Is Yellowstone Going to Blow? Exaggerated Reports of Volatility

As long as there's been a national park seated on a super volcano, there's been erroneous reports of impending doom.

Indicators of an Impending Volcano Eruption

  • Hundreds to thousands of earthquakes per day
  • Earthquakes of 4.5 magnitude range or larger
  • Significant ground movement: bulges, rising and lowering, elevation changes
  • Changes in geyser activity
  • Changes in the geothermal gasses that come from the ground

Does Yellowstone Have These Indicators?

Do we have earthquake swarms in Yellowstone? Yes, says Henry Heasler of the National Park Service. Do we have ground deformation? Yes. Does the hydrothermal system change? Every day.

“But are those signs of an impending eruption? No. All these things have to be coincident in the same area and very concentrated, a greater magnitude, and many more of them than we currently see,” says Heasler. Activity in Yellowstone “are all parts of the vital signs of this volcano, and there has been nothing that has been indicated that there is an impending eruption.” (See full interview in video above.)

Yellowstone has from 1,000 to 3,000 earthquakes per year which are closely monitored. Most are too small to be felt (less than a magnitude 3.0.)

Exaggerated Reports of Volatility

Don’t get caught up in the media hype meant to entice you to visit websites about impending doom. Often marketers exaggerate reports to draw you in. One such example is the February 2014 reports of giant earthquake swarms in Yellowstone.

It turns out seismic data graphics, or “webicorders,” as they are known to scientists, were misread. 

Here’s what the experts at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had to say:
“The story appears to be based on a misinterpretation of public “webicorders,” which are graphics depicting seismic data, on the University of Utah Seismographic Station (UUSS) web site (UU operates the Yellowstone Seismic Network). A borehole seismometer called “B944″, located near the West Thumb region of the Park, has been malfunctioning in recent weeks with strong bursts of electronic noise contaminating its data. These noise bursts appear as wild excursions on the B944 webicorders that can appear alarming to the inexperienced eye.”

Webicorder of the Yellowstone borehole in question on February 6, 2014.
Webicorder of the Yellowstone borehole in question on February 6, 2014University of Utah Seismograph Station

So someone glanced at the above maps, grabbed their hair in distress and then took to Facebook to warn their friends and family of the potential for “The Big One.” The frenzy reached such a fever pitch that the USGS had to step in to reiterate that Yellowstone earthquake levels have been normal and stable for the past few months… and that they will let everyone know when to worry.

Despite the fact that the last Yellowstone super eruption happened 640,000 years ago, the speculation surrounding when and how bad is ever present. (Google “Yellowstone Explosion” if you must.)

The National Park Service staffers, however, has been monitoring the Yellowstone volcanic activity very closely for the last 30 years. Their prediction? The chance of a catastrophic eruption in the next 1,000 -10,000 years, is “very unlikely” according to the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/volcano.htm.