Scientists at Yellowstone discover a “dome-shaped uplift” as if that park “was breathing,” which leads them to believe there is an intrusion of magma in the supervolcano.
The dreaded supervolcano spreads under the surface of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. If the volcano ever does explode, it will be a global catastrophic disaster.
To better understand the volcano and the Yellowstone terrain, geologists started by looking at the elevation and the changes throughout the years.
From the 1920s, when surveyors came to check the elevation for a road, until 1975, when a magnitude six earthquake happened, the change was so drastic that researchers didn’t believe it. The ground had risen over 70 centimeters in that amount of time.
Due to the constant change, researchers at Hayden Valley in Yellowstone started carrying out surveys every year beginning in the 1980s.
“He was interested in seeing whether we could actually measure this by some direct means,” said geologist Dr. Robert Christiansen. “So one of the things I did at that time was to get funding together to get the USGS topographic division involved in reveling.”
“We felt that with as much deformation as there appeared to be, that there should be measurable changes in elevations in the park.”
And there was. In 1983 and 1984 the ground was still rising, but in 1985 it suddenly stopped. From 1986 until the mid-1990s, it started to go back up as if the earth was breathing.
In more recent years, from 2004 until 2010, the ground was rising until and then lowering again in 2014. Then researchers saw a year of uplift, and from 2015 until the present, the park is lowering or subsidizing.
But don’t worry about feeling any change. The rate of movement is roughly one to three centimeters a year.
The Norris Geyser Basin
In the early 2000s, GPS was installed to get a real-time report of these changes. Officials quickly noticed the difference it has on the Norris Geyser Basin.
“We saw rapid uplift in 2013,” said Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Scientist-in-Charge Mike Poland. “That uplift culminated in March of 2014 with a magnitude 4.8 earthquake. Right after that earthquake, Norris began subsiding.”
He explains why this is.
“That was probably water that was backing up beneath the Norris Geyser Basin behind some valve that was holding things back, and the earthquake was that value breaking, and that water draining out which caused the area to subside.”
When Will the Supervolcano Erupt?
This information suggests that the supervolcano hotspot could be in a state of “waning.”
“We discovered that deposits previously believed to belong to multiple, smaller eruptions were, in fact, colossal sheets of volcanic material from two previously unknown supereruptions at about nine and 8.7 million years ago,” said the University of Leicester volcanologist Thomas Knott.
The eruptions of the supervolcano happened during the Miocene era. This suggests the area experiences eruptions once over 500,000 years.
On the other hand, in the past three million years, the volcano has only had two supereruptions. Scientists think that the frequency of the eruptions is slowing considerably, which is good news for us.