Despite Rumors, Scientists Say There’s Little Evidence That Yellowstone’s Supervolcano Is Set To Blow

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Wikimedia Commons The Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park.

An increase of earthquakes in Wyoming‘s Yellowstone region as well as Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah has reignited old fears that Yellowstone’s supervolcano is set to blow, which could result in dozens of death and could create thousands of miles of environmental and property damage.

However, scientists say there is little evidence that those earthquakes indicate a supervolcano eruption is near.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, which monitors the Yellowstone volcano and alerts authorities if a volcano appears to be imminent, have maintained the danger level as green or normal, according to the U.S. Department of Geologic Survey. According to the National Park Service, the scientists at the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory use a network of 26 seismic stations. 16 GPS receivers and 11 steam gauging stations.

What Caused the Panic?

Idaho experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake at the end of March had 341 aftershock earthquakes, local KTVB-7 station reported. The aftershocks ranged from 2-5 to 4.8 in magnitude, leading the Emergency Management of Utah Division to issue safety alerts, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

In May of 2020, the U.S. Geologic Survey found that there were 288 earthquakes reverberating out from the Yellowstone National Park region. However, the agency said, “Earthquake sequences like these are common and account for roughly 50% of the total seismicity in the Yellowstone region.”

The frequency of steamboat geysers is also provoking fears. Steamboat geysers are eruptions that cause as much as 300 feet of water to spring up in the air before it becomes calm again.

It Is Unlikely That A Supervolcano Will Hit

Michael Poland, the scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, has told USA Today that the supervolcano will explode. According to Jerry Fairley, a University of Idaho geology professor, it’s unlikely that a supervolcano will hit now. “Geological events are stunning in their power, but they’re infrequent in human terms,” he told USA Today.

“The last supereruption about 631,000 years ago spewed 240 cubic miles of pulverized rock and ash into the atmosphere, covering nearly half the country in the powdery residue,” the U.S. Geologic Survey stated. That means that it could be up to another 170,000 years before another large eruption occurs. Moreover, the agency said that “giant caldera-forming eruptions” are almost always preceded by smaller eruptions; for example, 27 eruptions took place before the most recent supereruption.

The National Park Service also said that it is unlikely that another caldera-forming eruption would take place in the next 1,000-10,000 years.

And a 2014 paper assessing the ash fall distribution at Yellowstone said, “Over the past two million years, trends in the volume of eruptions and the magnitude of crustal melting may signal a decline of major volcanism from the Yellowstone region … These factors, plus the 3‐in‐2.1‐million annual frequency of past events, suggest a confidence of at least 99.9% that 21st‐century society will not experience a Yellowstone supereruption.”

What Would Happen If A Supervolcano Eruption Took Place?

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Wikimedia CommonsAnother view of the Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park.

The most recent supervolcano eruption was 2,500 times larger than the May 18, 1980 eruption of Washington’s Mt. St. Helens. That eruption resulted in dozens of deaths, released more energy than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and eliminated 1,300 feet of the top of the mountain, according to NPR.

According to the National Park Service, the supereruption that took place 2.1 million years ago spread nearly 6,000 square miles and even reached Missouri and the supereruption which took place roughly 631,000 years ago created the 30-45 mile-wide Yellowstone Caldera; a caldera is a massive crater or depression that is caused by a partially collapsed volcano. A smaller eruption that took place 174,000 years ago created the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake.

“Together, the three catastrophic eruptions expelled enough ash and lava to fill the Grand Canyon,” the U.S. Geologic Survey found.

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