Yellowstone: A Silent Threat?
The news is out; Yellowstone is rising at a significant rate. But what exactly does this mean? And what can the world expect from this? Everyday there are potential threats to our norms of living: from terrorism to Mother Nature in her finest. Does this mean start packing for the farthest location from Wyoming or just sit back and see what happens? What I can say for sure right now is that I wouldn’t be rushing for the Southern tip of Africa just yet.
MSNBC’s Andrea Thompson for LiveScience reported on November 8, 2007 about Yellowstone’s growing floor. So what exactly is causing this disturbing rise? According to scientists at the University of Utah that oversee the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory a blob of molten rock around the size of Los Angeles has broken from the top of the plume and risen into the magma chamber underneath the caldera floor. Calderas around the world constantly see rise and fall of their floors so what is so unique about Yellowstone? The ground has dramatically increased in its rate of acceleration to an astonishing 7cm a year from a prior record of 2 cm a year.
The rising caldera isn’t the only sign of unusual disturbances happening in Yellowstone. Five bison died in 2004 from inhaling toxic gases trapped near the ground. The cold weather forced the gases to stay relatively close to the ground which caused not only wildlife, but some plant life to die as well.
With the increasing pressure placed against the caldera floor, hydrothermal activity has increased as well. Steamboat Geyser has been having a rather active couple years with its first eruption since October 12, 1991 occurring on May 2, 2000.
So does all of this information lead to an imminent super eruption? According to Robert Smith, a seismologist at the University of Utah, “There is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption or hydrothermal explosion. That’s the bottom line.”
So if there is no “volcanic eruption” at hand, why is so much attention being placed on Yellowstone? A 25th seismic station was added in 2005 along with placing the Yellowstone volcano as number 21 out of America’s 169 volcanoes for high eruption risk. There are a group of 36 volcanoes classified as high risk on the United States Geological Survey’s first ever comprehensive list of America’s volcanoes.
According to the USGS OPEN-FILE REPORT 2005-1164: An Assessment of Volcanic Threat and Monitoring Capabilities in the United States: Framework for a National Volcano Early Warning System, all three indicators of a possible eruption are present at Yellowstone which are: recurrent earthquake swarms, deformation of the ground floor, and changes in the hydrothermal features.
Everything about Yellowstone seems to have been a delayed response or delayed admission of fact. It took until 1979 for skeptics to realize that Yellowstone was an active volcano; the evidence that helped with the discovery was from a team led by Robert Christiansen who had found that the caldera floor had risen 3 feet in five decades. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory wasn’t founded until May 14, 2001, over 20 years after discovering that the volcano was active. Even Christiansen ponders the threat provided by Yellowstone’s massive volcano.
“Christiansen doubts the likelihood of another cataclysmic eruption any time soon, but he doesn’t rule out something smaller. Earthquakes, rock slides, and steam explosions from geyser basins are all possible. A blowout on the scale of Mount St. Helens is conceivable”-National Geographic News. Even Henry “Hank” Heasler agrees that a basalt flow could erupt from Yellowstone without warning.
So in light of all this information, what can we expect? The truth of the matter is that scientists just don’t know. Yellowstone is a geological wonderland that continuously makes us rethink about the way it works. As Heasler said, “The words you say most as a scientist in Yellowstone are I don’t know.'” Though most of the scientists do agree that a super eruption’ is far from our near future, some are still speculating on whether or not a smaller, but still quite powerful, eruption could or will occur. So should people cancel their Yellowstone vacations? Most would agree that any kind of eruption could be detected well in advance so don’t cancel anything just yet. Yellowstone National Park is a beautiful part of America that has a very violent past, and it will continue to be heavily watched and monitored by scientists all around.