Don’t Worry, Yellowstone Won’t (Likely) Erupt

April 4th, 2014
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Yellowstone National Park is a true national treasure of the United States and indeed is one of the world’s most unique and majestic natural settings.  The park is home to pristine wilderness and wildlife and to numerous dramatic geothermal features like geysers and hot springs.  The park is visited by more than three million per year and is one of the most popular national parks in the world.

The unique topography and geothermal activity are the result of a massive supervolcano which the park sits above.  It has been more than two million years since the volcano had a “mega eruption” amd 70,000 since it had even a minor eruption event. Still, if it were to erupt, it has the potential to cause devastation to the United States, North America, the Western Hemisphere and even the entire world.  Those outside of North America would likely be spared the most direct effects, although there could be noticeable climate effects.  However, the sheer volume of North American farmland that would be devastated would result in a global food crisis.

There a reasonable possibility that Yellowstone will erupt some time in the next hundred thousand years, but the probability of it erupting in any of our lifetimes is miniscule.

Still, many are becoming extremely concerned after a number of videos showed up online reporting to show bison or other animals fleeing the Yellowstone area.  It must mean the whole thing is about to blow… right?   According to some it does.  Because these original videos were followed by many conspiracy-oriented videos claiming that the government is keeping down the information about the impending eruption.


Actually, this does not appear to be the case. For one thing, there’s no evidence that bison or any other animals are leaving the area en mass. Yes, videos have been posted of herds of bison running, but bison travel in herds and they are known to take off running for any number of reasons. It’s possible that one was spooked and that triggered a stampede. This is not wholly unusual behavior for herd animals. “>In fact, a park spokesperson said that, based on the video, it appeared the bison were running toward the interior of the park and not away.

It’s also possible that the bison or other animals were scared by recent earthquakes, which have occurred in the park. But before you panic, the park experiences earthquakes frequently. It’s a very geologically active area. The number of quakes and their severity wanes and waxes, but there is no indication that any kind of unusual geological activity is occurring. T“>here was an earthquake of magnitude 4.8 last month, which is reported to be the strongest single quake in thirty years. But if that scares you, remember, the volcano also did not explode thirty years ago. In fact, there have been some much larger quakes during the 20th century, including a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in 1959.

Furthermore, although reports of animals behaving unusually before major geological events are common, these tend to be made after the event has occurred and witnesses recall animals acting strangely before. Of course, animals act strangely all the time. Scientific attempts to observe animals and correlate their behavior with earthquake activity have proven to be inconclusive.

Via Live Science:

Earthquake Shakes Yellowstone But No Volcano Threat Looms, Scientists Say

An earthquake of magnitude 4.8 shook Yellowstone National Park early Sunday (March 30).

The tremor was the largest to hit the famed reserve in 34 years, but that doesn’t mean Yellowstone’s sleeping supervolcano is getting ready to spew, or even belch, scientists say.

The epicenter of the quake was located 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) north-northeast of Norris Geyser Basin in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The tremor struck at 6:34 a.m. local time and was followed by at least 25 aftershocks in less than two hours, with the largest of magnitude 3.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Yellowstone is believed to sit over an underground chamber of magma rising from Earth’s mantle; the park’s much-visited geysers and hot springs are results of this underlying volcanism. The last full-scale blast at the site occurred 640,000 years ago; collapsing ground from that catastrophic event created the oval-shaped, 40- by 25-mile (64- by 40-kilometer) Yellowstone caldera. A smaller, but still major, eruption occurred 70,000 years ago, spilling the lava that made the Pitchstone Plateau. [Image Gallery: Wild Volcanoes]

Scientists monitoring Yellowstone’s volcanic and seismic activity say they would expect to see much more rumbling if even a small blast was brewing.

“It’s a pretty high bar to start a volcanic eruption at Yellowstone,” said Jake Lowenstern, scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, an outpost run by the USGS with Yellowstone National Park and the University of Utah.

“To get magma out of the ground you’re going to have to have a lot of earthquakes and a lot of ground deformation — a lot more than we’re seeing now and much more intense,” Lowenstern told Live Science. “There hasn’t been an eruption at Yellowstone in 70,000 years and 500 to 1,000 earthquakes of this size that have happened over that time.”

Despite these fully rational and logical statements by scientists, some continue to claim that a mega-eruption must be brewing. Perhaps the idea that one could happen makes them feel a bit less silly about all the money they invested in bunkers, canned food and other stuff for the 2012 doomsday that never came.


This entry was posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Good Science, History, Just LAME, media, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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11 Responses to “Don’t Worry, Yellowstone Won’t (Likely) Erupt”

  1. 1
    Christopher D Brown Says:

    I have lived through about earthquakes and have always had pets around. The pets NEVER seemed to know the earthquake was coming. In once case I detected the earthquake’s p-wave before the cat even noticed the quake – she did not move until the S-wave hit. I don’t worry about Yellowstone blowing up – I worry about my ex military neighbor.


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  2. 2
    Christopher D. Brown Says:

    FYI –

    “That’s when things really exploded,” he said. “Eruptionists and conspiracists pirated the video and misrepresented it, suggesting that it was shot after the earthquakes. Then news agency after news agency started picking up on it, without looking at the original video to see what my actual intent was.”

    http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-yellowstone-eruption-rumors-20140403,0,4794509.story


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

    I have also seen it mentioned that this sort of mass movement by the bison is typical for this time of year as they move to Summer pastures, a type of behaviour seen in many large ruminants.


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  4. 4
    ddpalmer Says:

    The video is from March 14th, weeks before the earthquake.

    And most significantly, the bison in the video are running INTO the park not away from it.


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  5. 5
    Rob Says:

    I visited Yellowstone about twenty years ago. As we drove into the park about a dozen of those animals were walking along the road and out the park gate.

    So I guess it has been a steady stream of them leaving the park all those years! When the last one leaves we can confidently expect the volcano to erupt/a devastating earthquake/a meteorite to strike or whatever the disaster turns out to be.


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  6. 6
    Nigel Sedgwick Says:

    Have you noticed that the bison keep to the right side of the road (in both senses).

    What does that mean?

    Best regards


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  7. 7
    PsihoKekec Says:

    That they learned the traffic rules?


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  8. 8
    Sigivald Says:

    Nigel: It means they’re imported English bison, and suicidal.


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  9. 9
    AndyH Says:

    If Yellowstone blew up there would be many people whose primary worry would be the fact it may endanger nuclear plants.

    If you have the time please turn your attention to the Wikipedia page for the NRC. Over the last few months it has been completely over-run by anti-nuke and fossil fuel activists.

    I started fixing the “Criticism” section, if you know of reliable sources which voice criticisms of the NRC from the pro-nuke point of view please add them to the paragraph I started at the bottom of that section.

    I’m completely disgusted that lobbyists succeeded in getting Vermont Yankee shut down, and San Onofre as well. We can’t afford to sit idly by as billions in investments are thrown aside and we destroy the environment, it is sheer madness.


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  10. 10
    ddpalmer Says:

            AndyH said:

    I started fixing the “Criticism” section, if you know of reliable sources which voice criticisms of the NRC from the pro-nuke point of view please add them to the paragraph I started at the bottom of that section.

    You might want to take a look at http://atomicinsights.com/


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  11. 11
    DV82XL Says:

            AndyH said:

    I started fixing the “Criticism” section, if you know of reliable sources which voice criticisms of the NRC from the pro-nuke point of view please add them to the paragraph I started at the bottom of that section.

    I applaud your willingness to make an effort but as I discovered the hard way several years ago, edit warring with anti-nukes at Wikipedia is one of the most soul-destroying and ultimately futile activities one could ever possibly engage in. I wish you luck, but I also advise you not to become too invested in this project because it’s akin to trying to fight entropy – you can only hold the inevitable back for a short time. Know when to break away before you break yourself.


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