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The Daily Volcano Quote: Dr Erik Klemetti on Yellowstone 12 July 2011

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To celebrate the Eruptions blog reaching 1,000 posts, here’s its only begetter, Dr Erik Klemetti, puncturing, in typically measured and well-informed style, one of the favoured obsessions of the disaster-mongers and doomsday-lovers: Yellowstone.

Sometimes I think that people have an unhealthy obsession with Yellowstone Caldera. Sure, it is big, powerful and the stuff that disaster movies are made, but in terms of a volcanic system that poses a high threat to life/property in the U.S. on a daily basis, it is relatively low. I know what you are thinking (well, some of you): “How can you say that? Look at how big the past eruptions were?” Yes, indeed, the previous eruption from the modern Yellowstone Caldera were indeed big, some of the biggest we have identified on the continents (it is still no Fish Canyon Tuff), so I’ll give you that. However, looking at the recent volcanic history of Yellowstone, you’d see that these big “doomsday” eruptions are only a very small piece of its activity, so even if tomorrow the caldera began to show signs of imminent eruption, there is a very good chance that it would be a relatively minor eruption – possibly on the scale of the 2008 and onward Chaiten eruption in Chile. … And if you ever worry, Yellowstone is also well-wired to see all the real time data, including earthquakes in the region and in the park, temperatures of hot springs, webcams, deformation within the caldera and hydrologic changes in the area. You would expect that if Yellowstone were headed towards an eruption, we would see lots of rapid inflation, lots of constant seismicity that gets shallower through time, a change in the temperature/composition of the hydrothermal systems and possibly even cracks forming in the land around the caldera. In other words, there will be lots of signs. So, the next time you see a doomsday article about Yellowstone, remember, calderas are busy places and the media loves its disasters.

Erik Klemetti, ‘Yellowstone: the public and media obsession with the caldera’, Eruptions, 25 January 2011.

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