Looking inside the structure of the Yellowstone Caldera

With all the talk of the current Yellowstone earthquake swarm, I thought it would worth it to write a post on the the structure and caldera - and why we get earthquake swarms that are structurally rather than magmatically-related.

First off, lets think about why calderas formed. This is relatively simple - at least superficially. The land (or volcano) above a magmatic system is partially supported by that magma, especially because magma is hot and buoyant. The isostatic support by the magma holds up the land surface or volcanic edifice, so when an eruption expels a large volume of magma, this support is removed. This collapse forms the caldera - the negative topographic expression of the eruption. The collapse of the land surface plays a dual role - not is it a result of the eruption, but also helps the eruption along, like a piston pushing of hot gas out of a cylinder. After the eruption, the collapsed caldera continues to subside as the isostatic equilibrium is reached. After the caldera-forming eruption {caution, large PDF}, the system may have eruptions that produce resurgent domes in the middle of the caldera as the last dregs of the caldera-forming magmatic system leak out. This is referred to as the "caldera cycle", originally defined by Howell Williams for the collapse of Mt. Mazama ~7,700 years b.p. (see below).

Modified illustration of the caldera cycle by Howell Williams.

The collapse of the caldera produced what is called the "ring fracture," the fracture along the edge of the caldera. This fracture was formed during the collapse, but was then likely also exploited by the erupting magma during the caldera-forming eruption. These fractures then become long lived zones of weakness around the edge of the caldera (see below) - the down-dropped part of the caldera is no longer supported by either the emptied magma chamber or the crust around it.

Map of the extent of Yellowstone Caldera. The ring fractures from the caldera-forming eruptions are roughly coincident with the caldera.

We can look at the general structure of caldera systems by looking at the Long Valley Caldera (see below). The ring fracture is present on the edge of the Long Valley caldera, with the down-dropped caldera material in the middle - filled in by the tephra from the caldera-forming eruption and resurgent dome material. The caldera may continue to settle for hundreds of thousands of years after the caldera-forming eruption - all happening at depths at or above the current "top" of the magmatic system.

A schematic look at the structure of the Long Valley caldera in California.

If we take a look at historical seismicty around Yellowstone (see below), we can see that quite a bit it is near the ring fracture of the caldera. This means that thesuggested structural source of the current seismicity makes sense - as I've mentioned, the earthquakes in these locations in historic times have not lead to eruptions. In fact, we should expect to see a lot of low scale seismicity along the ring fracture that represents the many faults related to the ring fracture system.

Historic seismicity around Yellowstone Caldera.

However, as zones of weakness, you might expect that magma could exploit the ring fracture to reach the surface. Magma rising would need corroborating evidence, though. Magma doesn't do a good job of disguising its present, especially large volumes. The ground should deform from the additional volume of magma displacing the crust and this displacement with our current methods of measuring ground changes should be detected well in advance of an eruption. We should also expect changes in the hydrothermal system as the hot body of magma moves higher into the system, possibly in the form of new mud pots, geysers or hot pools. The chemistry of springs might change as well, reflecting the input of magmatic components into the water - which goes hand-in-hand with changes in gases being released by the magma. Volatiles like water vapor, CO2, SO2 and He are constantly being released by a cooling, depressuring magma, so we should see the signal of this in the gases being released at Yellowstone, especially by monitoring dissolved gases in springs. The type of earthquakes should also change - not only becoming shallower, but also taking on the classic pattern of harmonic volcanic tremor - the harbinger of moving magma.

YVO monitors many, if not all, of these factors, so we are not likely to be "surprised" by any new eruptions at Yellowstone. While the current earthquake swarm does appear to be getting shallower, you can see how it is part of life at an active caldera system. You can check the current status of the Yellowstone Caldera on the YVO website.

More like this

Great job Erik. And, to bring things to a more global perspective - actually, there are many calderas worldwide that show unrest - here's once more the link to the fabulous double volume "Historical unrest at large calderas of the world" by Newhall and Dzurisin (1988), which can be downloaded from the USGS publications web site:

That was a nice caldera overview. Howell Williams' classic sketch of the collapse of a stratocone to form a caldera (such as at Mount Mazama to form Crater Lake) is possibly misleading. Readers might not know that there does not need to be a stratovolcano first in order for a caldera to form - see Wes Hildreth's 1996 paper on Kulshan caldera near modern Mount Baker in the Cascades (GSA Bulletin v. 108 p. 786-793), where there is no evidence for pre-collapse volcanism at all. While there was precaldera volcanism at Yellowstone, there wasn't a tall stratocone there, either. In places where rhyolitic magma is the norm, eruptions tend to be non-cone forming. Such huge calderas far exceed any single volcanic 'mountain' in scale.
Dave Tucker
Mount Baker Volcano Research Center
Bellingham, WA

Thanks for the comment, Dave. I struggled a bit with a figure to use with the caldera cycle because of just that - you don't need a pre-existing volcano above the magma to form a caldera. I tried to use "land surface" to imply that it could be flat before the caldera-forming eruption, but people love to use the Mazama example for the cycle.

Can't wait for it to blow up. lol

By billy singlenut (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

I am trying this one more time without my URL to see if that was why you didn't post my comment last night or earlier this morning. Here is the post:
I wondered if you have had a chance to read this paper yet.
Mushy magma beneath Yellowstone caltech.edu [PDF]
R Chu, DV Helmberger, D Sun, JM ⦠- Geophys. Res. â¦, 2010 - mh-gps-p1.caltech.edu
HTML Version…
PDF Version
It says the relatively shallow magma chamber under Yellowstone is found to be 4300km3 in volume and 32% melt saturated with 8% water plus CO2 by volume. Isn't this is a considerable difference in what was previously thought to be underneath Yellowstone? Also isn't the magic number for an eruption supposed to be around 50% melt? Could that 50% point be reached by concentrating in a local area of the magma chamber or does that have to be 50% of the total magma chamber before an eruption?
Thanks for answering my questions.

Randall Nix

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

I sure hope it doesn't blow.....I just want a little notice so I tell my friends and family and we can all go out and get 3-4 years of water, dried and canned goods....those lines at Walmart can be really bad even on a good day;)

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

I've been following your blog the last few days for two reasons.. The first is that I really like geology and even though I didn't focus on that in college- I did take a few extra classes and the interest and some knowledge is there and I find your take on the situation a lot more raw than the newspapers.. Also, I have a lot of family in WY, including my younger sister, so this recent activity worries me.
I have two questions that you might not be able to help me with, but someone reading this might have some insight on.. I know that some point soon (in geology years)the Earth will experience a reverse in the Earthâs magnetic field. Could there be a connection to the recent seismic activity and a geomagnetic reversal? (And Iâm not linking the two because of all this 2012 junk- this was a hot topic in the geology classes I took in college and you just donât hear a lot about it..)
Also, why is it that Yellowstone does not close when these clusters are happening- given the potential problem that can be occurring with their presence(eruption)? Is it really such an economic blow to the park to shut down for a month or two? Okay- one last thought⦠I think itâs also a consensus that this is a matter of WHEN and not IF and how big. Does anyone know if there is an evacuation plan for that park and the surrounding cities? Why is it that I get the impression that people are afraid to talk about this instead of being proactive?

Let me re-post on this topic the stuff I pieced together yesterday, I dont think anyone much will go back to last weeks stuff now that the new topic is up.

This gives a decent idea of the scale and frequency of the smaller events.

The really small ones go basically un-noticed. The "football field" sized events only happen every 7000 yrs or so on average. That pretty dangerous if you're with a mile or two, but its a big park and certainly it wouldnt endanger even 10% of the people in the park. Marys Park rained debris over 18 sq miles, but the park is over 3400 sq miles, thats less than 1%.

(paste) Pieced together from stuff I found on WIKI and the USA Today article from Jan 2008 on Lisa Morgans study of hydrothermal threats at YS. Hope this gives a sense of scale and timing.

Smaller explosions in Yellowstone happen about once every two years but rarely when people are around or in danger, according to a 2007 hazard assessment produced by USGS.

In 1989, an explosion at Porkchop geyser at Norris Geyser Basin sent rocks and debris flying more than 200 feet.

Morgan said that over the last 14,000 years there have been 20 hydrothermal explosions in Yellowstone that mostly left craters bigger than football fields. They resulted in well-known Yellowstone landmarks such as Mary Bay, Turbid Lake and Indian Pond, all near the north edge of Yellowstone Lake.

At Mary Bay.... 13,000 yrs ago .... crater that stretches more than one mile across .(Wiki says 5 km) ...The explosion's column may have reached more than a mile in the air and spread debris across some 18 square miles, she said.

The most recent lava flow occurred about 70,000 years ago, while the largest violent eruption excavated the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone around 150,000 years ago.

The last full-scale eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, the Lava Creek eruption which happened nearly 640,000 years ago, ejected approximately 240 cubic miles (1000 cubic kilometres) of rock and dust into the sky.

Within the past 17 million years, 142 or more caldera-forming eruptions have occurred from the Yellowstone hotspot

Essentially - even if the Greatest Geologist in the World wanted to commit suicide by having rocks land on him, and could pick the exact 1% of Yellowstone to stand, he'd probably have to wait up to 7000 yrs to even have a off chance of something large enough to hurt him come close.

I tried to post this once with links to the different news stories but it didn't post so I am trying it again without the links. If you want the links to the news I have listed, just email me and I will send them to you.

"Smaller explosions in Yellowstone happen about once every two years but rarely when people are around or in danger, according to a 2007 hazard assessment produced by USGS"

May 23, 2009
Rare Hydrothermal Explosion Witnessed By Geologists

Aug 19, 2009
A busy hiking trail in Yellowstone National Park
has recently been closed due to geothermal activity that could endanger hikers

It looks like those hydrothermal explosions are not quite so rare when people are around. Also there have been changes in Yellowstone over the past year. Quiet blue pools have turned turbid and acidic and new areas have been shut down due to hot spots. Of course we all know about the uplift over the past few years....so it seems like all we are waiting for now is the harmonic tremors....Also when someone makes the statement that we will have all kinds of signals and notice before Yellowstone blows is making an assumption based on previous volcanic eruptions....the problem with this is that no one has actually seen a supervolcano erupt....No one was manning the seismographs or measuring the uplift 70,000 years ago when Toba blew. When St Helen's blew it's top they were looking for CO2 to rise dramatically before they thought it would blow and that didn't happen....My point is that the YVO needs to sit down and watch Isaac's Storm....it's a good example of scientific Hubris and the tragedy it can cause.

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the beautiful info.
ah, well, on to the next excitement.
Popcorn anyone? It's carmelized.


Oh for certain the warning signs are as yet poorly understood for an eruption of the size we've never had the chance to witness firsthand. I'd be willing to bet when it happens, it'll be a surprise. In retrospect, the signs are always obvious. Foresight tho is a whole different issue.

And naturally scientists dont want to sound the alarm too early. The damage to people from a false alarm is VERY easy to quantify.

I can tell you with dead statistical certainty that you're more likely to be killed by a buffalo in Yellowstone Park than by the magma this year.

I ALMOST got to film a Japanese guy getting attacked by a buffalo there about 15 yrs ago. But the buffalo turned mellow just in time.


After watching Supervolcano, the truth of how close the eruption was never was told to the American public. How can we be sure the same tactics are not being used now? Where is a source of information that tells it as it is?

Erik, thanks for the article on caldera structure. It answered some of my questions about why these swarms occur as they do.

@Randall Nix: The Yellowstone caldera has experienced periods of uplift (followed by subsidence) in the past without erupting. Read some of the web articles posted on the YVO site. They are quite informative. There are also links to scientific papers if you're willing to shell out a few dollars for them. If you're nervous about this swarm, maybe that's a good plan. A little knowledge can calm a lot of nerves, and it's not like the involved geologists know nothing about what may happen because they have never witnessed a supereruption (thank goodness!). Appropriate knowledge and data allow them to construct very good models that can give us some idea of what may occur.

By Christine Snyder (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Hi all,

in case you missed it last night (or when ever else it has been shown), you can see Dr. Benke on the Discovery Channel show "solving history" where he talks about Mr. Etna. I hope he gets a spot on the National Geographic speakers tour so we can see him in person in Seattle some time.


doug mcl.

here's a link to the show:

Thank you Christine for the response. I do read scientific papers, if you scroll up a little higher you will see this. Also I don't think I said anything about there not having been periods of uplift followed by subsidence....The Native American artifacts found on the different shorelines of Yellowstone Lake show that it's happened many times. Also I have read the articles on the YVO website, some of them are very informative and some of them....well lets just say they seem to have the same tone as some of the quotes from Allen Greenspan on the economy....right about 2005. Also if you scroll up and read my first post and the scientific paper I gave a link for, then you will see that scientific models do change. My point really being is that models change, theories change but unfortunately people don't....and that is the sad fact of why history just keeps on repeating itself. With a system the size of Yellowstone and the catastrophic damage that will occur when it blows....you can't afford to wait until the last minute before you issue at least a heightened alert. When there are signs that could be considered ominous then we can't afford to assume the best possible outcome. We need to admit that we don't actually know a whole lot about what will happen right before a supervolcano eruption....we have a lot of assumptions....unfortunately we do know a lot about the outcome.

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink


I am sorry I had to take this from Wiki but it will have to do on short notice.....ehhhhh you might want to rethink some of your statistical analogies;) Just messing with you man:)

Dangers of Buffalo

Grazing in Yellowstone National Park.
Bison can leap a standard 36 inch barbed-wire fence with ease, as seen here near Lake George, Colorado.Bison are among the most dangerous animals encountered by visitors to the various U.S. and Canadian National Parks, especially Yellowstone National Park. Although they are not carnivorous, they will attack humans if provoked. They appear slow because of their lethargic movements, but they can easily outrun humans â they have been observed running as fast as 35 miles per hour (56 km/h). Between 1978 and 1992, nearly five times as many people in Yellowstone National Park were killed or injured by bison as by bears (12 by bears, 56 by bison). Bison are also more agile than one might expect, given the animal's size and body structure.

In 2009, a bison named Gracie escaped from a local farm and ran through the streets of St. Joseph, Mich. Police shot the animal after it ran into a house and a vehicle.[26]

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Earthquake Details
Magnitude 6.0
Date-Time Thursday, February 04, 2010 at 20:20:21 UTC
Thursday, February 04, 2010 at 12:20:21 PM at epicenter

Location 40.431°N, 124.929°W
Depth 11.2 km (7.0 miles)
Distances 56 km (35 miles) WNW (282°) from Petrolia, CA
59 km (36 miles) WSW (254°) from Ferndale, CA
68 km (42 miles) WSW (256°) from Fortuna, CA
76 km (47 miles) WSW (239°) from Eureka, CA
363 km (225 miles) NW (306°) from Sacramento, CA

Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 1.4 km (0.9 miles); depth +/- 2 km (1.2 miles)
Parameters Nph=101, Dmin=50 km, Rmss=0.35 sec, Gp=227°,
M-type=regional moment magnitude (Mw), Version=4
Source California Integrated Seismic Net:

Event ID nc71348851

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Check out event at 13:23:14 on 04Feb10 ... very interesting!

By J Douglas Sangster (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Yellowstone recorders picked up the Calif quake ... beautiful signature.

By J Douglas Sangster (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Great post. Loved it, and the thoughtful responses of the posters. As Mr. Nix mentioned, above, when Mount St. Helens blew, scientists were not expecting the massive slope failure and lateral blast that killed volcanologist David Johnston, who was stationed on a ridge at an observation point that was considered relatively safe. Other people--recreationists, loggers--were also killed who were outside of what was predicted to be the hazard zone. No one had witnessed a lateral blast before, and documented it. After Mount St. Helens's eruption, volcanologists found evidence of other similar eruption types elsewhere. Regarding the comment, above, that no one has seen a supervolcano erupt--this is a valid and critical point. We don't really know what would happen. Until it does, we can only make educated assumptions based on the most recent body of knowledge.

Randall Nix: Yes, I did notice that you linked to a paper. There are more out there. If I can quote your earlier post: "...we all know about the uplift over the past few years....so it seems like all we are waiting for now is the harmonic tremors...." I'm sorry if I misinterpreted, but that sure sounds like you didn't understand the history of the caldera. I, for one, intend to put my confidence in the science, and those performing the research. I think they have a LOT more credibility than economists these days. Remember, the Haiti quake hazard was discussed several years ago. I don't think they can yell "evacuate" at Yellowstone every time there is a large swarm unless THEY feel confident that the time is appropriate. As a group, I believe in the credibility and objectivity of scientists. While you may see this swarm as "ominous," I don't think they do. Instead, let's worry about things we can control, like maintaining a livable climate.

By Christine Snyder (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Christine....did you even read the paper or just notice the links?...You really might want to read the paper. I don't see the swarm as being ominous in itself, even though two of the largest earthquake swarms that have ever been recorded in the park have happened within a year of each other. I do see the quakes moving up and along the caldera boundary as being somewhat ominous when taken with other changes that have occurred over the past year since the last big swarm. Once again you might want to read the results of the paper I mentioned above. Also I never said that anyone should yell evacuate, I said "With a system the size of Yellowstone and the catastrophic damage that will occur when it blows....you can't afford to wait until the last minute before you issue at least a heightened alert."
Unless I am mistaken there are several steps in the alert system they have in place now so going from green to yellow would not be like yelling evacuate. It would mean that someone at the YVO really cares about the public safety more than they do about being wrong. It would let people know to be thinking about what they might do if there was a code orange or God forbid a code red. Yes they did publish a paper a few years ago about the earthquake hazards in Haiti...but unfortunately you get no real warning before an earthquake...you do get a few signs before an eruption. That paper on the earthquake hazards in Haiti and the response to it by the people living there shows that just waiting for the event to happen and ignoring what little warning you may get....well...I guess the outcome there kind of speaks for itself. I do agree with you on one thing..."I think they (the YVO scientists) have a LOT more credibility than economists these days"...Personally I would like to see them keep it....by not being afraid to be wrong and admitting to the things they don't really know. If you are responsible for the lives of millions of people it's far better to be more cautious about the public safety...than to just be more cautious about your career.

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

A lot of good discussion here. Even though we don't know the precursers to a supervolcano, we can use the knowledge we have about other volcanoes and get some idea of what can happen. There could be one big explosion, or several smaller ones. One thing I didn't know about is the hydological explosions that occur there rather frequently. I would love to see one from a safe distance. I also didn't know that some of the blue hot pools had grown turbid. It used to be that if you tossed a handkerchef into the Morning Glory pool, it would go down and then come back up clean. But after a while, people threw all kinds of junk in it and it quit doing that handkerchef trick. There are a lot of changes going on there and we will just have to watch with a careful eye to see what will happen next. I expect Old Faithful to change drastically over time. It has already since the first time I got to see it and I think there could be more mud pots form and maybe more geysers if enough pressure developes in new areas. I do hope the geologists there tell us what they are finding and don't hide it. That does not help anything.

BTW the quake off the N CA coast is probably an aftershock of the 6.5 and they have apparently downgraded it from 6.0 to 5.9. Still a rather strong quake. Looks like the San Juan plate is restless and moving. And judging from the quake map, there are about 18 small quakes at the foot of Lassen and there are a few more at Mammoth since this morning. Now, I am not saying the quake up north had anything to do with the Lassen and Mammoth quakes---just that they occurred. I keep watch on those areas. Also they must be pumping a lot of water back into the system at Geysers. There were 300 quakes in the last week there when I checked this evening. Usually there are between 100 and 200. I don't know if it is close enough to affect Kenocti or not. Most likely not. I hope Erik will answer that one when he gets all the questions.

I seem to learn something new here every day and I like hearing all of the different opinions on the subject. I get different perpectives that way and it gives me something to think about. I appreciate it.

@Randal Nix

You need to do what you need to do so you can sleep at night. I have a friend that has 5 years of MRSs in his basement and a Niece that is a bit out of sorts because of ....well, lets just say, the information that they have been getting. I have seen first hand what misinformation makes people do. It is very unlikely, yet extremely remotely possible, that something catastrophic will happen in our lifetimes to this Earth.

You need to do what you need to do so you can sleep at night. But please think about the effect that your paranoia has on others.

I choose to listen to and believe the wisdom, education and experience of the individuals that are a part of this blog.

What would happen if magma rose as fast as it did at Chaiten from a depth close to 10 miles in a day and then it blew it's top? That volcano is kinda like a smaller version of Yellowstone plus it has the same kind of magma. Things do not need to be so slow. In fact things can happen overnight and so fast you do not know what is happening. You do not always have warning signs hat something big will happen. There are many examples of volcanoes going from quiet to a full scale eruptionsin a matter of days or even a day.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Although I can appreciate the idea that yes, volcanoes can be unpredictable beasts, I'd be hesitant to draw direct comparisons with something like Chaiten. They are both caldera, however Yellowstone is the most wired/monitored caldera out there (save for maybe the Campei Flagrei) and Chaiten didn't have a seismometer with tens of kilometers of the volcano. If Chaiten were as wired, we might have seen the signal of the eruption. Of course, maybe we wouldn't. There are a lot of variables, especially in situations like this. We haven't ever, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and all the science that came with it, experienced an eruption the scale that the "big three" at Yellowstone produced. However, we can draw generalization from other volcanic events about what to expect if the caldera were to begin to "ramp up" to a large scale event. I mean, it is sort of like saying that you know how to drive a many different cars, but you'd never seen a Volvo - would you think you'd have no idea how to operate it? There would be differences, but many of the same attributes could be seen in all cars.

Anyway, I don't want anyone to misconstrue my posts as saying we shouldn't be concerned when Yellowstone stirs - it is an active, living volcanic system and it deserves our respect. However, the level of panic and paranoia over the caldera isn't justified based on the very frequent (and expected) earthquake swarms or bulging that we observe at Yellowstone. It is exciting, sure, but we don't need to head for the hills just yet.

@Gordys: You are right. I suppose we all can do something to help us feel better about a situation. I think 5yrs of MREs is a bit much, but having a well stocked pantry is a good idea. I know what would make me feel better about emergencies: having a plan of what to do, where to go, what to have with me, where to meet family, etc. I have yet to do some of these things. I think if Yellowstone did blow, all the prep in the world isn't going to help me much. Especially if it did as large an eruption as the last major one. So I look at what is most likely to happen where I live and that is fire or a quake. Wind and rain storms are another issue and so is snow once in a while. The electricity goes off here, too. We have a generator for that. I have said several times to be prepared as best we can for the things that are most likely to happen where we live and for the few times there are the unusual things that are not the norm. As you know, fear does not help.

@Chance: It very well could blow like Chaiten. However, I think the systems are a little different. Or is Chaiten a caldera? I thought it was a volcano that had been quiet for 9000yrs. Anyway, if Yellowstone blew like that, well, I think we know what would happen. All you have to do is look at what happened and have the idea. Think about the poor guy who saw a wisp of smoke in his corn field and when he investigated, it started to erupt in his face. He was able to get away and survive. The point is, a volcano can come up almost anywhere if the conditions are right.

Then there are quakes. SF knows there will be the "Big One". Haiti was warned there could be a big quake. We just don't know when they will happen. We do have a better idea about volcanoes because a lot of them give signals. Some don't. If we get all worried, it will not change anything. WE CANNOT CONTROL VOLCANOES OR QUAKES! So let's study them, be intrigued by them, learn what they do and how they act, and just be as ready as we can. There really isn't much more to be said about worry and fear. Neither is of any help. All that happens is panic and we don't need that. How about looking at it all with wonder and awe at the power the earth has? And the natural beauty there is.

I think it is time to go gold panning. Well, maybe when it stops raining. LOL

Gordys it's not the "wisdom, education and experience of the individuals that are a part of this blog." that I have any problem with. And you are right, I need to do what I need to do to sleep well at night...that is why I ask the questions that I do from people like Erik...I didn't choose this site randomly to post on or just to scare someone. I have looked at this site for awhile. I knew that he might be interested in a few questions I wanted to ask and in the paper I mentioned. I am not saying head to the hills but I am saying that there are a few things in that paper which should give us all reasons to be even more cautious when Yellowstone does something out of the ordinary. If some of the things are true in that paper then it's really not just business as usual at Yellowstone....not anymore. Once again I am sorry if I worried anyone....but if just some of that paper is correct and if Yellowstone does go....then your friend may not have enough of those MRE's set back to make any difference. I am sorry Erik if I am wrong about being concerned by the information described in that paper....then I will stand corrected....but increased risk should bring increased caution....not panic but a more informed caution.

Diane where do you prospect at? I go up in Alabama and New Mexico some.

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

All that can do the Discovery Channel

By Guillermo (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

Erik, for better or worse it looks like you made a Discovery News story with your caldera info:

Yellowstone is Rumbling. We are NOT Doomed. By Michael Reilly | Thu Feb 4, 2010 06:43 PM ET This is normal. Most of the 1,600 or so quakes since January 17 have been very mellow. Yeah, it sounds like a lot of qukes to have happen in a couple of weeks, but the vast majority of these have been magnitude 1-2, and only one got up to magnitude 3.8 (the swarm is the red cluster in the western part of Yellowstone National Park, pictured left. click image to enlarge).

Not exactly the stuff of disaster movies.

Sorry to say, there won't be a supereruption any time soon. Anyone who says otherwise (and there have been a few) is about as well-informed and sensible as the person I once saw at that beautiful park, inching within ten feet of a full-grown bull moose for a picture.

For folks interested in actual science, Erik Klemetti over at Eruptions has posted a chart showing how the tremors have gotten shallower during the course of the swarm. As he notes, it's entirely possible that this is just a minor episode of tectonic movement that's making its way through the heavily fractured crust.

Or it could be an indication that lava is slowly migrating up through the crust, perhaps to erupt in a small dome of material some time soon. The point is we don't know. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, unfolds in the next few days and weeks ahead. A dome eruption (kind of like toothpaste squeezing out of the planet more than an "eruption" like you might picture it) would be cool in that it would add to Yellowstone's unique, ever-changing landscape.

If we're lucky, it might even convince some of the people waiting for the end of days to come roaring forth from Yellowstone Caldera that they're wasting their time."

The extra use of the keyword Yellowstone today also helped you come up in the Google news search today for "Yellowstone volcano". You seemed to always come up on a Yahoo news search for those keywords but not very often on the Google news search....So maybe the healthy discussion will be good for your site? Anyway I bet we had an audience for that discussion. Any way thanks for giving us the chance to have this discussion.

By the way I know the guy recommended your site and all but he has just the kind of scientific hubris I talked about earlier today....I wonder if he read any of that paper I posted? If he did he sure wouldn't want to see any kind of an eruption at Yellowstone;) I am sorry Erik but when I see stupidity and arrogance all wrapped up in the same package...I just have to point it out to someone else so they too can appreciate a true marvel of nature:) Have a good one!

By Randall Nix (not verified) on 04 Feb 2010 #permalink

@Randall Nix and people with similar thoughts.

The Discovery News article cited in the previous comment (#31) is actually not that bad. Personally, I didn't find it bad at all, I rather thought, when I came across it, "ah finally someone says what needs to be said".

Why is that?

That's firstly, because I am following volcanic events, volcanological studies (including a massive number of scientific publications like the one Randall Nix is referring to), plus other geological events like earthquakes, since approximately 40 years. So I was on these long before the Internet made all sorts of good and bad reporting accessible to everybody, and many self-appointed experts were in the conditions to find themselves a worldwide forum. Since 20 years I work on Italian volcanoes, which are probably among the absolutely most dangerous that there are on this planet, and I work also with the people who live in these areas, including administrators and educators, and I begin to understand that these people are sometimes a far greater source of problems than the volcanoes.
What I can tell you from these years of direct and indirect experience with volcanoes and earthquakes (and a few other things capable of causing disasters) is that in this moment there is no whatsoever increase in activity, and we really don't need HAARP or whatever is cited in those conspiration theories to make them happen - they do happen all by themselves as they have always done.

Secondly, I work in a country that has its share of extremely dangerous - and in part, also extremely active - volcanoes, Italy. Plus, nearly all of these volcanoes are more densely populated than any other volcanic area on Earth. The U.S. also has a couple of volcanoes capable of creating some sort of Armageddon without doing the "super" eruption thing Yellowstone is so famous for, like Mount Rainier, whose next eruption is probably much less distant in the future than Yellowstone's reawakening. Rainier is covered with glaciers. The valleys draining the volcano, which will channel mudflows formed by the melting of the glaciers in a future eruption are being intensely developed - if you download the paper "Community exposure to lahar hazards from Mount Rainier, Washington" from the USGS web site - http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2009/5211/ (it's free) - you just need to look at the front photograph and pieces will fall into their place before your eyes.

Thirdly, many of you may have stumbled across the news about a restless volcano for the first time in these days. This is likely to produce a bias on what you are conscious of now, but it will obscure things that happened in the past. Back in the fall of 1985 Yellowstone produced a much more intense seismic swarm than the current one, but at the time it received some attention in local newspapers if at all. The word "supervolcano" had not yet been invented, and news of all kinds - good and bad reporting - was not as accessible as it is now. That doesn't mean that the 1985 seismic crisis was to be taken less serious than this latest one - but in the end few people ever heard about it, and nobody passed sleepless nights about it.
At about the same time Yellowstone staged its 1985 seismic crisis, a virtually unknown glacier-clad volcano named Nevado del Ruiz erupted in the Colombian Andes, unleashing mudflows that wiped a city from the face of the planet and killed 23,000 people. That was pretty much in the news at the time (it happened on the first day of my college studies in Geology) but quite a few of you Eruptions Blog readers may have never heard about it, because information is more and more short-lived in human memory.

Finally, I should say a word about the possible "hiding of bad news from the public". Well, I think that's virtually impossible these days, what with a lot of real-time monitoring data being freely accessible thanks to Internet but also to the openness of the people - the scientists - acquiring these data and sharing them with the public.
And then, if you are really interested in Yellowstone and other volcanoes and their potential of producing armageddon (or maybe just some modest-sized eruption), you should read through the scientific literature, of which there is a good proportion freely available to the public. What you will find there is that volcanologists, and geologists in general, have never hesitated to tell the truth when it comes to warning of possible disastrous events. Mount St. Helens was warned of five years before it awoke in 1980. The Haiti earthquake was warned of two years in advance. Even the 1985 Nevado del Ruiz eruption that I mentioned above had been seen coming for months in advance. In some cases, such early warning has helped to reduce the impact of volcanic eruptions significantly, like at Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, and at Rabaul in Papua New Guinea in 1994. By the way, Rabaul DID very much look like a caldera volcano on the verge of erupting, very differently from Yellowstone these days.
Nowadays volcanologists do have their things together, that much I can assure you. The main problem is not that we don't understand or that we try to hide the terrible truth. The problem is that often the public doesn't want to hear the truth. This problem is particularly accentuated here in Italy where I live and work, and if you really don't know what else to do with your life than worry about bad things to happen, focus on Campi Flegrei or Vesuvius, they will be amazingly satisfying subjects to be scared about.

So after all, I do agree with those of you who advocate being prepared, and better safe than sorry and all. But then do go out and prepare, read the (vast) literature available that gives advice about how to behave during volcanic ash falls, make a list of the things that you want to take with you on the day someone rings your doorbell to tell you "you've got 30 minutes to leave and evacuate". Place all your important personal documents in one single folder in a drawer so that you have them ready to take on that day. And remember, home is the most dangerous place of all you will ever be.

The people with 5 years of MRE's are fools. If something like a Yellowstone eruption happens, there will be millions of starving people. These people will do what it takes to try to survive. If you have 5 years of MRE's, you'll get robbed at some point before they run out. If you're lucky, it will be when you're not there. If your unlucky, they'll kill you to get your food. Survival and hunting techniques are a much better bet. You'll be able to get food that 99% of the population doesn't know you can eat, or doesn't know how to catch.

Better yet, just hope that it doesn't happen. If it does happen, you'll probably die even with the best preparation. Of course it doesn't hurt to hedge your bets.

I hope nothing happens as well but part of me says something may happen. Will it be a very large eruption probably not, but then again one really knows.

By Chance Metz (not verified) on 05 Feb 2010 #permalink

where the structure

By braylan jones (not verified) on 28 Feb 2010 #permalink

Is it just me or that this is neither the time or place to suggest a fix?

Yellowstone could still be a beautiful 'natural' environment even if we hide geothermal installations throughout to capture free energy and have the added benefit of controlling the energy of the caldera. The same goes for every other threatening volcano in the world. What are people waiting for, a blast that could cover half the US in pumice?

New Zealand is profiting from this technology as is Iceland. Is the Sierra Club (and its ilk) so blind that they would cut their nose to spite their face?

Get on with it Mr Obabma.

Blog has an excellent article about collapsed calderas and something called âring fractureâ, the fracture along the edge of the caldera. The author gives us a possible explanation for swarms that occur periodically at Yellowstone and Long Valley.

I say we take this opportunity to learn how to live in the present and prepare for what awaits us all...whether it be now or later...by volcano or old age.

"Can you rewrite the write-up on this 1 and compare it to the main source? Awesome way of pondering about it, but perhaps I do not believe of it that way."

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