Yellowstone: Everything Is NORMAL December 2013: Utah’s Recently Discovered Killer Supervolcano

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YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY MONTHLY UPDATE

Thursday, December 5, 2013 12:26 PM MST (Thursday, December 5, 2013 19:26 UTC)

YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO (CAVW #1205-01-)
44°25’48” N 110°40’12” W, Summit Elevation 9203 ft (2805 m)
Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

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November 2013 Yellowstone Monthly Earthquake Activity Report (updated December 3, 2013)

During November 2013, the University of Utah reports 301 earthquakes were located in the Yellowstone National Park region. The largest earthquake was a minor event of magnitude 3.4 on November 23, 2013 at 01:47 PM MST, located about eleven miles north northeast of West Yellowstone, Montana. This event was part of an energetic earthquake swarm, of 209 earthquakes, that began November 23, 2013 and continued through the end of the month. The swarm contained three events of magnitude 3 or larger and several magnitude 2 events. No earthquakes were reported felt. The swarm was located in an area that has experienced earthquake swarm activity in the past.

Current deformation patterns at Yellowstone remain within historical norms.

Please see: http://www.uusatrg.utah.edu/ts_ysrp.html for a map of GPS stations in the Yellowstone vicinity. For a graph of daily GPS positions at White Lake, within the Yellowstone caldera, please see: http://pbo.unavco.org/station/overview/WLWY

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) provides long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake activity in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

YVO Member agencies: USGS, Yellowstone National Park, University of Utah, University of Wyoming, UNAVCO, Inc., Wyoming State Geological Survey, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Idaho Geological Survey

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Jacob Lowenstern, Scientist-in-Charge
jlwnstrn@usgs.gov

USGS

Yellowstone and Supervolcanoes Definition, Mechanics, History, Threat Nature and
Potential Future Risk A Research Study January 2013

Fortunately, there is little indication that such an eruption is imminent in the near future, although study of Yellowstone is ongoing and the system is not yet completely understood.

Geologists are uncertain whether Yellowstone is winding down from the third eruption or ramping up to a fourth. However, catastrophic eruptions occur so infrequently in the geologic record that it is statistically not likely anytime soon.

The odds of a globally destructive volcano explosion in any given century are extremely low, and scientists cannot predict when the next one will occur. Given Yellowstone’s past history, the yearly probability of another caldera-forming eruption could be calculated as 1 in 730,000 or 0.00014%.

This probability is roughly similar to that of a large (1 kilometer) asteroid hitting the Earth. Such eruptions are quite frequent on a geological timescale, although not one has occurred on Earth in the short time that an interdependent human civilization has existed.

In fact, super-eruptions from supervolcanoes have occurred on a geological timescale so vast that a study by the Geological Society of London declared an eruption on the scale of Yellowstone’s biggest (the Huckleberry Ridge eruption 2.1 million years ago) occurs somewhere on the planet only about once every million years.

However, the number is based simply on averaging the two intervals between the three major past eruptions at Yellowstone; this is hardly enough to make a critical judgment. While those eruptions have been spaced roughly 800,000 and 660,000 years apart, three events are not enough statistically to declare this an eruption pattern, explains Smith. Heasler demurs.

“Three data points do not make a compelling argument for almost anything in science.” He says.

Fortunately, the Yellowstone volcanic system shows no signs that it is headed toward such an eruption. Technically, the next eruption could happen anytime. Ye the geologists that monitor it are unconcerned about a large imminent eruption.

Though Yellowstone could erupt again someday, there is no evidence that the caldera is readying for another massive blast, says Smith. Lowenstern shares that outlook.

Volcanologists with the U.S. Geological Survey believe that supervolcanoes are likely to give decades, even centuries, of warning signs before they erupt.

The scientists think those signs would include lots of earthquakes. Massive bulging of the land, an increase in small eruptions, “swarms of earthquakes in specific areas, changes in the chemical composition of lavas from smaller eruptions, changes in gasses escaping the ground and, possibly, large-scale cracking of the land. None of these indicators are present at Yellowstone, says Smith.

Bibliography

  1. Bindeman, I.N. “The Secrets Of Supervolcanoes.” Scientific American. June 2006. 36-43. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-secrets-of-supervolca
  2. Blank, H.R., Christiansen, R.L., Eaton, G.P., Gettings, M.E., Iyer, H.M., Mabey, D.R. Pitt, A.M., & Zietz, I. “Magma Beneath Yellowstone National Park.” Science. 1975. 787-796. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/188/4190/787.long
  3. Christiansen, R.L. & Smith, R.B. “Yellowstone Park As A Window On The Earth’s Interior.” Scientific American. 1980. 104-17.
  4. Christiansen, R.L., Heasler, H. Lowenstern, J.B., Morgan, L.A. & Smith, R.B. “Steam Explosions, Earthquakes, And Volcanic Eruptions—What’s In Yellowstone’s Future?” U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet. 2005. 2005-3024. http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2005/3024/http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/infobank/programs/html/factsheets/pdfs/2005_3024.pdf
  5. Dzurisin, D. Svarc, J., Thatcher, W. & Wicks, C. “Uplift, Thermal Unrest, and Magma Intrusion At Yellowstone Caldera.” Nature. 2006. 72-75. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v440/n7080/full/nature04507.html
  6. Keefer, W.R. “The Geologic Story Of Yellowstone National Park.” U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin. 1971. 1347. http://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/1347/report.pdf
  7. Kuntz, M.A. & Link, P.K.; Eds. Morgan, L.A., Pierce, K.L. & Platt, L.B. “The Track Of The Yellowstone Hot Spot: Volcanism, Faulting And Uplift. Regional Geology Of Eastern Idaho And Western Wyoming.” Geological Society of America Bulletin. 1-53. http://www.rcn.montana.edu/pubs/pdf/1992/YellowstoneHotSpot11.pdf
  8. O’Hanlon, L. “Yellowstone’s Super Sisters.” Discovery. February 20, 2007. http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/supervolcano/others/others.html
  9. O’Hanlon, L. “What’s Under Yellowstone? America’s Explosive Park.” Discovery. February 20, 2007. http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/supervolcano/under/under.html
  10. Rincon, Paul. “Experts Weigh Supervolcano Risks.” BBC News. 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4326987.stm
  11. Self, S. & Sparks, S. et al. “Super-Eruptions: Global Effects And Future Threats.” Report Of A Geological Society Of London Working Group. 2005. http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/en/Education%20and%20Careers/Resources/Papers%20and%20Reports/~/media/shared/pdfs/education%20and%20careers/Super_eruptions.ashx
  12. Smith, R.B. “Windows Into Yellowstone: An Interview With Geologist And Geophysicist Robert B. Smith.” Yellowstone Science. 2000. 1-13. http://www.greateryellowstonescience.org/files/pdf/YS_Smith.pdf

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