Yellowstone earthquake swarm finished?

No Few significant quakes recorded at all for January 4, nor so far for January 5 (6:30 a.m. Central) maybe the quakes took a day off in honor of Utah Statehood Day.

Update, January 6, 6:00 a.m. Central: The map now shows 11 quakes magnitude 1 or greater on January 3, 5 on January 4, and one on January 5.  This is significantly less action than the quakes every ten minutes or so when the swarm was at its peak.

Is the swarm done? This is the longest period of no-quake activity in Yellowstone since at least December 27, 2008.

Here’s the USGS data for 11:30 p.m. (Central), January 4:

Update time = Mon Jan 5 5:27:27 UTC 2009

Here are the earthquakes in the Map Centered at 44°N, 110°W area, most recent at the top.
(Some early events may be obscured by later ones.)
Click on the underlined portion of an earthquake record in the list below for more information.

y/m/d h:m:s
MAP 2.6 2009/01/03 00:23:22 44.669 -110.163 1.0 43 km ( 26 mi) SSW of Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT
MAP 2.7 2009/01/02 20:33:53 44.553 -110.338 0.9 61 km ( 38 mi) SSW of Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT
MAP 2.2 2009/01/02 20:24:50 44.509 -110.371 0.0 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.7 2009/01/02 20:23:57 44.556 -110.357 1.3 60 km ( 38 mi) SSE of Gardiner, MT

So there was only one quake on January 3, and none on January 4.

Swarms are “not uncommon,” but caldera supereruptions are extremely rare.

Time Magazine tracked down the head of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), Jake Lowenstern:

Jake Lowenstern, Ph.D., YVO’s chief scientist, who also is part of the USGS Volcano Hazards Team, told TIME that a supervolcano event does not appear to be imminent. “We don’t think the amount of magma exists that would create one of these large eruptions of the past,” he said. “It is still possible to have a volcanic eruption comparable to other volcanoes. But we would expect to see more and larger quakes, deformation and precursory explosions out of the lake. We don’t believe that anything strange is happening right now.” Last summer YVO installed new instrumentation in boreholes 500 to 600 ft. deep to better detect ground deformation.  Says Lowenstern: “We have a lot more ability to look at all the data now.” (See an interactive graphic depicting how scientists monitor volcanoes.)

Plan your vacation to Yellowstone now. Transportation will be cheaper (you can fly to Jackson Hole), and if there is any effect of the earthquake swarm, it would be to reduce tourist reservations at local hotels.

Now is the time to book your visit.

13 Responses to Yellowstone earthquake swarm finished?

  1. Jim says:

    Thank you, all of you! I hate looking at a map and not understanding why certain things are the way they are. Perhaps I have OCD when it comes to geography. This makes perfect sense.

    On to the next mystery!



  2. James Hanley says:

    Related, yes. But of established sanity? I challenge you to prove that assertion.


  3. Scott Hanley says:

    Mom and Dad always said so, but I can only take their word for it.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Scott Hanley? James Hanley? Two people of established sanity, with the same last name — are you guys related?


  5. James Hanley says:

    And now I have to eat crow. Scott explains the original boundary, much of which is still in effect. But there have been some changes over the years, and some of those changes have moved the boundary to along mountain ridges.

    And having actually hiked along one of those boundary ridgelines, it’s a bit embarrassing that I “stated with confidence” that no such thing exists.

    Sigh. Perhaps I needed some humbling today.


  6. Scott Hanley says:

    Yellowstone’s boundaries don’t line up with Wyoming’s because the territory hadn’t been surveyed very well yet. When Wyoming was defined, they knew where they wanted it to be, and didn’t care what was inside the boundaries. With Yellowstone, they didn’t know (exactly) where it was, but they knew what they wanted to be included (Geysers! A canyon! A giant mountain lake!).

    So the Organic Act of 1872 just drew a huge rectangle around the area, without any reference to latitude and longitude: draw a straight east-west where the Gardner River empties into the Yellowstone River, and that’s the north boundary. Find the point ten miles east of the easternmost point of Yellowstone Lake and draw a north-south line; that’s the eastern boundary. The southern boundary is another straight line that’s ten miles south of the southernmost point of Yellowstone Lake. And the western boundary is drawn at the point fifteen miles west of Madison Lake. Whatever is inside of that rectangle is the National Park and those are the boundaries; we’ll figure out their latitude and longitude later. It was simpler that way.

    Wtoming’s boundaries, on the other hand, had been set by looking at a map back in Washington. The northern boundary was the 45th parallel and the western boundary was the 111th meridian, whatever happened to be on the ground notwithstanding. That, too, was just the simple way to do it.

    As it turns out, the mouth of the Gardner lies just north of the 45th parallel; fifteen miles west of Madison Lake gets you slightly past the 111th parallel. So there’s a Montana strip and an Idaho strip, accidentally. Had the region been really well-mapped, and if they had been sure that some really cool thermal area or waterfall wasn’t still out there undiscovered, the boundaries might have been drawn more carefully to follow the state boundaries. But they didn’t.


  7. James Hanley says:


    I’m not sure. I’m pretty familiar with the park’s geography, and I can say with confidence that the borders aren’t based on natural geographic features. I would guess that Ed’s on the right track. But I’ll ask my brother; he knows quite a lot about the history of the park (he has an advanced degree in history and worked in the park for over a decade). He also reads this blog, so I’ll ask him to comment.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Without looking, my guess is that there was much more that could have been included in the park, much that probably should have. But in the end, with roughly the borders the park has, support from four more senators could be gained by the park’s spilling over into Idaho and Montana.

    It’s a bit of history I should know, but don’t.


  9. Jim says:

    Dumb question for you, James, or for Ed or anyone else who knows.

    If you look at a map of Y’stone…it’s bordes actually spill over into other states. It’s mostly in Wyoming, but not entirely. Is there a reason for this? I have wondered about this for some time, being something of a map-geek.



  10. James Hanley says:

    Thanks for the update and link. I can’t read Laden regularly, but I love his scientific reporting, and am always particularly interested in Yellowstone geology news.


  11. […] “Yellowstone earthquake swarm finished?” January 5, 2009 […]


  12. lowerleavell says:

    I sure hope it’s done! My brother lives less than 2 hours away!


  13. bernarda says:

    Unfortunately we don’t have any knowledge of the precursors of 600K years ago. Maybe the lack of activity means that the pressure is building and not being released.


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