Yellowstone Earthquake Causes Little Damage

    March 31, 2014
    Mike Fossum
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A magnitude 4.8 earthquake rattled Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming on Sunday near the Montana border, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Several aftershocks with a magnitude over 3 were also recorded.

USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory spokesman Peter Cervelli noted that the epicenter of the quake was situated in the middle of park, near the Norris Geyser Basin. Cervilli added that no damage was reported, and that there were not many visitors during the time of the event.

The park sits atop of the Yellowstone Caldera, sometimes called the Yellowstone Supervolcano, a volcanic caldera. Seismic activity is commonplace in the region, and the Yellowstone Caldera sees between 1000 and 2000 measurable earthquakes a year, though most register a magnitude 3 or less. On occasion, a flurry of earthquakes is detected in rapid succession, an event called an earthquake swarm.

Here’s some information on the caldera:

Cervilli pointed out that Sunday’s quake, which occurred at 12:34 am GMT, will likely generate more secondary shockwaves in addition to the three already recorded, though noted that volcanic activity isn’t expected. Yet, Sunday’s earthquake was the most powerful recorded in the park since 1985, when seismologists logged 3,000 events up to magnitude 4.9 during a three-month period.

The last major eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano was the Lava Creek event which occurred 640,000 years ago, which ejected approximately 240 cubic miles of pyroclastic detritus into the air. A repeat of an eruption of that magnitude today might render a large portion of the western United States uninhabitable for at least a decade.

Geologists have closely monitored the rise of the Yellowstone Plateau, which has seen an accelerated upward movement of almost 3 inches per year between 2004 and 2008. This rise is indicative of an increase in magma chamber pressure. Seismologist Robert B. Smith, lead author of the study and professor of geophysics at the University of Utah, commented,”Our best evidence is that the crustal magma chamber is filling with molten rock. But we have no idea how long this process goes on before there either is an eruption or the inflow of molten rock stops and the caldera deflates again.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • Michael W Mullen

    The USGS says there is no emminent danger from the Yellowstone super volcano. That may be true. However, the supervolcano has errupted at least three times in the past about every 600 thousand years. If that cycle continues an eruption is somewhat overdue.

    An eruption would be devastating not just in the northwest but across the nation and globally. Local and regional devastation would be total and ash would likely bury parts of the eastern U.S.

    However, the biggest impact upon Homo sapiens and all the planet would be the ash added to the atmosphere. The ash could cause severe cooling and loss of growing seasons around much of the planet and as a result cause mass starvation. For that reason (disasters of this type not just this singular risk) humankind should cooperate to create a grain reserve sufficient to cover minimal needs of the species for at least a year or two. Families should keep 6 months of food stored – rice, flour, cornmeal, canned or dried vegetables and a stock of seeds that are rotated regularly and perhaps a few barrels of drinking water and a system for water filtration.

    I don’t distrust the government and the USGS but I don’t fully trust them either. If reports on the internet are reliable FEMA is buying and storing hundreds of thousands of caskets. If this is true my though its that FEMA is doing this for one of several reasons: a terrorist explosion of a nuclear device in a U.S. city, outbrealk of a pandemic flu or similar contagion, eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano or perhaps a large tsunami (there is an unstable island in the Atlantic that could slide into the ocean creating a tidal wave hundreds of feet high that could sweep all the way across Florida and devastage much or all of the east coast.

    Fortunately these are all low probability events. However, no government would want to create a panic about something that has a very low risk of occurance. So, It would not entirely surprise me if there was a growing risk at Yellowstone that the USGS/government chooses to downplay right now.