The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology studies water and seismicity in the Yellowstone area

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As you know the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is more than just one agency—it's a consortium of institutions that collaborate to monitor and better understand Yellowstone. Included as part of YVO are the state geological surveys of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho—the three states in which Yellowstone is located. 

Today we pay a visit to the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (MBMG) to learn more about some of the work being done in one of the most geologically diverse states in the nation!

Montana Regional Seismic Network map...

Map of seismograph stations in the northern Rocky Mountains operated by the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (red), the University of Utah Seismograph Stations (yellow), and the U.S. Geological Survey (black). There are many other seismograph stations operating in Yellowstone; shown here are only the ones recorded in real-time at the MBMG.

(Public domain.)

The MBMG proudly celebrates its centennial next year. The State Legislature of Montana created the MBMG in 1919 as the "Montana State Bureau of Mines and Metallurgy," with the goals of providing information to help develop the mineral resources of Montana and improving the safety and efficiency of mining operations. As a non-regulatory State agency within the Montana University System, today we serve as Montana's geologic survey, addressing topics ranging from earthquake monitoring and geologic mapping to energy development and groundwater, and of course minerals and mining. With a staff of approximately 60, we are housed on the Montana Tech campus in Butte and also have a satellite office in Billings. In response to the strong need for information on natural resources and hazards, the MBMG now actively conducts scores of research projects that extend to virtually every corner of the State.

The MBMG has operated the Montana Regional Seismic Network (MRSN) since 1982 under the direction of Dr. Mike Stickney, Director of the Earthquake Studies Office, and is a member of the YVO seismology team under the monitoring group. Our network is made up of 43 seismic stations in western Montana, including stations operating to the north and west of Yellowstone. Because these stations provide useful data for earthquakes occurring within and around Yellowstone, the MBMG shares data from these stations with University of Utah Seismograph Stations (UUSS), which is responsible for monitoring and reporting earthquakes in Yellowstone. Similarly, data from some UUSS sites near the north and west sides of Yellowstone National Park are shared with the MRSN in real time because they provide useful data for Montana earthquakes.

Bear Creek Hot Spring monitoring site...

Photo of the Bear Creek Hot Spring monitoring site on the west bank of Bear Creek, just above the confluence with the Yellowstone River. The MBMG monitors spring flow and water temperature hourly at this site, and collects water-quality samples annually.

(Public domain.)

Yellowstone National Park and Montana share significant earthquake hazards, as demonstrated by the M 7.3 Hebgen Lake earthquake that occurred on August 18, 1959. As the largest historic earthquake in the northern Rocky Mountain region, the Hebgen Lake earthquake caused an estimated $11 million in damage to roads and bridges in Yellowstone and southwestern Montana. The strong ground shaking triggered numerous landslides within a 500 square-mile area, the largest of which—the Madison Slide—partly buried a campground, killing 26 campers and injuring numerous others. The area surrounding the 1959 earthquake remains one of the most seismically active regions in the intermountain west and requires cooperative seismic monitoring efforts by the MBMG, UUSS, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The MBMG also collaborates closely with another YVO partner—Yellowstone National Park—on issues related to water resources. In 1994, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation established the Yellowstone Controlled Groundwater Area (YCGA), as part of a Reserved Water Rights Compact between the National Park Service and the State of Montana. The YCGA covers 1,170 square miles of land in Montana that is adjacent to the Park. The MBMG has been conducting hydrogeologic and geologic studies within the YCGA since its inception, and has completed inventories of wells and springs within the area. The MBMG also maintains a long-term groundwater monitoring network within the YCGA. This monitoring began in 2006 and currently includes 34 sites that are visited at least three times a year, usually in May, August, and November. The monitoring sites include cold-water springs, geothermal springs, cold-water wells, and a few wells that produce warm water. Data on water quality, groundwater levels, and spring discharge rates are collected, and all of the data are available to the public at http://mbmggwic.mtech.edu.

For more information about MBMG, visit us online at http://www.mbmg.mtech.edu/. We hope to see you sometime soon in Montana, perhaps as you make your way to or from Yellowstone National Park!