An unprecedented number of earthquakes — more than 1,000 — have rocked the Earth around the Yellowstone supervolcano in the past two weeks, officials note. And still, given that the area is a geological magma hotbed, experts do not think the earthquake swarms rocking the Yellowstone National Park will lead to a massive super-eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
Newsweek reported this week that, despite an alarming 878 earthquakes being recorded (updated to 1,027 as of July 1, per USGS.gov) in an ongoing swarm at Yellowstone National Park (more specifically along the western edge of the long virtually inactive Yellowstone supervolcano), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) currently lists the volcano alert level as normal and the aviation color, which posts potential risk to aircraft, as green, its lowest threat level. In fact, the USGS says there is almost no risk that the Yellowstone supervolcano will erupt.
After the first week of earthquakes (which began on June 12), the USGS said that the swarm seemed to be “slowly winding down.” Researchers from the University of Utah’s Seismograph Stations (UUSS), who have monitored the seismic activity since the swarm’s onset, said that there have been four earthquakes out of the entire lot that registered a magnitude of 4.
Jamie Farrell, research professor at the University of Utah, said in a statement, “This is definitely not the biggest swarm ever recorded. The largest swarm ever recorded in Yellowstone occurred in October of 1985 and lasted for 3 months and had over 3,000 located earthquakes in it. In January of 2010 there was a swarm that had over 2,000 located events in it that lasted for about a month.”
He also noted that the earthquake swarms in the area are common. “Swarms in Yellowstone are a common occurrence,” he said. “On average, Yellowstone sees around 1,500-2,000 earthquakes per year. Of those, 40 to 50 percent occur as part of earthquake swarms. This swarm is larger than the average swarm we record but this is a normal thing to happen in Yellowstone (and other volcanic regions throughout the world).”
According to the Daily Mail, Farrell said the epicenter of the earthquake swarm is located in the Yellowstone National Park itself, eight miles north-northeast of the town of West Yellowstone.
A spokesman for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), of which the University of Utah is a member, said from a written statement that Yellowstone has not erupted in 70,000 years — and that instance produced lava flow. It is estimated that this swarm of earthquakes, at its worse, might produce the same results.
The Yellowstone supervolcano embodies the largest volcanic chamber system in the world. A 2013 study into the supervolcano revealed an underground magma chamber to be 2.5 times larger than previously thought. Another study (in 2015), according to NPR, uncovered a secondary underlying magma chamber 4.5 times larger than the known upper chamber. There is enough magma contained in the new chamber, scientists estimate, to fill the Grand Canyon eleven times.
The cavern spans 56 miles (90 kilometers) by 19 miles (30 kilometers) in area. The last time the Yellowstone supervolcano experienced a super-eruption was 640,000 years ago, with smoke and ash extending over much of the western United States.
[Featured Image by Zack Frank/Shutterstock]