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Yellowstone quakes not beginning of end of world – Discovery News 5 February 2010

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It’s good to see that Discovery Channel, where Scary Supervolcano Scenarios are a speciality, is doing its bit to reality-check people who see approaching apocalypse in the current Yellowstone earthquake swarm: Yellowstone is rumbling. We are NOT doomed.

The comments are fun: ‘what do I know I’m just a welder’.

The latest news on the Yellowstone swarm itself is that after becoming shallower over the last couple of days the earthquakes seem to be deepening again. A M1.0 quake at 11.6 km depth (13:22 UTC 3 February) has been followed by quakes at depths ranging from 8.6 to 9.1 km depth.

The most recent update on the swarm from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory can be found here. And let me recommend again (as does Michael Reilly in the Discovery News piece) Dr Erik Klemetti’s article at Eruptions, ‘Looking inside the structure of the Yellowstone Caldera’. It’s a great antidote to Yellowstone paranoia, for those willing to be cured.

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Looking inside Yellowstone, at the Eruptions blog 4 February 2010

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Today Dr Klemetti looks inside the structure of the Yellowstone Caldera in a terrifically informative post at Eruptions and explains (among many other things) why the fact that the earthquakes in the current swarm are apparently getting shallower is no big deal.

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Yellowstone doing what Yellowstone does 3 February 2010

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Yellowstone has earthquakes. It’s what it does. It’s having a prolonged and interesting swarm at the moment: I’m not saying much about it here because it is being expertly covered at Eruptions. For the latest, see: The Yellowstone Earthquake Swarm of 2010 marches on.

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Yellowstone earthquake swarm: some perspective at Eruptions 27 January 2010

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An earthquake swarm is under way at Yellowstone. What’s that all about? Does the supervolcano stir? Will there be a mega-eruption? Is it the beginning of the end of the world?

The disappointing news for the cheerleaders of the apocalypse (some of whom have been e-mailing me about this recently) is that this swarm is business as usual at Yellowstone, and there is no sign that anything magmatic and potentially eruptive is going on. For the full picture, read Dr Erik Klemetti’s crystal-clear and informative post at Eruptions: A little bit of Yellowstone earthquake perspective.

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New Year earthquake swarm at Yellowstone 19 January 2010

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In January 2009 Yellowstone welcomed in the New Year with an earthquake swarm. Well, it seems to be doing the same thing for 2010. No time for a detailed post here today, but Erik at Eruptions is on the story, and so are his readers: check out Yellowstone letting us know it’s still there and More on the January 2010 Yellowstone swarm.

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Yellowstone’s Jake Lowenstern on YouTube 20 April 2009

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Jake Lowenstern is the scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. There’s a three-part presentation by him available on YouTube, talking about Yellowstone and the work his team does there. For more, including links to all three videos, see Callan Bentley’s NOVA Geoblog: Lowenstern interview on YouTube.

Tip of the hat to Callan Bentley for telling us about this, and to his former student Stef who told him about it.

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More quakes at Yellowstone 10 January 2009

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Earthquakes have resumed under Yellowstone after the lull of the past few days. The swarm may be recurring (‘a return of activity may occur as previous Yellowstone swarms of this size have lasted for tens of days to many weeks’ – YVO) or this may be an isolated burst of activity. The quakes appear to be continuing their northward migration. There is no sign of volcanic tremor.

Below are the seismograms from The Promontory and Joseph’s Coat stations for 12:15 UTC onwards (05:00 onwards local time) on 9 January 2009, from the UUSS Webicorder site.

Seismogram 09 Jan 2009 - The Promontory, Yellowstone Park, WY
Above: Seismogram from The Promontory station.

Seismogram 09 Jan 2009 - Joseph's Coat, Yellowstone Park, WY
Above: Seismogram from Joseph’s Coat station.

The large red signal on the left is a magnitude 3.3 quake registered at 18:17 UTC 9 January 2009 at 44.678°N, 110.254°W, with a depth of 3.1 km (+/- 1.2 km uncertainty).

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Yellowstone – information about the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field (1205-01-)
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory – monitors activity at Yellowstone
University of Utah Seismograph Stations – UUSS home page, including Yellowstone updates
Yellowstone Region seismogram displays – near real-time seismogram traces for Yellowstone
USGS earthquake list for Yellowstone – constantly updated earthquake data for Yellowstone

The Volcanism Blog

Yellowstone updates from the YVO 9 January 2009

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The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) has released two new statements on the earthquake swarm that rumbled its way through Yellowstone in late December and early January.

The 6 January 2009 YVO update reports:

About 500 earthquakes occurred between Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. Three hundred of the earthquakes (including all >M2.0) have been reviewed by seismologists. There have been 86 earthquakes with M > 2.0 and 16 earthquakes > M3.0. About 200 smaller earthquakes have yet to be reviewed. Depths are difficult to determine accurately. The best located earthquakes have depths on the order of 3 to 10 km (1.8 to 6.0 miles). From Dec. 26 through Jan 2, the earthquake hypocenters appear to have migrated northwards, starting southeast of near Stevenson Island, with many of the latest events occurring near Fishing Bridge.

The recent swarm is well above typical activity at Yellowstone. Nevertheless it is not unprecedented during the last 40 years of monitoring. Swarms are the typical mode of occurrence of earthquakes within the Yellowstone caldera, with magnitudes ranging to > 4.0. The 1985 swarm on the northwest rim of the caldera lasted for three months, with earthquakes up to M4.9 and over 3000 total events recorded.

Magnitudes of earthquakes in this swarm range from zero to 3.9.

A further summary statement on the swarm, with graphics, was released by the YVO on 8 January 2009:

About 900 earthquakes occurred between Dec. 26, 2008 and Jan. 8, 2009 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 (> M2.0)and 18 earthquakes > M3.0. About 400 smaller earthquakes have yet to be reviewed. The largest earthquake during the swarm was a magnitude 3.9 on Sunday, December 28, 2008. […]

The recent swarm is well above typical activity at Yellowstone. Nevertheless it is not unprecedented during the last 40 years of monitoring. Earthquake swarms within the Yellowstone caldera are typical, with magnitudes occasionally ranging above 4.0. The 1985 swarm on the northwest rim of the caldera lasted for three months, with earthquakes up to M4.9 and over 3000 total events recorded.

With analysis of earthquakes and of ground motions accompanying the swarm still in progress, this is very much a preliminary report. No conclusions as yet, then, about the cause of the swarm, only the important negative conclusion that ‘there is no reason to believe that magma has risen to a shallow level within the crust or that a volcanic eruption is likely’.

Full statement: Yellowstone Lake Earthquake Swarm Summary as of 8 January 2009.

There’s also a new USGS CoreCast featuring an interview with Dr Jake Lowenstern, Scientist-in-Charge at the YVO, who talks about what’s been happening at Yellowstone and the work of the YVO in monitoring activity and keeping people informed. Dr Lowenstern has this to say about the earthquake swarm:

This is a very energetic swarm, and probably the most energetic swarm since 1985. So, it’s not unprecedented, on the other hand, it’s an energetic swarm, people were feeling it, and it’s an area where there are thermal features, and anytime there’s earthquakes near thermal features we worry about explosions of the groundwater system.

Dr Lowenstern also has some interesting comments about the explosion of information and speculation about this kind of event made possible by the internet, and where this leaves professional scientists concerned that information is used in a responsible way:

One of the amazing things we see during these kinds of events is how many people are out there looking at the data and trying to interpret it on their own. Sometimes they do a great job of it, sometimes they confuse other kinds of signals like wind and snowmobiles and other features that might look like earthquakes but indeed might not be earthquakes. So it’s a challenge for us not only to keep up with the science, but to keep up with the sort of furore out there, of people who are trying to do their own interpretations on the side, and to keep everybody happy and everybody thinking about the real endgame, of making sure that people are safe.

The USGS CoreCast interview with Dr Lowenstern is  available through this page: Is Something Brewing in Yellowstone?

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Yellowstone – information about the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field (1205-01-)
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory – monitors activity at Yellowstone
University of Utah Seismograph Stations – UUSS home page, including Yellowstone updates
Yellowstone Region seismogram displays – near real-time seismogram traces for Yellowstone
USGS earthquake list for Yellowstone – constantly updated earthquake data for Yellowstone

The Volcanism Blog

Yellowstone update 4 January 2009

Posted by admin in activity reports, calderas, United States, Yellowstone.
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The seismograms reveal that things are quieter today at Yellowstone: few quakes, no tremor (see below). This earthquake swarm has been notable for its intensity, but there has been nothing about it that suggested magma movement. It’ll be interesting to see what the seismologists have to say about it when they have gathered their data and made their analysis. In the meantime, Yellowstone needs careful monitoring – but then, it always does.

Seismogram 04 Jan 2009 - Lake, Yellowstone Park, WY
Above: seismogram from Lake station, Yellowstone Park, for 4 January 2009. If volcanic catastrophe were imminent you would be able to see the face of God in this image.

News
Fears over earthquake ‘swarm’ at Yellowstone National ParkThe Times, 4 January 2009
Yellowstone earthquake swarm: latest supervolcano updateUS News & World Report, 4 January 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Yellowstone – information about the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field (1205-01-)
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory – monitors activity at Yellowstone
University of Utah Seismograph Stations – UUSS home page, including Yellowstone updates
Yellowstone Region seismogram displays – near real-time seismogram traces for Yellowstone
USGS earthquake list for Yellowstone – constantly updated earthquake data for Yellowstone

The Volcanism Blog

Quakes at Yellowstone 3 January 2009

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The calderas of the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field provide a favourite agent of doom for those who like to brood on the destruction of civilization through a catastrophic ‘supervolcano’ eruption. Even leaving aside the supervolcano angle, or at least putting it into perspective (‘The probability of a large caldera-forming eruption within the next few thousand years is exceedingly low’, says the USGS), this is a very active volcanic zone that has seen large-scale eruptive activity over the last two million years. Yellowstone has seen three huge caldera-forming eruptions 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 640,000 years ago, the eruption of extensive rhyolitic lava flows between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago, and several major hydrothermal eruptive episodes during the past 10,000 years. The news of ongoing earthquake swarms at Yellowstone over the past week is thus of great interest.

There is nothing unusual about earthquakes at Yellowstone: the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) says that 1-20 earthquakes are normally recorded every day. At times, however, earthquake activity increases significantly, with a rise in the number of earthquakes, all of about the same magnitude (i.e. no distinguishable mainshock or aftershock) occurring over a short period – an earthquake swarm. The YVO relates that recent notable swarms occurred in 1977, 1985, 1995, 1999, and 2004. The latest significant swarm is under way now, and it is the largest since 1985, says the YVO’s top scientist, Dr Jacob Lowenstern.

The current earthquake swarm began on 26 December 2008 with the University of Utah Seismograph Stations recording quakes of magnitudes under 3.5 located beneath Yellowstone Lake. The swarm continued and intensified on 27 December with magnitudes of 2.5 to 3.2, the larger of which were felt by people in the Yellowstone Lake area. On 29 December the YVO reported that more than 250 events had taken place since the swarm began, with the largest quakes up to then registering magnitudes between 3 and 3.9. (Source: YVO updates archive for December 2008.)

On 1 January 2009 the YVO reported that the swarm was continuing:

Yellowstone seismicity increased significantly in December 2008 due to an energetic earthquake swarm that commenced on December 26. This swarm, a sequence of earthquakes clustered in space and time, is occurring beneath the northern part of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. As of this writing, the largest of these earthquakes was a magnitude 3.9 at 10:15 pm MST on Dec. 27. Through 5:00 pm MST on Dec. 31, the sequence had included 12 events of magnitude 3.0 to 3.9 and approximately 20 of magnitude 2.5 to 2.9, with a total of at least 400 events large enough to be located (magnitude ~1 or larger). National Park Service (NPS) employees and visitors have reported feeling the largest of these earthquakes in the area around Yellowstone Lake and at Old Faithful and Grant Village. The hypocenters of the swarm events cluster along a north-south-trending zone that is about 7 km long. The vast majority of the focal depths are shallower than 5 km.

By 2 January more than 500 earthquakes had been recorded with depths ranging ‘from ~ 1km to around 10 km’ and the activity showing a northwards migration. The YVO sees no cause for concern in this earthquake swarm, but warns that ‘there is some potential for hydrothermal explosions and earthquakes may continue or increase in magnitude. There is a much lower potential for related volcanic activity’. (Source: YVO updates archive for January 2009.)

Overall, the message from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and the USGS is that this earthquake swarm is within the parameters of normal behaviour for Yellowstone (and indeed the alert level remains at ‘normal‘) and is a product of hydrothermal activity rather than magma movement. To quote Dr Lowenstern of the YVO:

At this point, any kind of volcanic eruption is a long shot … the most likely thing is that the swarm will continue, perhaps for weeks, and then will end without any other related activity … before any kind of an eruption we’d expect a whole lot of change in the ground deformation as measured by GPS. Nothing has changed over the past week.

Predictions of the end of civilization, or even just devastation for America, are premature, it seems.

The latest: Seismic data from the Yellowstone stations for today, 3 January 2009, shows a falling off in intensity since around 21:45 UTC yesterday.

There’s further coverage of Yellowstone developments at Greg Laden’s blog (also here – don’t miss the comments – and an earlier article here), and Dr Erik Klemetti’s Eruptions. For another angle, see Alan Sullivan’s Fresh Bilge. US News & World Report is also paying attention to Yellowstone: see James Pethokoukis’s latest, ‘Earthquakes at Yellowstone Supervolcano: Update’. That’s in the Capital Commerce blog, in the financial section. US News‘s so-called ‘Science’ section doesn’t bother itself about this kind of thing.

News
Scientists watch unusual Yellowstone quake swarm – Associated Press, 29 December 2008
Yellowstone earthquake swarm puzzles scientists – LiveScience, 30 December 2008
Multiple tiny earthquakes rattle YellowstoneScientific American, 30 December 2008
A spurt of quake activity raises fears in YellowstoneTime, 1 January 2009
Earthquake swarm at Yellowstone supervolcano: updateUS News & World Report, 1 January 2009
More small quakes rattle Yellowstone National Park – Associated Press, 2 January 2009
Earthquakes at Yellowstone supervolcano: updateUS News & World Report, 3 January 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: Yellowstone – information about the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field (1205-01-)
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory – monitors activity at Yellowstone
University of Utah Seismograph Stations – UUSS home page, including Yellowstone updates
Yellowstone Region seismogram displays – near real-time seismogram traces for Yellowstone
USGS earthquake list for Yellowstone – constantly updated earthquake data for Yellowstone

The Volcanism Blog