Partners in geologic hazards—YVO and the Wyoming State Geological Survey

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By now, readers of Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles know that the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a consortium of 8 different agencies.

Each agency has different priorities and skills, and working together and applying their specialties can bring a better understanding of how Yellowstone works. Today, we'll learn more about the Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS) and its role in monitoring and researching Yellowstone's geology.

The WSGS joined the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) in 2013 as part of the state agency's efforts to inform and protect residents and visitors from geologic hazards, many of which can originate from the Yellowstone National Park region.

WSGS logo...

Seal of the Wyoming State Geological Survey

(Credit: George, Christina. Used with permission)

Although established 85 years ago, the roots of the WSGS stretch back to 1877, when Wyoming was still a territory. Over the decades, the agency has been renamed and reorganized several times, but the primary mission has remained essentially the same: to gather, interpret, and disseminate reliable information on state geology.

Thirteen geologists are on staff at the WSGS, which is located on the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie. They conduct studies in the areas of hazards, groundwater, fossils, minerals, coal, and oil and gas. There are also eight support staff, ranging from administration to GIS and outreach. Under the leadership of the Wyoming State Geologist and WSGS Director, Dr. Erin Campbell, the WSGS staff strives to promote the beneficial and environmentally sound use of the state's vast geologic, mineral, and energy resources, while helping protect the public from geologic hazards.

A current example of hazards work is the role of WSGS geologists in multi-agency teams that are tasked with monitoring and investigating two active landslides near Dubois and Alpine, Wyoming. Also, in 2017 the WSGS worked with the U.S. Geological Survey and others to excavate a trench across a scarp on the Teton Fault in northwestern Wyoming. The purpose of the project was to investigate the fault rupture extent and recurrence of past large earthquakes.

Trench site and fault scarp

A trench dug across the scarp of the Teton fault in northwestern Wyoming in 2017 exposes geologic layers that have been offset by fault motion. Studying these layers can help geologists understand the sizes and timing of past earthquakes. 

(Public domain.)

Geologic hazards studies by WSGS geologists are particularly important because they are critical for the safety of residents and visitors as well as for providing information to protect property and infrastructure. Geologic hazards that occur across Wyoming's nearly 100,000 square miles include earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. More information about geologic hazards in Wyoming can be found on the WSGS website: http://www.wsgs.wyo.gov/hazards/hazards. A region where many of these hazards can and do occur is the Yellowstone National Park area.

The WSGS, through its communications and public outreach program, provides key hazards-based information to Wyoming citizens as well as to the global community. The Yellowstone region is one of Wyoming's precious gems, but it is abundant with geologic hazards, incuding volcanic, hydrothermal, and seismic hazards. The partnership between the WSGS and the YVO serves as an important source of information for state leaders, emergency responders, and the public should a critical situation arise.