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.


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