Will Yellowstone Blow Again?
January 27, 2011
It’s the stuff of movies. Massive volcanic eruption, ash clouds turning the sun and moon black or red. Weather patterns altered. Artificial winter.
It is also the stuff of historical record. Three times in observable geologic history, Yellowstone’s massive volcano has erupted. The latest was a little over half a million years ago, say scientists. When it blew, millions of tons of rock were evaporated, turned to ash and projected 25 miles into the atmosphere. Massive earthquakes ripped apart geological formations. The sun was blocked out. Regional temperatures dropped, and ice and snow froze large chunks of the continent.
Today, the results of that eruption can be seen in the Yellowstone caldera—a massive depression, 34 miles by 45 miles in size.
Why is this important? On January 19, National Geographic reported that Yellowstone may be becoming active again. Beginning in 2004, scientists began noticing a disturbing phenomenon. The ground above the caldera was beginning to rise—as much as 2.8 inches a year. By 2010, the rates had slowed, but the ground continues to swell.
“It’s an extraordinary uplift, because it covers such a large area and the rates are so high,” said the University of Utah’s Bob Smith, a longtime expert in Yellowstone’s volcanism.