Is Yellowstone making plans for 2009?

2008 is almost finished and we’ve seen one of the few high-silica rhyolite eruptions in the past 100 years at Chaiten in Chile. Chaiten was definitely not high on the list of potential locations for a rhyolite eruption worldwide. However, Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming definitely is high of the list because it has erupted a lot of rhyolite over the last few 100,000 years (even discounting the big so-called “supervolcano” eruptions).

This is why the current news of an earthquake swarm at Yellowstone is, in the very least, really interesting. The earthquakes – over 250 of them – started yesterday and many of them were as high as magnitude 3.8 on the Richter Scale. The earthquakes are centered under Yellowstone Lake and the depth is poor constrained according to the USGS, but they appear to be shallow. Even Yellowstone expert Robert Smith (Univ. of Utah) say the swarm is “very unusual”. However, YVO plays down the event. The earthquakes might be related to hydrothermal fluids moving in the crust, they might be tectonic or they might be magma moving (but not to the surface). Definitely gives us something to keep an eye on as 2009 begins.

{Hat tip to reader Doug for pointing this out.}


  1. #1 Thomas Donlon
    December 30, 2008

    If anyone wants to see a seismograph of earthquake activity at one seismograph station on the shore of Yellowstone lake – check out this link.
    It is updated every five minutes.

    Nine days of seismic records for nineteen different recording stations in and near Yellowstone park can be accessed from this webpage. (It includes links to the current days’ records as they are produced.)

    To see the location of the stations listed in the above link you can refer to the map link here.
    Those closer to the epicenter show the smaller earthquakes.

    Here is a link to help teach how to read seismographs.
    A general hum usually indicates local activity such as strong wind – or even a truck idling nearby. An earthquake usually has a sharp movement on the seismograph that then tapers back – gradually diminishing.
    It has a quick tutorial on how “to read” or understand the squiggle marks left by the seismic recorders – giving links to pages that show the seismic records left by different strength earthquakes, local wind, possibly waves along the lake, as well as the clipping caused by the analog recorders.

    Yellowstone has a long history of small earthquakes and small to moderate strength volcanic activity and lava effusions – although the popular media understandably focus only on the three biggest eruptions that have occurred there – a lot has happened beside big eruptions.

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