Yellowstone: Expert says earthquake activity is ‘significant’
Yellowstone – one of the world’s most feared volcanoes – has experienced a series of earthquakes in the past month. Monitoring services from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) show that in the past 28 days, Yellowstone has been hit by 73 earthquakes. All of the earthquakes have been relatively small, with the largest being a magnitude 2 tremor coming on January 27.
Is it a sign the volcano will erupt?
Although all of the earthquakes have been small, some experts warn it is not necessarily the size of an earthquake which is the indication of an upcoming volcanic eruption, but more the quantity of them.
Portland State University Geology Professor Emeritus Scott Burns said: “If you get swarms under a working volcano, the working hypothesis is that magma is moving up underneath there.”
But others disagree about whether an earthquake swarm near a volcano could be a sign of things to come.
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Jamie Farrell at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City believes this is just part of the natural cycle for Yellowstone volcano, saying: “Earthquake swarms are fairly common in Yellowstone.”
Yellowstone’s National Park Service said that the region usually has about 700 earthquakes a year, so 73 earthquakes in a single month is not unheard of.
On the upper scale, Yellowstone can experience up to 3,000 quakes in a year.
The USGS says: “Almost all earthquakes at Yellowstone are brittle-failure events caused when rocks break due to crustal stresses.
“Though we’ve been looking at Yellowstone for years, no one has yet identified ‘long-period (LP) events’ commonly attributed to magma movement.
“If LP events are observed, that will NOT mean Yellowstone is getting ready to erupt. LP earthquakes commonly occur at other volcanoes in the world, including volcanoes in California, that have not erupted for centuries or millennia.”
The Yellowstone supervolcano, located in the US state of Wyoming, last erupted on a major scale 640,000 years ago.
According to the USGS, the chances of a Yellowstone eruption is around one-in-730,000.
However, if it were to erupt – of which there is no indication – experts believe there would be plenty of warning signs.
Volcanologist Dr Erik Klemetti of Denison University wrote in a piece for the Big Think: “Yellowstone is pretty calm as giant caldera systems go.
“We have such a small record of the behaviour of a ‘restless caldera’ that this inflation at Yellowstone could very easily fall into the realm of normal, non-eruption-causing behaviour.
“And if you ever worry, Yellowstone is also well-wired to see all the real time data, including earthquakes in the region and in the park, temperatures of hot springs, webcams, deformation within the caldera and hydrologic changes in the area.
“You would expect that if Yellowstone were headed towards an eruption, we would see lots of rapid inflation, lots of constant seismicity that gets shallower through time, a change in the temperature/composition of the hydrothermal systems and possibly even cracks forming in the land around the caldera.
“In other words, there will be lots of signs.”
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