Worried About An Eruption At Yellowstone? You're Focused On The Wrong Hazard

YNP is a tectonically and volcanologically active area. Quakes are normal, as are features like this one - Old Faithful. Andrew Repp/Shutterstock

Robin Andrews 22 Aug 2018, 19:25

You are not in danger of an imminent supereruption at Yellowstone. At the same time, you aren’t at any immediate risk of a large earthquake causing trouble at Yellowstone. It may seem counterintuitive, but the latter is nevertheless more of a threat than the former. As ever, there are plenty of caveats.

USA Today recently conducted an interview with Dr Mike Poland. He’s the scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), and he certainly knows a thing or two about his subject matter.

“The biggest concern we have for Yellowstone is not with the volcano, it’s with earthquakes,” he told the outlet. “There can and there will be in the future magnitude-7 earthquakes.”

Obviously, he’s right. This may come as a surprise to you, as the relentless focus of the histrionic media has been on the potential for a supereruption at Yellowstone. As ever, this paints a false picture of the hazards present at this aesthetically marvelous site.

It cannot be emphasized enough that just because a volcano had a couple of cataclysmic events in its multi-million-year-long history, it doesn’t mean it’ll do it again. Right now, the threat of a supereruption is incredibly low, largely thanks to the lack of molten material down there required to make it happen.

If any volcanic activity does happen again there, aside from all the geothermal wonders already present within Yellowstone National Park (YNP), it’ll be far more likely to be a lava flow or a hydrothermal blast.

Yellowstone is of course an active volcanic center, which is partly why earthquakes happen there all the time.

The locations of the roughly 2,000 quakes in YNP in 2004. NPS/University of Utah

Just check out the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) last monthly report on the area: there were 153 quakes within the national park. The largest came in at a 2.5M, and there were even a couple of temporally and spatially linked quake sequences, one featuring 77 tremors and another containing just 12.

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