Sunset on the Madison

May 20, 2014

Photo after photo, I come increasingly to understand why my oldest brother, Jerry, wanted to spend his life and eternity in the Yellowstone.

Wholly apart from the thermal “features” and geological wonders, the area is just smashingly beautiful day in and day out, in even the mundane areas away from the celebrated features.

Here’s a part of the Madison River, just flowing through its streambed, at sunset.

Yellowstone National Park's Twitter feed:  Spring sunset on the Madison River. pic.twitter.com/8nZSxJvBeZ

Yellowstone National Park’s Twitter feed: Spring sunset on the Madison River. pic.twitter.com/8nZSxJvBeZ


Happy 142nd birthday, Yellowstone National Park!

March 1, 2014

142 years ago today, @YellowstoneNPS became America's first national park. RT to wish them a very happy birthday! pic.twitter.com/drka6iq0Tc

Tweet from the Department of Interior: 142 years ago today, @YellowstoneNPS became America’s first national park. RT to wish them a very happy birthday! pic.twitter.com/drka6iq0Tc

Ken Burns called the National Parks probably the best idea America has had.

Certainly a great idea — really born on this day, 142 years ago, with the designation of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone NP contains the world’s largest collection of geysers. It is the heart of the largest, nearly-intact temperate zone ecosystem on Earth as well, contained in 3,468 square miles (8,983 km²), a laboratory and playground for geologists, geographers, botanists, zoologists, and almost anyone else who loves the nature and the wild.

Only 142 years old?  In the U.S., we have more than 300 units in the National Park System, now, including National Historic Places as well as the best of the wild.  Around the world, how much land has been saved, for the benefit of humanity, by this idea?  Not enough.

What’s your favorite memory of Yellowstone? What’s your favorite feature?

More:

Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone, the first U.S. national park, erupts every 9 to 15 hours, shooting water up to 220 feet high.  Photograph by Michael Melford

From National Geographic: Great Fountain Geyser in Yellowstone, the first U.S. national park, erupts every 9 to 15 hours, shooting water up to 220 feet high. Photograph by Michael Melford


Flags flying on Memorial Day, 2013

May 27, 2013

Certainly you’ve remembered to put your flags up for Memorial Day.

This is what it looks like at Officers Row, at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park:

Flags on Officers' Row, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NP

Yellowstone National Park “On this Memorial Day, American Flags are proudly displayed on Officers’ Row in Mammoth Hot Spring as we remember those who gave their lives in military service to our country. (dr2)”

More:


Sounds of the Yellowstone in winter will haunt you, lovingly

February 14, 2013

This is a heckuva research project: What is the sound ecosystem of the Yellowstone?

Film from Yellowstone National Park:

The film was produced by Emily Narrow for NPS, with financial assistance from the Yellowstone Association.

From NPS:

Published on Jul 13, 2012

Many people come to Yellowstone to see the fantastic landscapes. Wise visitors also come to experience the amazing soundscapes. This video provides some insight into the value of natural sounds in wild places and how the park is monitoring those sounds as well as the sounds created by humans.

Nothing matches the sound of a western river, to my mind.  I love the sound of the tumbling waters, and it was on one of those roaring creeks that we scattered the ashes of my Yellowstone-loving oldest brother Jerry Jones.

Poster for Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/...

Classic, vintage poster for Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other sounds will captivate you.  The rush and gush of the geysers, and the gurgle and plop of heated pools rivets you for a while.  Once you hear the chuff of an interested grizzly bear, you don’t forget it.  And while it can be scary if you’re relatively alone on the trail, the howl of the wolf tells you about the wilderness in a way no other sound ever can.  The honks of the geese, the trumpets of the swans, the grunts of the bison, the scolding of the many different squirrels and chipmunks, the slap of a trout jumping out of the river — these are all worth making the trip.

After you go, these sounds will lovingly haunt your life.  You’ll smile when you remember them.

I hope you can go soon.  (I hope I can go, soon.)

Sad note:  Only 1,553 people have watched this video since last July.  Can you spread the word a bit?

More:


Eagles! We reduced DDT, and the eagles recovered

January 28, 2013

Love this photo, from the great folks at Yellowstone National Park:

Chris Daniel photo of a bald eagle in Yellowstone National Park, in the snow

From the Yellowstone NP Facebook site: An adult bald eagle perched along the Firehole River on New Year’s Day, near a trumpeter swan that it had either killed or was scavenging. Adult bald eagles usually remain in or near their nest territory throughout winter provided they have access to sufficient prey. Photo courtesy of Chris Daniel. (kd)

It’s a reminder of progress we’ve made in environmental protection.

While bald eagles may not have been the most endangered animal protected under the Endangered Species Act, or any other law, they became the most famous.  In the late 18th century Congress voted to designate the bald eagle as our national symbol.  At the time, the continent was still lousy with the creatures.  But from the arrival of Europeans after 1492, eagles had been hunted mercilessly.  By the early 20th century it was clear the animal was bound for extinction, like the great auk and other species (see here for technical information on the auk).

Ben Franklin complained the eagle was a dirty carrion eater, in a smart and funny polemic favoring the American turkey as the national bird.  Franklin couldn’t know how hunting and in-breeding would suck the nobility out of even wild turkeys over the next 200 years, until species protection laws and hunters pushed governments to invigorate stocks of wild turkeys again.  Compared to the eagle’s troubles, though, the turkey’s genetic torpor and limited habitat was almost nothing.

Americans tried to save the eagle.  After 1890, and during the run on great bird feathers that excited the fashion world and led to the senseless slaughter of millions of America’s most spectacular birds, we passed a federal law against hunting and shooting eagles for sport or no reason.  It was a toothless law, and the decline of eagle populations begun in the early 16th century continued unabated. Migratory bird treaties, providing more legal heft to bird protection, didn’t help the eagles either — not enough of them crossed borders, at least not that hunters and law enforcement could see.  The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, kicking into action in 1941, provided teeth to eagle hunting restrictions, and hunters stopped shooting them so much.  Between 1940 and 1950, eagle populations stabilized, with a good bunch in Alaska, and a few nesting pairs spread from Oregon to Maine, Lake of the Woods to Florida Everglades.  There were so few eagles, and they were spread so far apart, that most Americans could not see one without major effort and travel.

Bird watchers noticed trouble in the 1950s.  Young eagles stopped showing up for the Audubon Christmas bird count, and at the Hawk Mountain migration counts.  Adults went through the motions, migrating, hunting, building nests, laying eggs for all anyone knew, and hatching young that had been seen, sometimes, to fledge — but then the young birds died.  Between leaving the nest, and returning to mate up and breed, the young birds simply disappeared.

Research showed deeper trouble.  On careful observation the birds were seen to be frustrated in hatching and raising chicks.  Sometimes the eggs wouldn’t hatch.  If they did hatch, the chicks died.  The few who lived to fly out, died soon after.

Rachel Carson called attention to the trouble in her 1962 claxon call on pesticide and chemical pollution, Silent Spring (50 years ago in 2012).

Doctor Science at Obsidian Wings wrote a paean to seeing bald eagles in the wild, with a brief and kind mention of this blog. You should go read it there.

Protecting birds?  The Steve Milloys, CEIs, AEIs, Heritage Foundations, CATO Institutes and other dens of smug cynicism and bad citizenship have it all wrong.  It’s not about power for environmentalists.  It’s nothing so cheap or mean.  Heck.  Often it’s not even about protecting the birds so much.

It’s about protecting our own dreams, and places we have to inspire those dreams.  Frederick Jackson Turner postulated that there is something mystical and magical in a frontier that helped form the American character and make us hard-working, smart, and noble.  He was right, of course.  Those frontiers are not simply frontiers of settlement in the wilderness anymore.  We have to work to find them, to declare Alaska the “Last Frontier,” or government reform and Cold War enterprise as the “New Frontier.”  But we still need frontiers.

Eagles still soar there.  Wherever eagles soar, in fact, we find those frontiers, those places to dream and inspire.  The Endangered Species Act isn’t about saving animals and plants.  It’s about saving our own souls.

More:


Endangered western forests: The Yellowstone

October 10, 2012

Additional CO2 and warmer weather will help plants, the climate change denialists say.  That’s not what we see, however.  Turns out CO2 helps weeds, and warmer weather helps destructive species, more than it helps the stuff we need and want in the wild.

For example, the white-bark pine, Pinus albicaulis:


161

From American Forests:

With increasingly warm winters at high elevations in the West, a predator that has stalked forests for decades has gained the upper hand. It is mountain pine blister rust, an invasive fungus. Combined with mountain pine beetles, which kill hundreds of thousands of trees per year in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA), the environmental health of the Rocky Mountains and neighboring regions is in danger. To make matters worse, the species most susceptible to these two threats, the whitebark pine, is also the most vital to ecosystem stability, essential to the survival of more than 190 plant and animal species in Yellowstone alone.

First debuted at SXSW Eco, this video tells the story of our endangered western forests and how American Forests and the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee are working toward their restoration and protection for future generations.

Learn more: http://www.americanforests.org/what-we-do/endangered-western-forests/

More:

Whitebark Pine

Whitebark Pine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whitebark Pine. Français : Tige et cônes de Pi...

Whitebark Pine, cones and needle cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whitebark Pine Français : Un cône de Pin à éco...

Whitebark pine’s distinctive, almost-black cone. (Photo: Wikipedia)


Moonrise at Mammoth Hot Springs

August 22, 2012

Department of Interior erupts at Instagram again:

Moonrise over Mt. Everts, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park - Dept of Interior photo

Moonrise over Mt. Everts, near Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park – Dept of Interior photo

Department of Interior tweeted that the photo was posted at Instagram — no other big details:

A full #moon rises over Mt. Everts near Mammoth Hot Springs in #Yellowstone National Park.

With more than 300 properties including the “Crown Jewels” of the National Parks, with employees carrying cell phones, it must be an interesting job to pick one photo to post on Instagram on any given day.  I wonder who makes the selection.

(I wonder whether anyone will glance quickly, and misread “Mt. Everts” as “Mt. Everest.”)

More:


“Out of Yellowstone,” Nature Conservancy film on surviving the winter, and surviving the future

September 19, 2011

It seems like just a few months ago that Kathryn the Trophy Wife™ and I honeymooned in Yellowstone National Park, for a glorious January week.  On more than one occasion we had Old Faithful all to ourselves — it seemed like such an indulgence.

Seems just a few months ago, but that was before the 1988 fires, before our 1989 vacation there, before our 2004 ceremony casting the ashes of brother Jerry and his wife Barbara to the Yellowstone winds.

Will Yellowstone be there for our children, and for our grandchildren, as it has been for my lifetime?  The Nature Conservancy produced a 16-minute film showing much of the glory of winter of the place, and talking about the problems.

For the deer, elk and pronghorn in and around Yellowstone National Park, surviving the winter means finding adequate food and areas with low snow accumulation. But this critical winter range is increasingly threatened by energy and residential development. At stake is the very future of the Greater Yellowstone region’s iconic wildlife. This film highlights the voices of those working together to save these magnificent herds: ranchers, conservationists, scientists and others. http://www.nature.org/yellowstone

Growing up in the Mountain West, I learned to appreciate the stark beauty of the cold northern desert — but seldom is that beauty captured on film so well as it is here.  Phlogiston Media, LLC, made a remarkable, beautiful film, about a remarkable, beautiful land threatened by gritty, banal and mundane development.

This movie has been viewed only 542 times when I posted it.  Spread the word, will you?


Yellowstone, Land to Life — a film to free from bondage

March 20, 2011

Yes, it’s a tease.  Drat.  Just a trailer for the film.

But how exquisite is just the trailer!

Yellowstone National Park Orientation Film (excerpt) from Northern Light Productions on Vimeo.

Northern Light Productions made the film for the “Canyon Visitor Education Center in Yellowstone National Park. The film offers a compelling overview of the ‘big picture’ geology that has shaped and continues to influence Yellowstone and its ecosystem.”

Big picture geology?  How about making this film available to schools to talk about geology, geography, and history?

Yellowstone National Park annually gets about three million visitors.  Yellowstone is one of those places that ever American should see — but at that rate, it would be more than 100 years before everybody gets there.

We need good, beautifully shot, well-produced, interesting films on American landmarks in the classroom.

How do we get this one freed for America’s kids, Yellowstone Park?


Laden’s late; but, is Yellowstone gonna blow AND TAKE US WITH IT?

February 26, 2011

The veteran reader of this blog — can there be more than one? — may recall the kerfuffle a couple of years ago when there was a “swarm” of earthquakes in the Yellowstone.  Alas for those prone to panic attacks, the swarm ran through the Hanukkah/Ramadan/Christmas/KWANZAA/New Year’s holidays, when other news is slack.

Yellowstone Caldera, Smith and Siegel 2000

What the Yellowstone Caldera might look like from space, by moonlight, on a clear night, if you can imagine the borders of Yellowstone National Park very vividly - Smith and Siegel, 2000

You might understand, then, why I say Greg Laden turns his considerable story-telling prowess to the issue late.  Still, his prowess towers over the rest of us, and he tells a great story.

Is the Yellowstone safe? he asks, rhetorically.

The answer is complex:

1) Wear a seat belt when driving around in the region;

2) Don’t feed the bears and make sure you understand bear safety; and

3) Somebody is going to get blasted by some kind of volcano in the area some day, but even if you live there the chances are it won’t be you.

The joy is in the journey — go read Laden’s explanation of the rising lava.  Heck, even those of us who think we know that stuff understand it better when he explains it.

Earlier in the Bathtub:

Also see:


Yellowstone earthquake swarm, 2010

January 25, 2010

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Earthquake swarm hits the area of the Yellowstone Caldera, around Yellowstone Park; wackoes start predicting the End of the World As We Know It, at least for West Yellowstone, Montana, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Unless they are Bobby Jindal, and they predict that the quakes didn’t even happen.

Oh, yeah — that was the series of earthquake swarms in late 2008 and early 2009, right?

Not exactly.  It’s happened again.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory logo
YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY INFORMATION STATEMENT
Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:26 PM MST (Thursday, January 21, 2010 2126 UTC)

Yellowstone Volcano
44°25’48” N 110°40’12” W, Summit Elevation 9203 ft (2805 m)
Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

The earthquake swarm on the northwest edge of Yellowstone Caldera that began on January 17, 2010 continues.

PRESS RELEASE FROM YVO PARTNER UNIVERSITY OF UTAH SEISMOGRAPH STATIONS

Released: January 21, 2010 2:00PM MST

This release is a continuation of information updates building upon our two previous press releases on the ongoing earthquake swarm on the west side of Yellowstone National Park. The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8 occurred in the evening of January 20, 2010 in Yellowstone National Park.

The first event of magnitude 3.7 occurred at 11:01 PM and was shortly followed by a magnitude 3.8 event at 11:16 PM. Both shocks were located around 9 miles to the southeast of West Yellowstone, MT and about 10 miles to the northwest of Old Faithful, WY. Both events were felt throughout the park and in surrounding communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

These two earthquakes are part of an ongoing swarm in Yellowstone National Park that began January 17, 2010 (1:00 PM MST). The largest earthquake in the swarm as of 12 PM, January 21, 2010, was a magnitude 3.8. There have been 901 located earthquakes in the swarm of magnitude 0.5 to 3.8. This includes 8 events of magnitude larger than 3, with 68 events of magnitude 2 to 3, and 825 events of magnitude less than 2. There have been multiple personal reports of ground shaking from observations inside the Park and in surrounding areas for some of the larger events (for felt reports, please visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/). Earthquake swarms are relatively common in Yellowstone.

The swarm earthquakes are likely the result of slip on pre-existing faults rather than underground movement of magma. Currently there is no indication of premonitory volcanic or hydrothermal activity, but ongoing observations and analyses will continue to evaluate these different sources.

Seismic information on the earthquake can be viewed at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations: http://www.seis.utah.edu/.

Seismograph recordings from stations of the Yellowstone seismograph network can be viewed online at: http://quake.utah.edu/helicorder/yell_webi.htm.

Anyone who has felt earthquakes in the swarm are encouraged to fill out a form on the USGS Community Felt reports web site: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/.

This press release was prepared by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory partners of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Utah, and the National Park Service: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a partnership of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Peter Cervelli, Acting Scientist-in-Charge, USGS

pcervelli@usgs.gov (650) 329-5188


The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) was created as a partnership among the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

Here’s the map as of Sunday night, January 24, 9:10 p.m. MST (where the observatory is located); while this map may update here, you may want to click over to the observatory for more information (click on the map):

Yellowstone National Park Special Map, showing earthquakes in last week.

Yellowstone National Park Special Map, showing earthquakes in last week.

Eruptions has a short post on the swarmVolcanism, which covers volcanoes better than Sherwin-Williams covers the world, has a short post, probably appropriate to the newsworthiness.  Stoichiometry mentions them.  Not much to say yet, right?  Yellowstone Insider doesn’t seem too alarmed.

In mass media, The Billings (Montana) Gazette notes that these quakes are probably just shifting rocks, and not volcanic activity.  The headline in the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle captures the news:  “Earthquake Swarm Suggests Just Another Day in Yellowstone.”

Meanwhile, Scott Bowen at True/Slant sounds just a little alarmistRalph Maughan sets the right tone:  “No, it doesn’t mean the end is near.”  The tinfoil hat concessions probably won’t make nearly the money they did a year ago.

Outside of the Yellowstone and Intermountain areas, students will probably ask about 2012.  Tell them the Mayans didn’t know anything about Old Faithful.

Resources:

Shake a little news to the rest of the world:

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You felt it coming: Hoaxers jump on Yellowstone quake news

January 11, 2009

Oh, yeah, we expected a few religious nuts to claim it was the end times when an interesting, but so far harmless swarm of small earthquakes hit the Yellowstone Caldera again.

But who expected such nuttiness?

Legal action is being taken against a Web site operator who has misrepresented the U.S. Geological Survey in a warning that the area around Yellowstone National Park should be evacuated out of concern that the park’s supervolcano could erupt.

“We started to take action as soon as we found out about it,” said Jessica Robertson of the USGS, adding that the agency was notified on Friday.

The issue has been referred to the USGS’s solicitor’s office which is pursuing charges of impersonating a federal official as well as violation of the agency’s trademark.

“The main issue we have is we don’t want people to believe it’s coming from us,” Robertson said.  [From the Billings (Montana) Gazette]

It’s a hoax, but a very pernicious hoax.  In a world where people believe in all sorts of things that do not happen and take actions that hurt themselves and others as a result, hoaxing is not a good game to play.

(Update, evening of January 11, 2009:  Here’s the site complained about; it appears he’s removed material that would make the site look like a USGS site.)

Was this guy under a belief that what he said was correct?

The issue highlights Nash’s concerns about where people get their news.

“There is a legitimate place to get this information; this is not it,” Nash said of the Web site [ Al Nash, the Yellowstone National Park's chief of public affairs]. “The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory is out there. You can find it. It is run by three really bright geologists. There’s really good monitoring in the park. Our offices would be the secondary place to go for information.”

Robertson said this isn’t the first time USGS has been falsely used in such claims. She said in June a YouTube video used the agency’s logo to lend legitimacy to a claim about the end of the world.

Earthquakes are very interesting.  The Yellowstone is fascinating.  These are good reasons to study the facts and events of nature.  Hoaxes like this one, urging people to panic, play on the wealth of ignorance about science and nature, and scientists.

The only firm defense is good education and good information.

Resources:

  • From the Billings Gazette’s sidebar on good information:
    Latest quake info
    “According to the latest information from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, about 900 earthquakes occurred between Dec. 26 and Jan. 8 in the Yellowstone Lake area.
    “Five hundred of the earthquakes (including all greater than magnitude 2.0) have been reviewed by seismologists. There were 111 earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 2.0 and 18 earthquakes greater than 3.0. About 400 smaller earthquakes have yet to be reviewed.
    “The largest earthquake during the swarm was a magnitude 3.9 on Dec. 28. One of the analyses seismologists use to talk about earthquakes and swarms is the cumulative seismic moment, which is a measure of the earthquake energy. The cumulative moment (the energy from all the analyzed earthquakes in the swarm) for the Yellowstone Lake Swarm is equal to the energy of a single magnitude 4.5 earthquake.
    “Earthquakes with magnitudes less than 3.4 are generally not felt by people unless they are very shallow and you are standing very close to the epicenter. For perspective, earthquakes of magnitude 3.4 to 4.5 are often felt and there were multiple reports of felt earthquakes during this swarm. A magnitude 5 or greater is generally required to produce damage to buildings or other structures.
    “For more information, log onto the observatory’s Web site at: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/
  • Powell (Wyoming) Tribune blog, with an e-mail interview with the hoax perpetrator — note the nonchalance with which Chris Sanders, who appears to be the perpetrator, acknowledges his pirating of the USGS log, claims connections to soon-to-be-President Obama, and otherwise suggests he’s the smartest scientist even touching geology in the U.S.
  • Good, solid reporting on the seismology, from the Salt Lake Tribune
  • Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle coverage of the hoax
  • Finding Dulcinea blog
  • Associated Press story of January 9, 2009
  • Also see other posts here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub on the Yellowstone Caldera:  Not likely to blow, first post with best links, “swarm finished?” and all Yellowstone posts

Acknowledgement to High Boldtage.


Eye on Yellowstone: Earthquake swarm’s second round

January 10, 2009

More mostly small, less-than-3.0 magnitude earthquakes rumbled the Yellowstone Caldera, with a shift in location.

While not exactly an everyday event, still “not uncommon.”  Scientists are just watching, and they detect no other signs of an imminent eruption.

Here’s the note as of about 5:00 a.m. January 10, Central time, from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO):

YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY INFORMATION RELEASE
Friday, January 9, 2009 19:44 MST (Saturday, January 10, 2009 02:44 UTC)

YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO (CAVW#1205-01-)
44.43°N 110.67°W, Summit Elevation 9203 ft (2805 m)
Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Aviation Color Code: GREEN

Small Earthquake Swarm on 9 January 2009 near northeast corner of Yellowstone Caldera

A currently modest swarm of earthquakes began in the northeast corner of the Yellowstone Caldera, about 10 miles (16 km) NNE of the north end of the Yellowstone Lake swarm that was active in late December and early January. As of 1930 MST, 10 earthquakes had been located by the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, the largest with M= 3.3 and two other events with M >2.0. Located depths are between 2 and 4 km.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory staff and collaborators are analyzing the data from this and from the earlier Yellowstone Lake swarm and are checking for any changes to the thermal areas located near the epicenters. We will provide further information as it becomes available.

—–
The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a partnership of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

It’s winter in Yellowstone, a great time to go.  It’s the best time to go, my Yellowstone-obsessed brother would say.  A swarm of earthquakes means you’ll have something to talk about at breakfast before taking your camera out to get once-in-a-lifetime shots of nature.

Earthquakes are normal in much of the Rocky Mountains, and in much of the rest of the Intermountain West.  My mother used to enjoy quietly sipping coffee at the stove in her kitchen in Pleasant Grove, Utah, and saying “Oh. We’re having another earthquake.”  She’d watch the power and telephone wires, which formed neat sine waves during quakes.

Experts are watching, and probably sipping their coffee, too.

.”]Image 1. Yellowstone Lake showing location and times of the recent earthquakes from Dec. 27, 2008 (blue) to Jan. 8, 2009 (red). The M 3.0 and greater earthquakes are shown as stars, the smaller earthquakes are shown as circles. During the swarm, the earthquake locations appear to have moved north. For more information on the depths of the earthquakes, see the cross section from X to X below. Click on the image for a full-size version.

See resource lists at earlier MFBathtub posts:


All quiet on the Yellowstone front (almost)

January 6, 2009

Here’s the on-line helicorder view of January 5 — a quiet day at Lake Woebegone Yellowstone.  Click on the image to go to the site and see for yourself (in a larger format, too).

Compare the image below, with the image here, to see the difference a few days makes.

Helicorder data from January 5, 2008, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb station (YLT)

Helicorder data from January 5, 2008, Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb station (YLT)


Yellowstone ready to blow? Not likely

December 31, 2008

Every science nut is, and quite a few fear mongers are following the story of the swarm of small earthquakes miles beneath the waters of Yellowstone Lake.

They know Yellowstone is in the middle of a supervolcano, and they can’t help but wonder whether the Yellowstone Caldera is ready to blow.

Even Cecil Adams at the Straight Dope wonders in the headline whether Yellowston is ready blow, in what must be one of the best-timed, prepared-in-advance columns in any newspaper in the world in 2008.  (My skiepticism for Cecil Adams’ stuff increased mightily when I noticed he had gotten much wrong on Rachel Carson’s claims about DDT and birds, but I digress.)

So is Yellowstone going to blow?

Not likely.  According to me. (I’m a lawyer and teacher — what authority does my prediction have?)

Serious scientists are being more careful.  I asked Relu Burlacu at the University of Utah Seismograph Station, the group that is the front line in the monitoring of Yellowstone, whether this is The Big One.

“The short answer is,” he said, “we don’t know.”

57 quakes, at least, have been recorded for December 31 so far (15:05 UTC).  Since Saturday, there have been more than 300 quakes (conservative estimate).  Because the quakes are so tightly packed, geographically, but from depths covering several miles underground, some amateurs suggest the quakes suggest magma or water moving up a pipe toward the surface.

The professionals I spoke with today are very circumspect about saying what is going on, stopping far short of making predictions about what will happen.  Most telling, they’re taking tonight and tomorrow off, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  Oh, someone will be on hand to make sure the machines are working, and if there’s a truly significant event, there will be alerts.  But the current swarm is not something that alarms the monitoring people, nor is it something they have not seen before.

Mr. Berlacu explained — patiently, I must add — that so far, there has been just monitoring.  With so many events, one of the problems is determining when one event ends, and the next begins.  There is a great deal of work to be done pinpointing locations of temblors, triangulating from several different recording stations.

“This is not uncommon,” Berlacu said.  He noted that 1985 had a swarm of quakes that continued for nearly three months, with the swarm just tapering off.

Charts from the earthquake monitoring station on Yellowstone Lake, showing raw data recording by the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, Earthquake Information Center, for December 31, 2008.  These data must be correlated and corroborated with data from other stations in the area to determine locations of geological events, depths, duration, start and end, before complete analysis can be done.

Charts from the earthquake monitoring station on Yellowstone Lake, showing raw data recording by the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, Earthquake Information Center, for December 31, 2008. These data must be correlated and corroborated with data from other stations in the area to determine locations of geological events, depths, duration, start and end, before complete analysis can be done.

Reality is that the scientists who study Yellowstone’s vulcanism expect eruptions in the future. But they expect smaller eruptions, not the massive supervolcano disaster usually portrayed over the last five or ten years.  Yes, a massive eruption is possible.  Yes, it could be an enormous disaster.

In a video explaining the geology of the Yellowstone caldera, Yellowstone National Park Geologist Hank Heasler explains there are three things geologists think will presage a large volcanic event in the caldera:

  1. An increase in earthquakes, or a swarm of earthquakes, plus
  2. Significantly increased ground deformation, such as a rise of several feet or several meters, plus
  3. Increased thermal activity in the thermal features of the Park.

The current swarm lacks the second two features.  Even so, experts note that all three conditions might be met, without any major eruption.

No, it’s not likely to happen in our lifetimes. Read this entertaining piece by Jake Lowenstern in Geotimes, from June 2005. Lowenstern is the director of the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory (YVO):

Of course, the Yellowstone caldera is a volcano, and it almost certainly will erupt again someday. It’s possible, though unlikely, that future eruptions could reach the magnitude of Yellowstone’s three largest explosive eruptions, 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 640,000 years ago. Smaller eruptions, however, are far more likely, and no eruption seems imminent on the timescale that most people truly care about — their lifetime or perhaps even the next few hundred or thousands of year

Small eruptions do not make for the grand drama desired by television executives and producers.

Instead, the technicians monitor what happens; conclusions, the explanation for what happened, will have to wait for later analysis.

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