Is The Yellowstone Caldera Calling?

by Ernie Fitzpatrick
by Ernie Fitzpatrick



Everyone who knows anything about volcanoes and earthquakes is aware of the potentially earth destroying capability of the Yellowstone Super Volcano. Yellowstone could do what the Toba Super Volcano did some 70,000 years ago: throw the planet into an ice age that lasted close to 60,000 years and destroy 90-98% of the world’s population. Those are not wild speculations but reality. No one wants to think about it of course; however, Yellowstone may be leaving a calling card for us.

Over the last few months things have been heating up in our famous National Park and none of it is good.

Over eight days, more than 1,270 mostly tiny earthquakes have struck between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone. The strongest dozen or so have ranged between magnitudes 3.0 and 3.8. These are beginning to become serious in size, as a growing swarm of course, but the vast majority have been too weak to be felt even nearby.

Online chatter about an imminent volcanic eruption in Yellowstone hasn’t really picked up compared with the attention that a similar quake swarm drew just over a year ago. But here I am chatting!

"Perhaps we have done a better job in the past year or so helping the public understand that earthquake swarms are not unusual in Yellowstone," park spokesman Al Nash said Monday. That said, taken together as a whole, this represents the SECOND greatest and largest swarm in history. The largest quakes in the current swarm have included two of magnitude 3.1 and one of magnitude 3.0 late Sunday and early Monday, according to the University of Utah, which helps monitor seismic activity in Yellowstone.


Take note: one of the world’s largest volcanoes slumbers at the core of Yellowstone.

The volcano last had a caldera-forming eruption 640,000 years ago and last spewed lava 70,000 years ago, which means it could have erupted along with the Toba super volcano. Geologists say Yellowstone could erupt again, although the probability of an eruption within anyone’s lifetime is extremely low! I like those odds, but with all the weird things going on in the physical world these days, who knows?

Relatively mundane fault slippage is believed to be causing the latest quakes, said Jamie Farrell, a researcher at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Not that the swarm isn’t interesting to geologists – quite the opposite. "It gives us an opportunity to maybe get a better idea of what the processes are that are causing the earthquakes we’re seeing," Farrell said. "Hopefully, each time we get one of these, we can get maybe a little better idea of what’s going on down there."

I’m glad someone is watching because we may be getting a wake-up call; however, if we are, does anyone know what in the world we could do about it anyway?

March 2, 2010