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Will Yellowstone National Park Be Shaken By Earthquake Or Spewed With Molten Lava?

October 31, 2013


There are so many serene and breath-taking places to visit in the Western United States.   Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and the list, thankfully, can go on and on.  Though I have traveled the ones listed I still have the fondest recollections about Yellowstone National Park as it was there I first experienced the epic world of the Rockies and the awe Mother Nature produces.  I ventured in Yellowstone as a teenager with my parents and it was the start of a love affair with mountains that has only increased with the years.

So when I saw a headline about the latest science discoveries underground at the place that first introduced me to the west I was most interested.  The internal dynamics at work over the span of time that allows for the beauty we enjoy today continues churn and roil.  New wonders are still in production!.  There is a joy in not only seeing the powerful sight of a mountain peak or getting near the geothermal areas but also knowing the work never ends at creation for these national parks,

The reservoir of molten rock underneath Yellowstone National Park in the United States is at least two and a half times larger than previously thought. Despite this, the scientists who came up with this latest estimate say that the highest risk in the iconic park is not a volcanic eruption but a huge earthquake.

Yellowstone is famous for having a ‘hot spot’ of molten rock that rises from deep within the planet, fuelling the park’s geysers and hot springs1. Most of the magma resides in a partially molten blob a few kilometres beneath Earth’s surface.

New pictures of this plumbing system show that the reservoir is about 80 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide, says Robert Smith, a geophysicist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “I don’t know of any other magma body that’s been imaged that’s that big,” he says.

Yellowstone’s last mammoth volcanic eruption took place 640,000 years ago. Since then, some 50 to 60 smaller eruptions have occurred, with the most recent of these about 70,000 years ago. A much more likely risk than volcanoes, says Smith, is posed by earthquakes of magnitude 7 or greater like those that have struck the region in modern times. “They are the killer events which we’ve already had,” he says. For instance, the magnitude-7.3 Hebgen Lake earthquake that hit near Yellowstone in 1959 killed 28 people.

This area of the western United States is being stretched and thinned by geological forces, causing the crust to fracture in large quakes. The risk of more of these quakes occurring remains high, says Smith, making them a much bigger problem than any chance of a mammoth eruption.

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