Laden’s late; but, is Yellowstone gonna blow AND TAKE US WITH IT?

February 26, 2011

The veteran reader of this blog — can there be more than one? — may recall the kerfuffle a couple of years ago when there was a “swarm” of earthquakes in the Yellowstone.  Alas for those prone to panic attacks, the swarm ran through the Hanukkah/Ramadan/Christmas/KWANZAA/New Year’s holidays, when other news is slack.

Yellowstone Caldera, Smith and Siegel 2000

What the Yellowstone Caldera might look like from space, by moonlight, on a clear night, if you can imagine the borders of Yellowstone National Park very vividly – Smith and Siegel, 2000

You might understand, then, why I say Greg Laden turns his considerable story-telling prowess to the issue late.  Still, his prowess towers over the rest of us, and he tells a great story.

Is the Yellowstone safe? he asks, rhetorically.

The answer is complex:

1) Wear a seat belt when driving around in the region;

2) Don’t feed the bears and make sure you understand bear safety; and

3) Somebody is going to get blasted by some kind of volcano in the area some day, but even if you live there the chances are it won’t be you.

The joy is in the journey — go read Laden’s explanation of the rising lava.  Heck, even those of us who think we know that stuff understand it better when he explains it.

Earlier in the Bathtub:

Also see:

Yellowstone Earthquake Swarm of 2010 fizzling out?

January 27, 2010

Inside Yellowstone noted just three earthquakes in the Yellowstone swarm in a 24-hour period covering most of Saturday.

It wasn’t the End of the World as Old Faithful Knows It, after all.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) suggests the swarm continues, however — but doesn’t suggest anyone should be too concerned about it.

As of January 26, 2010 9:00 AM MST there have been 1,360 located earthquakes in the recent Yellowstone National Park swarm. The swarm began January 17, 2010 around 1:00 PM MST about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of the Old Faithful area on the northwestern edge of Yellowstone Caldera. Swarms have occurred in this area several times over the past two decades.

There have been 11 events with a magnitude larger than 3, 101 events of magnitude 2 to 3, and 1248 events with a magnitude less than 2. The largest events so far have been a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8 that occurred after 11 PM MST on January 20, 2010.

The first event of magnitude 3.7 occurred at 11:01 PM MST and was shortly followed by a magnitude 3.8 event at 11:16 PM. Both shocks were located around 9 miles to the southeast of West Yellowstone, MT and about 10 miles to the northwest of Old Faithful, WY. Both events were felt throughout the park and in surrounding communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

See the University of Utah Seismograph Stations for the most recent earthquake data and press releases. The team is working 24/7 to analyze and communicate information about the swarm. Seismograph recordings from stations of the Yellowstone seismograph network can be viewed online at:

You can get the information from the horse’s mouth (Dragon’s Mouth?) — some enterprising earth sciences, geography or general science teacher can probably work up a great assignment for students to deal with the data and make sense from them.

Ground deformations in the Yellowstone Caldera, from satellite photos - imageGround deformations in the Yellowstone Caldera, from satellite photos - image

Ground deformations in the Yellowstone Caldera, from satellite photos, in 2005 - image (This isn't really directly related to the earthquake swarm, but it's a cool image.)

Update, March 12, 2011: This post has been mighty popular over the last week.  Can someone tell me, in comments, whether this post was linked to by another site?  Why the popularity all of a sudden — even before the Japan earthquake and tsunami?  Please do!

All quiet on the Yellowstone front (almost)

January 6, 2009

Here’s the on-line helicorder view of January 5 — a quiet day at Lake Woebegone Yellowstone.  Click on the image to go to the site and see for yourself (in a larger format, too).

Compare the image below, with the image here, to see the difference a few days makes.

Helicorder data from January 5, 2008, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb station (YLT)

Helicorder data from January 5, 2008, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb station (YLT)

Yellowstone earthquake swarm finished?

January 5, 2009

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.

Ten minutes on Yellowstone NP in winter, with outdoor writer Tim Cahill

November 4, 2007

Yellowstone National Park is just a cool place. If you’re not using it for anything in your geography and U.S. history courses, you’re missing out.

Here’s a ten-minute video that the producers hope you’ll show far and wide to encourage television stations to pick up the series. It’s a ten-minute pilot for “Travelers’ Tales,” featuring outdoor writer Tim Cahill, a founder of Outside magazine, and photographer Tom Murphy.

Here are some of the points you might use in class:

  • Yellowstone in winter, especially the wildlife, like bison, elk and coyotes (all shown), and wolves (not shown)
  • Volcanic geology — Yellowstone is the world’s largest caldera, after all
  • Diversity of landforms in the U.S., or in the world. More than half the hot water features on the planet are in Yellowstone
  • Travel and adventure
  • What makes good writing (travel writing in this case)
  • Western geography
  • Development of the west, especially after the Lewis and Clark Expedition

The video features a lot of snow, elk, bison and coyotes, hot springs flowing into a river making swimming in January feasible, Mammoth Hot Springs and the travertine pools, and the cold northern desert of sagebrush and juniper.

Questions you might consider to turn this into a warm-up exercise (bell ringer):

Geography, not answered in the video (map or internet exercise):

  1. Yellowstone National Park covers parts of which three states?
  2. Yellowstone National Park is mostly located in which state?
  3. What is the most famous feature of Yellowstone National Park?
  4. Ashfall Beds State Park features ancient mammals killed by an eruption in the Yellowstone Caldera. Where is Ashfall Beds State Park?
  5. Thomas Moran played a key role in getting Congress to designate Yellowstone as a park. What did he do to help convince Congress to act?

Geography, answered in the video:

  1. What year was Yellowstone designated a National Park by Congress?
  2. What sort of volcanic feature is the entire Yellowstone area?
  3. The Yellowstone Caldera explodes catastrophically about every 600,000 years, according to some geologists. How long has it been since the last such catastrophic explosion?
  4. The wags say there are two seasons in Yellowstone, ______ and winter.
  5. What is a “hot pot?”

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