Sudden Earthquake Surge at Yellowstone Super-Volcano
17 February, 2018
UPDATED 10:40 AM EST see Bottom -- The largest and most dangerous volcano in the United States is suddenly experiencing dozens of earthquakes; most only minutes apart, and experts are suddenly getting concerned that the Yellowstone Super-Volcano may be heading toward an eruption.
The last time Yellowstone erupted was about 630,000 years ago, and when it happened, it wiped-out every living thing within 500 miles in ONE HOUR, and sent volcanic ash from the volcano in northwest Wyoming, west to southern California, south to Texas and east into Ohio. How deep was the ash once it hit the ground? More than 600 FEET HIGH once it fell from the sky and piled-up on the ground. Within two weeks, the western 2/3rds of the continental United States was dead. All the trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, insects and people. The ash killed it all. On a map, the volcanic ash spread looked like this:
First, The Basics
Yellowstone National Park was established by the U.S. Congress in 1872 and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. The national park covers parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and is one of the most frequently visited parks in the United States. That is due to its immense beauty, wildlife, and geothermal geysers such as Old Faithful.
There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred. - Theodore Roosevelt
Yellowstone's Hidden Volcano
Beneath the Yellowstone National Park is an active volcano. The "mouth" of this volcano - known as a caldera -- is utterly enormous. The mouth measures 34 miles by 45 miles. To put this in perspective, the mouth of this volcano is almost as big as the entire U.S. state of Rhode Island!
There is ongoing debate as to the initial source of Yellowstone's supervolcano, especially since its appearance was geologically rapid and young in age. It appears to be a hotspot, similar to the Hawaiian Islands, but on continental crust as opposed to oceanic crust. The hotspot may be due to local lithospheric interactions with an upper mantle convection or a result of a deep mantle plume that has been upwelling for millions of years.
Geologic hotspots are when molten rock or magma continuously upwells from the mantle, burning a hole in the above lying lithospheric plate and causing an eruption on the surface of the Earth. Scientists can measure indications of convection and movement of magma within the mantle, however, the exact mechanisms by which the magma moves and why are not well understood. What all of a sudden turned the Yellowstone hotspot on or the Hawaii hotspot on? When will they "turn off" or change locations? These are questions that remain unanswered and sources of ongoing research.
Geologists have deduced three separate eruption events dating back 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago, and 630,000 years ago. These are all measured as tuff (volcanic ash) beds found around the west and the central United States.
As you may have deduced, the past 3 eruptions occurred every about 600,000 to 800,000 years. Given we're 630,000 years since the most recent eruption, scientists are keenly aware that an eruption could occur in the near (geologic) future. However, there is still a very small chance it will erupt in our lifetimes.
The most recent volcanic eruption 630,000 years ago produced a massive volcanic ash bed, called the Lava Creek Tuff, which covered much of western central United States. The volcanic ash is measured in rock layers around the region.
The maximum thickness the volcanic ash reaches is up to 660 feet thick. Given the ash has since compacted due to the weight of overlying sediment, the ash bed deposited would have been thick enough to cover most of our modern skyscrapers.
All life in the areas covered by this ash - died. Everything. Nothing survived. Think about that for a moment: the western 2/3rds of the entire United States ---- dead.
What is a Super-Volcano?
We all have a mental image of what a volcano is, usually a cone-shaped mountain wide at the base, narrowing toward the top, with a hole at the top.
These types of volcanoes are called strato-volcanos. There are literally hundreds of these all over the planet. Most are dormant. A few are still active and erupt from time to time. Mount St. Helens was one such strato-volcano. The GIF below shows Mount St. Helens every 4 seconds BEFORE then AFTER it's eruption in 1980. When the eruption was finished, about half the mountain was gone . . . and this volcano is SMALL compared to Yellowstone . . . . which is two thousand times bigger!
Yellowstone is different. It is a "Caldera" volcano. What this means is that in past eruptions, the blasts were so incredible, they literally blew the ENTIRE mountain apart above the surface! When the Yellowstone eruptions finished, there was nothing left of the mountain but a big hole in the ground!!!!
Since Yellowstone is a volcano, there are ALWAYS little earthquakes there. ALL THE TIME. As magma, water, and earth move around in this huge heat-machine of a volcano, the earth routinely shakes a little here and there, in and around the volcano. No big deal.
But because Yellowstone is the ONLY "super-volcano" located on dry land (the 13 other super volcanoes on our planet are all underwater in oceans) Yellowstone is the most-monitored volcano anywhere.
The US Geological Survey has strategically placed a whopping 29 seismographs around the volcano to monitor every snap, crackle and pop that is going on underground.
These instruments are located in "bore holes" drilled 900 feet into the ground so they get only earth movement, and not cars or trucks or thunderstorms on the surface. They pick up the slightest details of earth or magma rumblings in or near the volcano.
Uh Oh! Something changed . . .
Take a look at a "typical day" at Yellowstone in the seismograph image below .
. . .
Within the last 24 hours, the seismographs have begin to show very unusual activity in almost ALL areas of the volcano. Now take a look at the seismograph for Saturday, February 17, 2018 Something has changed . . . .
And it's not just this single bore hole. Almost ALL 29 seismographs in and around Yellowstone are showing dramatic activity underground. Look:
I am not a Geologist or a Vulcanologist. I do not presume to be able to properly interpret what I am seeing. I do know this: What I am seeing is not "typical" and I know this because I've been watching these seismos for years. Something is going on and I have a nasty feeling it's not good.
You may naturally ask yourself two questions, when will the next eruption occur and what can we do about it. The question as to the next eruption is very difficult to answer. Recently, geologists have noticed an uptick in earthquake swarms in the region, associated with movement of magma within magma chambers. However, this could, in theory, go on for hundreds of thousands of years as Yellowstone's magma chamber slowly fills.
A few years back geologists also noted the elevation of the Yellowstone caldera was rising as much as 2.8 inches per year. This was a result of increased magma filling the underlying chambers and literally pushing the ground upward. Thankfully, that has significantly slowed down in the past couple years. However, this again is a sign that the Yellowstone volcano is preparing itself for a future eruption. Unfortunately, when it comes to predicting the timing of an eruption, geologists are left with a large gap in prediction.
EVACUATION PLAN FOR WYOMING - THE WHOLE STATE!
In 2007, the state of Wyoming adopted a plan to evacuate the ENTIRE state. Everyone! That plan, available HERE notes the following on its Page 6:
Based upon the Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, very few hazards exist statewide which would result in the evacuation of the entire state. The catastrophic explosion of Yellowstone National Park would necessitate the evacuation not only of Wyoming but of the Western United States . . .
Unfortunately, when it comes to predicting the timing of an eruption, geologists are left with a large gap in prediction. There are telltale signs of an eruption that is about to occur, say in the next few months to years. This includes increased earthquake activity, bulging of the ground surface, increased emission of volcanic gasses, etc. On the other hand, geologists can use the average span of time between recent eruptions as a very crude gauge of eruption timing. Hence, geologists can likely detect an imminent eruption, but beyond that, for Yellowstone, the next best guess is every 600,000 to 800,000 years. Uncomfortably so, we lie within that range right now, however, it is just as likely that the next eruption occurs in 100,000 years.
Given that the next eruption could be 100,000 years from now or 50 years from now, or next week, the ability of humans to react and mitigate the next eruption varies greatly. If the eruption were to occur 50 years from now, we can do little but wait and prepare ourselves. Perhaps widespread evacuation orders from western and central United States to the East coast. However, logistically that would prove to be incredibly difficult and does not help property damage.
I am endeavoring to reach experts at the US Geological Survey to make official comment about this. When I do, I will update this story with their remarks.
In the meantime, beware. What is taking place at Yellowstone is not normal.
UPDATE 3:47 AM EST --
Take a look at the earthquake reports now coming from the US Geological Survery so far:
11km NE of West Yellowstone, Montana
2018-02-18 06:10:09 (UTC)
13km NE of West Yellowstone, Montana
2018-02-18 05:53:02 (UTC)
12km NE of West Yellowstone, Montana
2018-02-18 05:37:46 (UTC)
13km NE of West Yellowstone, Montana
2018-02-18 04:28:28 (UTC)
12km NE of West Yellowstone, Montana
2018-02-17 17:48:40 (UTC)