Yellowstone Earthquake Swarm of 2010 fizzling out?

January 27, 2010

Inside Yellowstone noted just three earthquakes in the Yellowstone swarm in a 24-hour period covering most of Saturday.

It wasn’t the End of the World as Old Faithful Knows It, after all.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) suggests the swarm continues, however — but doesn’t suggest anyone should be too concerned about it.

As of January 26, 2010 9:00 AM MST there have been 1,360 located earthquakes in the recent Yellowstone National Park swarm. The swarm began January 17, 2010 around 1:00 PM MST about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of the Old Faithful area on the northwestern edge of Yellowstone Caldera. Swarms have occurred in this area several times over the past two decades.

There have been 11 events with a magnitude larger than 3, 101 events of magnitude 2 to 3, and 1248 events with a magnitude less than 2. The largest events so far have been a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8 that occurred after 11 PM MST on January 20, 2010.

The first event of magnitude 3.7 occurred at 11:01 PM MST 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.

See the University of Utah Seismograph Stations for the most recent earthquake data and press releases. The team is working 24/7 to analyze and communicate information about the swarm. Seismograph recordings from stations of the Yellowstone seismograph network can be viewed online at: http://quake.utah.edu/helicorder/yell_webi.htm.

You can get the information from the horse’s mouth (Dragon’s Mouth?) — some enterprising earth sciences, geography or general science teacher can probably work up a great assignment for students to deal with the data and make sense from them.

Ground deformations in the Yellowstone Caldera, from satellite photos - Geology.com imageGround deformations in the Yellowstone Caldera, from satellite photos - Geology.com image

Ground deformations in the Yellowstone Caldera, from satellite photos, in 2005 - Geology.com image (This isn't really directly related to the earthquake swarm, but it's a cool image.)

Update, March 12, 2011: This post has been mighty popular over the last week.  Can someone tell me, in comments, whether this post was linked to by another site?  Why the popularity all of a sudden — even before the Japan earthquake and tsunami?  Please do!


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:

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl


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:


Yellowstone earthquake swarm finished?

January 5, 2009

No Few significant quakes recorded at all for January 4, nor so far for January 5 (6:30 a.m. Central) maybe the quakes took a day off in honor of Utah Statehood Day.

Update, January 6, 6:00 a.m. Central: The map now shows 11 quakes magnitude 1 or greater on January 3, 5 on January 4, and one on January 5.  This is significantly less action than the quakes every ten minutes or so when the swarm was at its peak.

Is the swarm done? This is the longest period of no-quake activity in Yellowstone since at least December 27, 2008.

Here’s the USGS data for 11:30 p.m. (Central), January 4:

Update time = Mon Jan 5 5:27:27 UTC 2009

Here are the earthquakes in the Map Centered at 44°N, 110°W area, most recent at the top.
(Some early events may be obscured by later ones.)
Click on the underlined portion of an earthquake record in the list below for more information.

MAG UTC DATE-TIME
y/m/d h:m:s
LAT
deg
LON
deg
DEPTH
km
LOCATION
MAP 2.6 2009/01/03 00:23:22 44.669 -110.163 1.0 43 km ( 26 mi) SSW of Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT
MAP 2.7 2009/01/02 20:33:53 44.553 -110.338 0.9 61 km ( 38 mi) SSW of Cooke City-Silver Gate, MT
MAP 2.2 2009/01/02 20:24:50 44.509 -110.371 0.0 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.7 2009/01/02 20:23:57 44.556 -110.357 1.3 60 km ( 38 mi) SSE of Gardiner, MT

So there was only one quake on January 3, and none on January 4.

Swarms are “not uncommon,” but caldera supereruptions are extremely rare.

Time Magazine tracked down the head of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), Jake Lowenstern:

Jake Lowenstern, Ph.D., YVO’s chief scientist, who also is part of the USGS Volcano Hazards Team, told TIME that a supervolcano event does not appear to be imminent. “We don’t think the amount of magma exists that would create one of these large eruptions of the past,” he said. “It is still possible to have a volcanic eruption comparable to other volcanoes. But we would expect to see more and larger quakes, deformation and precursory explosions out of the lake. We don’t believe that anything strange is happening right now.” Last summer YVO installed new instrumentation in boreholes 500 to 600 ft. deep to better detect ground deformation.  Says Lowenstern: “We have a lot more ability to look at all the data now.” (See an interactive graphic depicting how scientists monitor volcanoes.)

Plan your vacation to Yellowstone now. Transportation will be cheaper (you can fly to Jackson Hole), and if there is any effect of the earthquake swarm, it would be to reduce tourist reservations at local hotels.

Now is the time to book your visit.


News from the Yellowstone Caldera: Earthquakes

December 29, 2008

Yellowstone Lake, site of swarm of earthquakes, December 27-30, 2008

Yellowstone Lake, site of swarm of earthquakes, December 27-30, 2008

Yellowstone National Park holds more than 70% of the world’s geysers, and rumbles with earthquakes and eruptions all the time.  It is, after all, rather in the middle of the great Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano that probably will erupt with astounding destruction someday.

Massive, super eruptions in the caldera occur about every 600,000 years (take THAT Don McLeroy!).  The last eruption was about 640,000 years ago, which means that we may be a bit overdue for the sort of eruption that would make the destruction of Krakatoa look like a firecracker compared to a nuclear bomb.

So, of course, some people worried a bit with the cluster of earthquakes under Yellowstone Lake in the past two days. A swarm is a better description, perhaps — 250 little quakes, all under 3.5 on the Richter Scale.

It is unusual in the number, but they are all small.

Watch that space!

(See update for December 31, here: ‘Yellowstone not likely to blow’)

USGS Regional map for earthquakes, Yellowstone Region

USGS Regional map for earthquakes, Yellowstone Region

According to the USGS system, at the time of this post, earthquakes are occurring frequently around Yellowstone, with about 35 in the past 24 hours (I copied the chart to preserve the historical data; click on the link to get more current data):

MAG UTC DATE-TIME
y/m/d h:m:s
LAT
deg
LON
deg
DEPTH
km
LOCATION
MAP 2.4 2008/12/30 00:36:39 44.510 -110.384 0.2 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.4 2008/12/29 21:25:15 44.525 -110.360 2.0 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.6 2008/12/29 21:18:51 44.521 -110.362 2.2 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.8 2008/12/29 21:18:36 44.522 -110.359 2.1 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.9 2008/12/29 20:38:25 44.514 -110.381 2.1 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.3 2008/12/29 20:38:04 44.511 -110.385 2.3 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.0 2008/12/29 20:26:29 44.520 -110.355 2.2 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.9 2008/12/29 20:14:26 44.498 -110.364 2.3 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.4 2008/12/29 20:13:31 44.508 -110.359 2.2 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.2 2008/12/29 19:56:46 44.522 -110.365 1.2 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.2 2008/12/29 19:53:50 44.511 -110.377 2.2 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.1 2008/12/29 19:46:13 44.515 -110.386 2.4 59 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.7 2008/12/29 19:44:50 44.525 -110.373 0.0 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.7 2008/12/29 19:40:27 44.511 -110.379 2.5 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.4 2008/12/29 19:37:07 44.502 -110.366 1.8 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.2 2008/12/29 19:36:08 44.521 -110.385 2.0 59 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.7 2008/12/29 19:35:27 44.511 -110.385 2.4 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.9 2008/12/29 19:29:38 44.513 -110.381 0.5 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.5 2008/12/29 19:28:55 44.515 -110.381 0.0 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.8 2008/12/29 19:26:21 44.519 -110.370 2.0 60 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.5 2008/12/29 19:24:43 44.520 -110.342 2.3 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.3 2008/12/29 19:14:49 44.521 -110.369 1.8 60 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.2 2008/12/29 18:47:45 44.523 -110.371 2.1 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.4 2008/12/29 18:40:00 44.533 -110.359 4.8 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.1 2008/12/29 16:32:12 44.494 -110.360 2.4 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.6 2008/12/29 16:31:55 44.491 -110.360 2.3 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.2 2008/12/29 16:15:28 44.480 -110.363 2.3 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.5 2008/12/29 14:58:37 44.486 -110.354 1.3 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.7 2008/12/29 10:25:18 44.523 -110.371 2.4 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.8 2008/12/29 09:14:04 44.527 -110.376 0.3 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.4 2008/12/29 08:57:55 44.527 -110.378 0.5 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.4 2008/12/29 08:28:24 44.527 -110.382 0.4 59 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.0 2008/12/29 05:30:35 44.517 -110.372 1.0 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.3 2008/12/29 05:30:04 44.477 -110.349 6.5 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.7 2008/12/29 05:29:23 44.489 -110.354 4.2 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.4 2008/12/29 05:23:36 44.516 -110.361 6.4 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.9 2008/12/29 04:29:18 44.522 -110.385 1.0 59 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.8 2008/12/29 04:25:53 44.514 -110.370 0.1 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.6 2008/12/28 23:57:56 44.521 -110.371 1.4 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.0 2008/12/28 23:08:25 44.491 -110.390 1.7 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.1 2008/12/28 19:55:17 44.511 -110.353 0.7 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.0 2008/12/28 19:32:15 44.511 -110.356 2.7 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.8 2008/12/28 15:37:40 44.514 -110.359 0.0 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.2 2008/12/28 09:25:14 44.508 -110.364 1.9 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.2 2008/12/28 09:23:57 44.511 -110.361 0.4 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.9 2008/12/28 07:16:13 44.513 -110.374 2.0 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.5 2008/12/28 07:15:18 44.495 -110.359 0.0 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.5 2008/12/28 06:37:41 44.492 -110.356 2.6 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.0 2008/12/28 06:37:20 44.497 -110.379 2.1 60 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.9 2008/12/28 05:28:49 44.498 -110.383 2.3 60 km ( 37 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.9 2008/12/28 05:28:05 44.485 -110.371 2.5 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.8 2008/12/28 05:26:14 44.484 -110.359 2.0 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.2 2008/12/28 05:26:03 44.470 -110.355 5.2 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.3 2008/12/28 05:24:39 44.489 -110.359 4.1 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.8 2008/12/28 05:23:54 44.489 -110.354 2.5 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.9 2008/12/28 05:21:16 44.480 -110.344 4.0 64 km ( 40 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.7 2008/12/28 05:20:10 44.494 -110.379 2.4 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.6 2008/12/28 05:19:11 44.492 -110.372 2.2 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.9 2008/12/28 05:15:56 44.502 -110.366 0.3 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.6 2008/12/28 00:08:50 44.493 -110.354 0.4 63 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.3 2008/12/27 22:30:03 44.498 -110.358 4.3 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.5 2008/12/27 22:28:53 44.500 -110.368 2.1 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.8 2008/12/27 22:27:36 44.499 -110.367 2.5 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.0 2008/12/27 21:28:06 44.500 -110.362 3.5 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.6 2008/12/27 21:22:08 44.495 -110.372 2.6 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.1 2008/12/27 21:08:49 44.496 -110.370 2.0 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.2 2008/12/27 20:26:27 44.505 -110.364 2.4 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.5 2008/12/27 20:17:33 44.488 -110.357 4.1 62 km ( 39 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.3 2008/12/27 18:56:35 44.484 -110.367 0.5 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 3.0 2008/12/27 18:23:07 44.495 -110.364 2.8 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.0 2008/12/27 18:21:36 44.493 -110.362 7.2 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 1.2 2008/12/27 17:01:46 44.484 -110.373 2.4 61 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.7 2008/12/27 17:01:07 44.490 -110.366 1.2 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT
MAP 2.6 2008/12/27 16:30:54 44.498 -110.362 2.5 62 km ( 38 mi) ESE of West Yellowstone, MT

At the site of the Deseret News (published in Salt Lake City), one commenter noted he is from Texas, a commented he was safely out of the way.  One might do well to remember that volcanic activity in the Yellowstone often affects life well outside the area.  Ashfall Beds State Historical Park in Nebraska, for example, marks a prehistoric waterhole where dozens of mammals died from ash from a volcano that erupted 10 million to 12 million years ago — a volcano in Idaho, south of the Yellowstone Caldera, and considerably smaller.

While danger is probably slight right now, and this swarm most likely does not presage anything of great note, one should not forget the power of volcanic eruptions from supervolcanoes, like the Yellowstone Caldera.

Update, December 30, 2:20 p.m. Central:

Resources:

Great photo for the heck of it:

Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Wikimedia photo (all text in caption from Wikimedia); Hot Springs, Midway & Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. The spring is approximately 250 by 300 feet (75 by 91 m) in size.  This photo shows steam rising from hot and sterile deep azure blue water (owing to the light absorbing overtone of an OH stretch which is shifted to 698 nm by hydrogen bonding [1]) in the center surrounded by huge mats of brilliant orange algae and bacteria. The color of which is due to the ratio of chlorophyll to carotenoid molecules produced by the organisms. During summertime the chlorophyll content of the organisms is low and thus the mats appear orange, red, or yellow. However during the winter, the mats are usually dark green, because sunlight is more scarce and the microbes produce more chlorophyll to compensate, thereby masking the carotenoid colors.

(Caption from Wikimedia) Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring; Hot Springs, Midway & Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. The spring is approximately 250 by 300 feet (75 by 91 m) in size. This photo shows steam rising from hot and sterile deep azure blue water (owing to the light absorbing overtone of an OH stretch which is shifted to 698 nm by hydrogen bonding) in the center surrounded by huge mats of brilliant orange algae and bacteria. The color of which is due to the ratio of chlorophyll to carotenoid molecules produced by the organisms. During summertime the chlorophyll content of the organisms is low and thus the mats appear orange, red, or yellow. However during the winter, the mats are usually dark green, because sunlight is more scarce and the microbes produce more chlorophyll to compensate, thereby masking the carotenoid colors.


Oklahoma earthquake swarm, November 2011?

November 6, 2011

Is it enough to call it a swarm?  Oklahoma hadn’t had a quake of great signficance in about 30 years, but they had a 5.6 and a 4.7  yesterday — and look at this list for today and yesterday from the USGS (list will probably change at USGS as time moves on):

MAG UTC DATE-TIME
y/m/d h:m:s
LAT
deg
LON
deg
DEPTH
km
LOCATION
MAP 3.3 2011/11/06 18:26:56 35.478 -96.864 5.0 4 km ( 2 mi) SE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.7 2011/11/06 17:52:34 35.547 -96.819 5.0 7 km ( 4 mi) S of Sparks, OK
MAP 3.9 2011/11/06 15:07:05 35.535 -96.909 5.0 4 km ( 3 mi) NNW of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.2 2011/11/06 11:20:23 35.525 -96.883 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) NNE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.0 2011/11/06 11:16:20 35.523 -96.844 4.9 6 km ( 3 mi) ENE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/06 11:03:52 35.539 -96.825 5.0 8 km ( 5 mi) S of Sparks, OK
MAP 3.9 2011/11/06 10:52:35 35.567 -96.797 5.0 5 km ( 3 mi) SSE of Sparks, OK
MAP 4.0 2011/11/06 09:39:57 35.506 -96.865 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) ENE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/06 09:22:04 35.585 -96.823 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) S of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.7 2011/11/06 08:14:12 35.474 -96.794 5.0 7 km ( 4 mi) NNE of Johnson, OK
MAP 3.2 2011/11/06 07:32:40 35.544 -96.901 4.9 5 km ( 3 mi) N of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.8 2011/11/06 06:31:10 35.559 -96.874 5.0 7 km ( 4 mi) NNE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.0 2011/11/06 04:54:00 35.540 -96.687 5.0 6 km ( 4 mi) N of Prague, OK
MAP 3.6 2011/11/06 04:03:41 35.554 -96.760 5.0 8 km ( 5 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 5.6 2011/11/06 03:53:10 35.537 -96.747 5.0 8 km ( 5 mi) NW of Prague, OK
MAP 3.6 2011/11/05 14:36:30 35.584 -96.789 4.9 4 km ( 2 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/05 13:42:26 35.530 -96.766 5.0 9 km ( 5 mi) NW of Prague, OK
MAP 3.3 2011/11/05 11:24:15 35.521 -96.778 5.0 9 km ( 6 mi) WNW of Prague, OK
MAP 3.3 2011/11/05 09:12:11 35.591 -96.788 4.9 4 km ( 2 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.7 2011/11/05 07:50:42 35.559 -96.762 4.8 8 km ( 5 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.7 2011/11/05 07:44:34 35.488 -96.755 5.0 6 km ( 4 mi) W of Prague, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/05 07:27:20 35.566 -96.698 5.0 9 km ( 6 mi) N of Prague, OK
MAP 4.7 2011/11/05 07:12:45 35.553 -96.748 4.0 9 km ( 6 mi) SE of Sparks, OK

Back to Map Centered at 36°N, 96°W (That’s Tulsa, roughly)

 

23 quakes in two days.  Oklahomans might be excused for wondering what’s up.

Just technical details here.  USGS issued a notice on both of the larger quakes, the 4.7 on Saturday, November 5, and the 5.6 on Sunday, November 6.

Still, this isn’t much of a swarm for an active quake zone, like California, or Yellowstone, or Alaska.

But, for Oklahoma, this is big.  Plus, it appears to lay observers that earthquake intensity and frequency both have been building for over a year.   Recent earthquakes in Arkansas and Texas concern some local residents who fear the quakes are the result of hydrofracturing (fracking) activities being conducted in relation to natural gas and oil drilling and extraction.

And as this map of U.S. quakes in the preceding week shows, the quakes in Oklahoma are the largest in the U.S. for the week.

USGS animation of quakes in US for week ending Nov 6, 2011, afternoon

More quakes in California, on the USGS maps -- but the Oklahoma quakes are biggest

Research continues, and local residents stay nervous.

Here’s a map that should update with new quake information — which means, Oklahomans hope, that the indicators of quakes will go away over the next few days.

USGS map of Oklahoma City/Tulsa area where earthquakes occurred in the week leading up to November 6, 2011

USGS map of Oklahoma City/Tulsa area where earthquakes occurred in the week leading up to November 6, 2011

 


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:


Okalahoma earthquakes: No swarm

March 6, 2010

Three earthquakes in a week do not make a swarm.  Interesting that the last post on an earthquake in Oklahoma drew earthquake conspiratorialists and “skeptics.”  Too many people distrust all science and sources of information these days.

Here’s the dirt on Oklahoma’s shaking in the last week, from the U.S. Geological Service site:

Earthquake List for Map Centered at 36°N, 97°W

Update time = Sat Mar 6 18:00:02 UTC 2010

Here are the earthquakes in the Map Centered at 36°N, 97°W area, most recent at the top.
(Some early events may be obscured by later ones.)
Click on the underlined portion of an earthquake record in the list below for more information.

MAG UTC DATE-TIME
y/m/d h:m:s
LAT
deg
LON
deg
DEPTH
km
LOCATION
MAP 3.1 2010/03/05 20:35:13 35.608 -96.783 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) E of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.5 2010/03/03 04:35:17 35.549 -97.282 5.0 2 km ( 1 mi) SSE of Jones, OK
MAP 4.1 2010/02/27 22:22:27 35.557 -96.747 3.3 9 km ( 5 mi) SE of Sparks, OK

This isn’t unusual at all, of course. I think many people just don’t understand that earthquakes happen all the time, but they usually get crowded out of the newspaper because no one really cares.

For contrast, take a look at this animated map of a strip a little wider than Utah, covering from north of the Yellowstone Caldera to Arizona.  Run the animation.  Generally on any day there will have been at least two dozen earthquakes in the previous week, several magnitude 3, occasionally a magnitude 4 thrown in.

Almost none of those quakes make any news.

Maybe it’s the Earth, laughing.  We can hope.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

(Excerpted from “Solitude,” 1917, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919))


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.

Resources:


Yellowstone caldera swelling

April 16, 2007

This is a story about space technology and why we orbit satellites, geography, geology, the risks of living in certain places, and the fun, and perhaps life-saving value, of finding things out. Uplift in the Yellowstone Caldera - USGS image

This is the kind of science news that excites normal kids and lends outcroppings on which to hang a lesson plan or class warm up: The Yellowstone Caldera is uplifting, according to new satellite measurements. Don’t worry. Yet. Read the rest of this entry »


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:


Bobby Jindal: Dumb about rocks

February 27, 2009

I couldn’t believe it either.

Remember all the flap about a flurry of earthquakes in the Yellowstone Caldera over the Christmas holidays?  Volcano monitoring is critical to safety in California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska — not to mention Hawaii’s special circumstances — and to all neighboring states or those within downwind striking distance of a volcanic event.

A volcanic field now in southern Idaho erupted a few millions of years ago, spreading ash that killed creatures as far away as Nebraska.  “Neighboring state” covers a lot of territory.

So, Bobby Jindal, in his response to the Obama budget proposal speech, said the U.S. should get out of the volcano monitoring business.  It was not clear whether there were no rocks in his head, but neither was there knowledge about rocks where it should be in his head.

Green Gabbro, a real geologist, couldn’t believe it either.

  1. DID HE SERIOUSLY JUST SAY THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT BE MONITORING VOLCANOES??!?!!!????@#$@!

Ignoring for the sake of argument the value of the basic science that always results from the data collected during routine monitoring – ignoring the general function of increased spending as an economic stimulus to the nation’s earth scientists, instrument manufacturers, etc., – even ignoring all that, volcano monitoring is still a very sensible investment in national security. A $1.5 million investment in monitoring at Pinatubo (near a U.S. air force base) earned a greater than 300-fold return when the volcano erupted explosively in 1991: hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property (mostly airplanes) was saved, as were thousands of lives. That 30,000% figure comes before you attempt to put a value on human life.

But then, Sarah Palin is in one of those areas where a failure to monitor volcanoes might lead to huge disaster.  It’s an unusual way to knock out a political rival, and not certain, but were Sarah Palin to disappear into a volcanic cloud, Bobby Jindal’s path to the Republican nomination for president might be less cluttered.  He’s a Rhodes Scholar — surely he can’t be that stupid about volcanoes, so the evil alternative, that he hopes to get rid of Palin, is the only thing that makes sense, isn’t it?

Is there no one in the Republican Party who will stand up for science and reason?

Resources:


Disasters!

August 2, 2007

Popular Mechanics features the “Ten Worst Disasters of the Century,” showing how Americans fought back after natural disasters in — roughly — the 20th century.

It’s an odd century used — it leaves out the Galveston, Texas, hurricane disaster of 1900, but it includes Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (maybe it would more accurately be titled “disasters of the last 100 years”). The list is limited to natural disasters, so the Texas City harbor disaster of 1947 isn’t even considered, and the New London, Texas, school explosion doesn’t make the list. Those are quibbles; Texas teachers, and others, can supplement the list to accommodate other local, national and man-made disasters.

The Dust Bowl, which I would argue was greater than any of the other disasters listed, is also left off — too long a disaster?

The Popular Mechanics list is still a treasure trove for geography and history teachers. You might want to go out today to find the magazine at a newsstand, and pick up a copy or two. Throughout this post I sprinkled several links to the website of Popular Mechanics.

Here is the Popular Mechanics list of top 10 natural disasters, in chronological order:

1. 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

2. The Big Burn of 1910

3. 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic

4. Tri-state tornado of 1925 (one tornado across Missouri, southern Illinois and Indiana)

5. The New England Hurricane of 1938

6. The Great Alaskan Earthquake and Tsunami of 1964

7. 1974 Super Tornado Outbreak

8. Mt. St. Helens Eruption, 1980

9. 1993 Storm of the Century (snow)

10. Hurricane Katrina, 2005

There you have ten disasters of the 100 years between 1905 and 2005. For a geography or history class, that could be ten days of study — a map each day, a history timeline each day featuring especially who was president at the time (and how the president reacted), a story of geology or meteorology or public health each day. At the end of a ten-day unit the class could have made ten different maps covering most of the U.S. but Hawaii, covering the technology developments of the 20th century, especially the development of radio, air travel, and space technology (weather satellites), and covering the development of human institutions to cope with disasters and prevent future disaster, especially communication, transporation, medical care, banking and other investments (the rise of the Bank of America from the San Francisco Earthquake is a great little piece of history all by itself), and government.

This is not the curriculum most of the state testing authorities envision. Students will remember the geography, history and technology of these ten days with a lot more clarity and depth than most other units a teacher might cover.

Alternatively, these could be ten Disaster Fridays, reinforcing geography and history in particular. I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface — how do you use disasters, especially these ten, in your classroom now? Tell us about it in the comments, please.

Other disasters?

No rule says you have to stick with ten, or that you need to stick with the 20th century, or with natural disasters. Here are several other disasters that you may want to include in your curricula, again in chronological order:

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (October 8), which every school kid ought to know about; coupled with the fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, the same night, which was the deadliest fire in American history; news was slow to get out because nearly every person in Peshtigo died, and the town was literally burned off the map.

The blizzards of 1888 — the Schoolhouse Blizzard of January 12, which killed more than 200, mostly school students, and the Great Blizzard of 1888 which paralyzed much of the nation a couple of months later, from March 12 to March 14.

The Johnstown Flood, May 31, 1889 — a disaster seriously compounded by the folly of men and a leaky dam.  2,200 dead.

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, memorialized in the best-selling history Isaac’s Storm. At least 8,000 people died in Galveston, Texas’s largest city — and maybe as many as 15,000. There were too many bodies to count. Galveston invented a new form of government to help recover from the storm, the city commission style of government, which has been adopted widely throughout the U.S. Another large hurricane struck Galveston in 1915, killing 235 people — but it was so small in comparison, it is usually forgotten.

The 1909 Cherry Mine Fire (Bureau County, Illinois) — 259 men and boys died in a coal mine fire.

Dawson, New Mexico, Mine Disaster, October 22, 1913. 263 dead.

The Sinking of the Steamer Eastland on Lake Michigan, July 24, 1915. 840 people died.

The Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, which featured walls of hot molasses 35 feet high careening through the streets of Boston — 21 died.

The Tulsa Riot, 1921 — a race riot that killed 300 people and destroyed the African American “Wall Street.”

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which shook the social and civic foundations of riverside cities and towns.

The Dust Bowl, 1931-1939

The Ohio River Flood of 1937, which killed over 200 and pushed a million people out of their homes.

The New London, Texas, School Explosion, March 18, 1937.  In Texas’s richest school district, a gas pipeline heated the building for free.  In the era before odorfactants were added to natural gas to alert people of leaks, no one suspected the leak.  Nearly 300 died in the explosion, mostly children.

The 1946 Aleutian Islands Earthquake and Tsunami, and the April Fools Tsunami in Hawaii. An earthquake registering 7.8 struck the Aleutian Islands in far western Alaska. Six people died there. 159 people died in Hawaii when the resulting tsunami struck several hours later — the death toll perhaps increased because many people thought the warnings of a coming wave to be an April Fool’s prank.

The Texas City Explosion, 1947

The Montana-Yellowstone Earthquake, 1959, a 7.3 shaker which killed 28 people and created a new lake, Quake Lake, on the Madison River.

The Watts Riots, August 1965.

The Detroit and Newark Riots, 1967. Yes, it was “the Summer of Love.” Still, there were 164 “civil disorders” (riots) in 128 different U.S. cities. Detroit and Newark were the worst.

The Yellowstone Fires, 1988.

The Great Flood of 1993 (Mississippi River).

The 1997 Red River Flood (North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada).

Good heavens. That’s a depressing list. Still, I wonder — have I left anything off? Tell me in the comments, if you see something missing.

Other sources:


%d bloggers like this: