USGS Update: Yellowstone Volcano Not ‘Overdue’ for an Eruption

March 26, 2019 Updated: March 26, 2019

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued an update about the Yellowstone volcano, addressing alarmist news reports about it being “overdue” for an eruption.

The huge supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park hasn’t erupted in more than 600,000 years, and in recent years this has prompted speculation that it would explode at any moment, causing worldwide devastation.

“In a word, no. In two words, no way. In three words, not even close. Yellowstone doesn’t work that way,” wrote Michael Poland, Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, on March 25.

Pollard went on to address recent tabloid headlines about an “overdue” eruption. One U.K. news outlet in particular regularly posts stories about the Yellowstone caldera.

Areas of the United States that once were covered by volcanic ash from Yellowstone’s giant eruptions 2 million and 630,000 years ago, compared with ashfall from the 760,000-year-old Long Valley caldera eruptions at Mammoth Lakes, California, and the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Washington. (USGS)

“In terms of large explosions, Yellowstone has experienced three — at 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. This comes out to an average of about 725,000 years between eruptions. That being the case, we still have about 100,000 years to go, but this number is based on very little data and so is basically meaningless (would you base any conclusion on the average of just two numbers?),” he wrote.

In the blog post, Pollard said that volcanoes don’t erupt on a schedule.

The idea of it being overdue for an eruption may come from how people think about earthquakes, which are caused by pressure that persistently builds on a fault before the quake happens.

Lava flows at Yellowstone Park. (USGS)

“With rare exceptions, volcanoes do not accumulate magma at a constant rate (in the few cases where that does happen, eruptions can be somewhat regular). Instead, volcanoes erupt when there is a sufficient supply of liquid magma in the subsurface and sufficient pressure to cause that magma to ascend to the surface. This does not generally happen on a schedule,” he continued.

Regarding reports saying the volcanic eruption is “overdue,” Pollard stressed that claim is just not accurate.

“No matter how you slice it, Yellowstone is not overdue. No. No way. Not even close. But we can’t say the same about the oil change for your car, so you might want to check on that,” he concluded.

Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park. The park is dotted with geysers and hot springs fueled by subterranean volcanic activity. (commons.wikimedia.org)
Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park. The park is dotted with geysers and hot springs fueled by subterranean volcanic activity. (commons.wikimedia.org)

Less Warning Than Previously Thought?

However, in 2017, a widely publicized study found that prior to an eruption, we may only have a few decades of warning.

Researchers at Arizona State University analyzed fossilized ash and found minerals inside. From that, they believe the supervolcano woke up just two minutes after fresh magma flowed into the reservoir beneath the Yellowstone caldera, according to National Geographic.

Those minerals revealed that the temperature and composition, which led up to the eruption, built up over a few decades. In the past, geologists believed that it would take hundreds or thousands of years for the Yellowstone volcano to make such a transition.

“It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” Hannah Shamloo, an Arizona State University graduate student involved in the study, told The New York Times.

“We expected that there might be processes happening over thousands of years preceding the eruption,” noted Christy Till, a geologist at Arizona State.

Steamboat Geyser, in Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin in Wyoming, erupts on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. (AP Photo/Robb Long)

Recent Activity

There has been a significant amount of activity at Yellowstone in the past year or so, including more Steamboat Geyser eruptions. It’s considered the tallest geyser in the world.

The Ear Spring also erupted 80 years worth of garbage last September. The last significant one was in 1957, according to Yellowstone officials.

After Ear Spring erupted on September 15, employees found a strange assortment of items strewn across the landscape…

Yellowstone National Park 发布于 2018年9月24日周一

“Foreign objects can damage hot springs and geysers. The next time Ear Spring erupts we hope it’s nothing but natural rocks and water,” park officials wrote on Facebook. “You can help by never throwing anything into Yellowstone’s thermal features!”

Said a supervisory park ranger to FourStatesHomePage.com: “You might think that if you toss something in a hot spring or in a geyser that it disappears, but it doesn’t disappear. It stays in that and what normally happens is you can actually plug up a feature and kill the feature. And that’s happened in many places in the park.”

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