsible-headlines)

Photo credit: Leslie Kilduff, 1996. The photo has been reproduced in Yellowstone Treasures from the first edition to the current fifth edition, where you can find it on page 290.

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Wonderfully clear and sensible statement about the Yellowstone volcano

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Thanks to the USGS and probably attributable to Jacob Lowenstern, this month we have a new statement from some of the world’s best authorities on the so-called Yellowstone supervolcano. They call it Five Things Most People Get Wrong About the Yellowstone Volcano, going at the problem of media sensationalism from the back side.

Lowenstern is Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and studies magma and volcanic phenomena in Yellowstone and all over the world for the United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA.

The misconceptions this article lists are:

  • When Yellowstone erupts it will be Armageddon
  • The Yellowstone magma chamber is growing
  • Yellowstone is overdue for a supereruption
  • Yellowstone is rapidly rising
  • Earthquake data indicates moving magma.

All this is well worth absorbing and passing on to any worrywarts you know! And if you want to read more of the “true facts” (what are false facts?) about supervolcanoes, the Volcano Observatory has recently updated another great page by the world’s best authorities on the subject.

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Terrorists and Supervolcanoes

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Generally, I prefer to steer clear of the media flurry every time there’s a large swarm of earthquakes or something else in the news that again brings up the subject of the Yellowstone supervolcano. But I can’t resist passing on this reaction to the recent news about a terrorist in Canada thinking that triggering the magma under Yellowstone would be a great idea.

At least the article about this that I just found ends with a sensible paragraph:

“Fortunately, the USGS agrees the likelihood of a Yellowstone volcano eruption is unlikely at this time. The volcano alert level is currently green, and seismographs detected only 178 earthquakes in the region, with the largest registering at a magnitude 1.9 on January 20, 2015. The USGS also calculates the odds against a Yellowstone eruption as 730,000 to one on an annual basis. As a comparison, the odds of a royal flush in poker is 1 in 649,740, so perhaps that’s not too comforting.”

For the best current information on the subject see this USGS page, or take a look at our own nugget about it.

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Just to let you know: Yesterday Jake Lowenstern and colleagues at the USGS/Yellowstone Volcano Observatory issued a very clear and detailed explanation of just what the new research on the magma system shows and how it was obtained. To read it, you need to scroll down under the map on the YVO website:
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

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