A Crack Appeared Near Yellowstone. You'll Never Guess What Happened Next

This is part of Yellowstone National Park, which is where the new crack didn't appear. And yet... Chris Viktor/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 18 Jul 2018, 19:55

It’s that time of week again: Another report by a particularly histrionic tabloid hints that the Yellowstone supervolcano is about to erupt. Here’s a tip for you all – if the press are saying that Yellowstone is about to erupt, it definitely isn’t about to erupt. Trust us, you’d know.

The source of this latest harbinger of the not-apocalypse? A bit of a crack has formed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, which is right nearby Yellowstone National Park. Therefore, we’re all going to die, right?

Of course not. This is literally just a crack, and it’s not even in the right national park.

According to a statement from park authorities, the 30 meter (roughly 100 foot) crack appeared in a bit of a large rock sticking out from a cliff. That forced a local closure for people’s safety. That’s literally it, and yet somehow outlets have linked this to the volcanological rapture.

We’re fine, but don’t take my word for it; here’s what Dr Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University and smiter of ludicrous volcanological rumors, told IFLScience: “If Yellowstone erupted every time a tabloid said it was going to, it would be one of the most active volcanoes on Earth.

“Yellowstone is, however, one of the most well-monitored volcanoes on Earth. If it were about to erupt, we would see much more than a crack appearing.”

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But wait, there’s more! According to the marvelous scientists over at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), there’s a roughly one-in-730,000 chance that Yellowstone will have a supereruption in any given year.

Now, a supereruption involves the ejection of more than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of fresh volcanic material in a fairly violent manner. That’s happened at Yellowstone twice in the last 2.1 million years, with a third still colossal event not quite making the volumetric cut.

Sure, if that was going to happen today, that’d be bad – more on that here – but it almost certainly won’t. You couldn’t even use a nuke to set it off.

Throughout most of its life, Yellowstone has featured extensive lava flows and, more commonly, hydrothermal blasts. Any subsequent eruption is far more likely to be manifested in this way, not a supervolcanic eruption.

Yellowstone’s a supervolcano, sure, but it’s a bit like an Olympic medal: just because you erupted madly once or twice, doesn’t mean you can again.

In fact, it can’t, at the moment. Magma reservoirs need to be around 50 percent molten in order to trigger an eruption. Right now, Yellowstone’s magma reservoirs are at most 15 percent molten. So no end-of-days for you, dear readers. In terms of an eruption risk, you’re about as likely to be killed by it as that fake supervolcano that Fox News “discovered” in Vermont recently.

Yellowstone is an active volcanic center. You should expect things like earthquake swarms and ground deformation from time to time. It’s the reason you have such stunning – and deadly, if you’re clumsy – geothermal features peppered around the National Park too: there’s a potent heat source down there.

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A crack, however, doesn’t in any way suggest an eruption is imminent. Sadly, though, those at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) always get a huge uptick in emails from worried members of the public every time a new rumor goes around, which is why for something this innocuous, I won’t even bother winging them a communique myself.

It cannot be stressed enough that the risk of an eruption at Yellowstone of any kind is magnitudes lower than you think. The USGS is on the case, and they’d be the first to let the public know if something was genuinely amiss.

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