More on the January 2010 Yellowstone Swarm

A hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Yesterday I left a little teaser about the current earthquake swarm going on at the Yellowstone Caldera. Eruptions readers have come through with even more information on the swarm. Over 250 earthquakes have occurred in the park over the last few days, most between 0.5-3.1 on the Richter Scale - and getting larger each day. The swarmtarget="_blank"> is centered 10 miles northwest of Old Faithful, Wyoming and 9 miles southeast of West Yellowstone. However, before everyone gets too excited, Dr. Robert Smith of University of Utah (the go-to scientist when it comes to Yellowstone seismicity) seems to think this swarm is tectonically-triggered rather than magmatic. Also, he makes sure to point out that it is wholly unrelated to the Haiti earthquake of last week. Most of the quakes are 8-10 km below the surface, which is still likely above the hot magma reservoir (believed to be ~6-16 km) where hot fluids or faults lubricated by these fluids could generate seismicity. YVO has, unsurprisingly, kept the alert status at Green because these swarms are common in a "restless" caldera like Yellowstone.

Now, if you want to "hear" the seismicity of this swarm, Eruptions reader Akira Shirakawa has posted a file of the "sound" of the swarm, as he describes it:

I made a video of seismic waveforms from two monitoring stations converted into audio waveforms. It covers the first 28 hours of activity condensed in 7 minutes (that's a 240x speed up). You can hear (but also see) that activity is much more than only those reported earthquakes.

It is well worth checking out to get an idea of what exactly an earthquake swarm is - and you can follow some of the previous discussion of the data over here. As usual, when Yellowstone even shifts in its sleep, it is news!

More like this

Still going strong.

By Dasnowskier (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

I've made a chart of the cumulative seismic energy of the earthquakes listed by the University of Utah (not many, as of now) occurred during this swarm. I hope it's clear enough:
(the earthquake series line isn't supposed to have connected points by the way)

The blue line is the cumulative seismic energy, the orange one represents the individual earthquakes.

By Akira Shirakawa (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Shirakawa san, thank you for the audio rendition of the activity. It reminds me of the sound my old 25 cup coffee percolater, not the newer drip variety but the old type which heats the water at the bottom and forces it up through a narrow tube to the top where it then filters down through the coffee only to be re-boiled and forced up again.

doug mcl.

Sounds like the creaking and popping I hear when I'm ice fishing. Wonder if it's the same sort of mechanism at work on a vastly smaller smaller scale.

Now a 3.3 mag 8km deep. I am sure that was felt.

By dasnowskier (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Well I listened to the sound recording and I must say it is interesting to say the least. (although it did remind me of hailstone hitting my window).

Certainly brings to mind subtle reminders that rocks elastic limit is not much at all.

Could be a new magma intrusion perhaps, I suppose thats ok as long as it dont over intrude so to speak..

Wonder how this would compare to other activity elsewhere?

By Stephen Tierney (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Stephen, check out this map

these kinds of swarms are really very common. In the Taupo map the main fault trends NNE / SSW as you can see. However, this is also precisely where the main vents of Taupo are located. At Yellowstone there is much less correlation between tectonic activity and volcanism, it appears. In fact if my memory serves me well, in the Oranui eruption (26k BP) there was a vent north of the lake where the top swarm is located and one in the southern sector of the lake where one of the current swarms is located. A few weeks ago there was another swarm more closely focused on the vent of the 181 AD Hatepe eruption.

But, as I said, this appears to be par for the course.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Respect Bruce you know more than I, however one day we might just get caught out. 3.6 the latest magnitude. I watching keenly.

Timescale wise..... due? Hoping however not..

By stephen tierney (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

I listened to the sound and it seemed as if some of the quakes reververated and some sounded like a far away cannon or the bottom of a 55g drum being lightly tapped. It sure gave a focus on what is going on. Swarms are interesting. Every so often there will be one in the Adobe Hills along the CA/NV border.

The is also a swarm going on along the southeast shore of the Salton Sea. These are rather frequent. Mammoth Mt. is still haveing low level quakes below the mountain and around it. There are not very many quakes there---maybe between 20 and 25.

It will be interesting to see how long the swarm at Yellowstone goes on.

BTW, is the area having the swarm near the Norris Basin? I guess I need to check out a map of the park. LOL

Stephen, there is a man-made swarm in the Geysers area north of SF that is on-going. They have a thermal power plant there and the quakes are due to putting the water back into the system. Every so often they will get a 3+ quake there, but nothing major. Also, there was a swarm several months ago right at the foot of Mt. Lassen. I am sure there were more than the 90 or so that I saw posted because only the largest were on the map. They happen there once in a while, too. The quakes are located just southwest of the mountain and very close to it. Any quakes I see up in that vicinity catch my attention. Lassen may be a plug dome, but it could erupt again. And I think Shasta is a sleeping giant. There are a lot of lava fields up there and cinder cones so I think it could still be active, just dormant.

The is a guy who is working on volcanic quakes and turning the signals into music. What he is trying to do is use the different sounds to predict eruptions. He compared a couple of volcanoes, one was Etna (I don't rememeber the other one) and the Etna sounds were just before an eruption. The sound was very different than the normal backgound sound of the other volcano. Interesting concept. Kind of jazzy sounds, too. :-)

@4: as similarities between volcanic eruption "sounds" and jet engine sounds have been found, I wouldn't be surprised if there actually were similarities to that too.

@10: the earthquakes which sounded like a far away cannon are most probably... distant earthquakes (teleseisms) !

By SHIRAKAWA Akira (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Thanks Akira.

Your putting the quakes in sound was really awesome. I read your other post about the teleseisms. That was a new term for me, but it makes a lot of sense because the seizmic waves travel all over and can be picked up.

What do you think about the guy (don't remember his name) that is putting the signals into music? It sounded really cool and odd. Like the difference between a soaring bird and a humming bird. The Etna signals were higher in pitch and faster. I hope this tech study can help predict volcnic eruptions better or faster than we can now.

@12: to tell the truth I haven't read about him, but you have to consider that the signal sound pitch mainly depends on the playing speed and the original sample rate. In my video I used a 240x speed, and the original sample rate was 100 hz, so the final result is a 24000 Hz file that includes audible sounds between 25 (threshold of human hearing) and 12000 Hz.

For personal listening, for example when trying to making out sense for certain signals I see on webicorders, I often use a 80x speed. Most short band seismic stations have a sample rate of 100Hz, so the result is usually a 8000 Hz file (audible range: 25-4000 Hz). Seismic waveform at this speed and frequencies sound much different than the video I posted, more like actual "explosions" or heavy "collisions" between heavy blocks of rock than "small pebbles hitting you window".

There DO are clear differences between various types of signals, especially volcanic ones (tremors, eruptions, etc; early last year I had a chance to verify this almost in realtime with Redoubt), of course, but I wouldn't put too much faith in their artistic use in music where they could have been tweaked to sound much different compared to others.

Please note that I'm not doing anything innovative, I guess many people before me (seismologists especially) have already figured out that by speeding up seismic waveforms to the human audible range you can "hear" them and often catch details better than only by eye.

By Akira Shirakawa (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

I've made another video covering January 19th seismicity (24 hours of time condensed in 6:38 minutes) from WY.YMC and WY.YPM seismic stations. At minute 5:57 you can "hear" the M3.5 earthquake. Playing speed is 225x:

By Akira Shirakawa (not verified) on 19 Jan 2010 #permalink

Akira Shirakawa, denken Sie, dass wir haben, ist ein Ausbruch bevor? sry 4 my bad Englisch, im aus Ãsterreich ^ ^


Thank you for explaining some of what you are doing. I understand a bit, but I am not electronically or techie enough to really know what it is you are doing. Basically it sounds like you are raising the Hz level to audible sound. I didn't even know you could do that with seizmic waves. Cool!

Is there any chance the really loud distant boom was the latest Haitian 5.9 after-shock? It sure sounded like it could have been that close.

Anyway, I keep learning more and more from this site. I may not be a techie, but at least I can get some of what is going on. It has been a while since I studied electron microscopy so I have forgotten a lot of what I learned in that program. But I rememeber enough.

Thanks again for posting the sounds of quakes. It gives another perspective on the graphs.


Maybe you can help OhNo! understand things a bit better. :-)

OhNo!, don't worry about your English. While I cannot understand you, There are people here who can. :-)

>Is there any chance the really loud distant boom was the latest Haitian 5.9 after-shock? It sure sounded like it could have been that close.

The 5.9 aftershock occurred at 11:03 UTC on 2009-01-20. The wave arrival time at Yellowstone is at about 11:11 UTC. It will be audible in my next "Yellowstone earthquake swarm sounds" video covering January 20th (UTC time) seismicity.

By Akira Shirakawa (not verified) on 20 Jan 2010 #permalink

I'm sorry, I wanted to copy the Google translator phrase in the English and I have copied the wrong thing. :)

Once again So now my question in English ^ ^

If the Yellowstone explode in 2010? Or is the earthquake swarm normal? @ AKIRA

@18: No, Yellowstone will not erupt anytime soon.
This earthquake swarm can be considered normal.

By Akira Shirakawa (not verified) on 20 Jan 2010 #permalink

OhNo! @18. Go ahead and plan your trip. Yellowstone is fantastic from any angle at any time. But if you are worried, just buy some travel insurance so you can get a full refund on your ticket if you have to cancel at the last minute.

@OhNo! I want to assure you that Yellowstone is safe to visit. It will be winter, of course, but it is beautiful at any time of year as Doug said. There is no indication at all that there will be an eruption any time soon. The only thing that does erupt there are the geysers such as Old Faithful, the River Side, etc. And they are safe to watch. So if you want to come, do. I can tell you it will be an enjoyable experience and there is a lot to explore there. Have a wonderful time if you decide to go.

i know a thing or two about yellowstone im not a doom sayer but i do however have mixed feelings about how little publicity this subject has received on basis that eruption at this hot spot has been estimated at 40,000 to 60,000 years past due and the sesmic activity let alone nearly 300 recorded earthquakes in two days. it really worries me because i only live a few hours from ground 0!!! and have been following the increase of geological activity since age 10 and have seen signs indacating an eminent eruption or a precurser to one

Dear Andrew (comment#23), there is not such thing as an eruption being "overdue" or "past due". Volcanoes erupt once the physical processes that cause eruptions force them to do to, and these processes are extremely irregular and erratic. There is no use thinking a volcano will erupt now or soon just because it has last erupted so long ago. Plus, we always look at one or two very famous volcanoes like Yellowstone and Vesuvius and forget about all the others that are capable of doing similarly bad things - very often the greatest disasters have come from volcanoes that nobody cared about, like Mount Lamington (Papua New Guinea) in 1951, El Chichón (Mexico) in 1982, Chaitén (Chile) in 2008 ...
The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has a rather reassuring bit on this issue:
The most likely scenario even if Yellowstone erupts is a moderate-scale eruption, which will be disruptive on a local to regional level, but nothing like the cataclysmic thing that the mass media hype about all the time.

I wonder if the seismograph from approximately 1410ish to 1413ish from 1/21 looks like it may be a little longer of a tremor? This is definitely interesting to follow/watch though.

@25: I haven't looked at it in detail but it could be a teleseism. There's also the high possibility that it's a signal caused by human activity (cars/trucks/snowmobiles), of which YML is usually much affected. These signals generally appear during local working hours and disappear at night.

By the way, I've made a cumulative earthquake energy/count chart for this earthquake swarm, basing on currently available data:

I've also uploaded a 'sound' video for the fourth day of this EQ swarm:
(should be online soon)

By Akira Shirakawa (not verified) on 21 Jan 2010 #permalink

@26 I listened to the sound video for that and compared it to the one for Redoubt eruption and they sound completely different. You can actually hear the liquid and steam in the Redoubt eruption. It was pretty amazing.

Latest 3.1 quake shown depth of .1km, hope that's a typo...

@ the volcanologists on the site. Please let me know how to read the signals at 17:09 to 17:16 and 17:36 to 17:40 local time on the Yellowstone Madison river webicorder.

Thank you for your input


By Dasnowskier (not verified) on 22 Jan 2010 #permalink

Can a moderate earthquake measuring 3.9 on the volcano's eruption?
In the movie Super Volcano, this is so.

Then it is quite unusual that we did not warn the USGS in the starch 3.8 earthquake!

-> sry 4 my bad englisch ;)

@Amandos, movies are just that. Movies. Hollywood likes to magnify things and a 3.8 quake is unlikely to start a supervolcano. A 6.8 might affect a volcano, but not necessarily. And volcanoes can erupt without any quakes or any other warning signs. Chaiten didn't give any warnings to my knowledge. We just don't know most of the time although we do better at predicting volcanoes than quakes.

I listened to the sounds . And yes before finding this sight I did try to slow it down..hmm should have changed pitches instead . How ever I am having a really bad gut feeling.

I think our time is limited. If faults slip, and crack and then break, could that not add to the molten lava? Could not the plate tectonics "rupture" and create an eruption bye there own doing?

Perhaps I am Uneducated in how things work but would it not make sense?

I feel your fear...Nah ! Volcanoes have been going on for far to long. There will never be another eruption.
...Or, the 9+ quake that IS long overdue will stuff cubics bazillions of metric tons of added volume under the mantel, and ...W H O O O M !
I love geology. It is just so unpredictable.
Hey, the other question. YES! California will get theirs. Quakes and Volcanoes are EOC...Equal Opportunity Catastrophes. I think Big Bend. What say YOU.

EriK Klemetti... YOU ROCK, ( probably volcanic...)
Gotta go listen to the rest of the audio from Jelly Stone.

does this mean yellowstone is going to erupt??

Well, well, well. Here we go again. Yellowstone just doesn't want to settle down and be a good little caldera. Perhaps it has something to do with the Atlantic ridge spreading apart the earth's crust under the Atlantic Ocean, which might also explain the recent volcanic activity in Iceland and the recent earthquakes along the ridge plate lines in the middle of the Atlantic. But, of course, I could be wrong.