Could a large Yellowstone eruption significantly change the climate?

If another catastrophic, caldera-forming Yellowstone eruption were to occur, it would probably alter global weather patterns and have enormous impacts on human activity (especially agricultural production) for many years. At this time, however, scientists do not have the ability to predict specific consequences or durations of possible global impacts from such large eruptions.

The 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines was about 1,000 times smaller than Yellowstone’s largest known eruption; it caused temporary, yet measurable, changes in global temperatures. The sulfur dioxide emitted from the volcano interacted with the atmosphere, which cooled the Earth’s surface for three years following the eruption. At the height of the impact, global temperatures dropped by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 degrees Celsius).

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How far would ash travel if Yellowstone had a large explosive eruption?

Knowledge about past eruptions of Yellowstone combined with mathematical models of volcanic ash dispersion help scientists determine where and how much ashfall will occur in possible future eruptions. During the three caldera-forming eruptions that occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, tiny particles of volcanic ash covered much of...

What type of eruption will Yellowstone have if it erupts again?

The most likely explosive event to occur at Yellowstone is actually a hydrothermal explosion —a rock-hurling geyser eruption—or a lava flow . Hydrothermal explosions are very small; they occur in Yellowstone National Park every few years and form a crater a few meters across. Every few thousand years, a hydrothermal explosion will form a crater as...

Is Yellowstone overdue for an eruption? When will Yellowstone erupt?

Yellowstone is not overdue for an eruption . Volcanoes do not work in predictable ways and their eruptions do not follow predictable schedules. Even so, the math doesn’t work out for the volcano to be “overdue” for an eruption. In terms of large explosions, Yellowstone has experienced three at 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. This comes out...

How much volcanic activity has there been at Yellowstone since the most recent giant eruption?

Since the most recent giant ( caldera-forming ) eruption 631,000 years ago, approximately 80 relatively nonexplosive eruptions have occurred. Of these eruptions, at least 27 were rhyolite lava flows in the caldera, 13 were rhyolite lava flows outside the caldera, and 40 were basalt vents outside the caldera. The most recent volcanic eruption at...

How much ash was there from the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens?

During the 9 hours of vigorous eruptive activity on May 18, 1980, about 540 million tons of ash from Mount St. Helens fell over an area of more than 22,000 square miles. The total volume of the ash before its compaction by rainfall was about 0.3 cubic mile, equivalent to an area the size of a football field piled about 150 miles high with fluffy...

How far did the ash from Mount St. Helens travel?

The May 18, 1980 eruptive column at Mount St. Helens fluctuated in height through the day, but the eruption subsided by late afternoon. By early May 19th, the eruption had stopped. By that time the ash cloud had spread to the central United States. Two days later, even though the ash cloud had become more diffuse, fine ash was detected by systems...

Is it dangerous to work on volcanoes? What precautions do scientists take?

Volcanoes are inherently beautiful places where forces of nature combine to produce awesome events and spectacular landscapes. For volcanologists, they're FUN to work on! Safety is, however, always the primary concern because volcanoes can be dangerous places. USGS scientists try hard to understand the risk inherent in any situation, then train...

Do volcanoes affect weather?

Yes, volcanoes can affect weather and the Earth's climate . Following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, cooler than normal temperatures were recorded worldwide and brilliant sunsets and sunrises were attributed to this eruption that sent fine ash and gases high into the stratosphere, forming a large volcanic cloud that...
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boiling water and white steam blasting up out of erupting geyser with snow on the ground
December 31, 2017

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser erupts on a clear winter day in Yellowstone National Park

column of water and steam shooting up out of the ground. Golden sky at sunset with backlit clouds.
December 31, 2017

Lion Geyser at Sunset

Lion Geyser erupting at sunset in Yellowstone National Park

Plume lightning during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland in 2010
April 17, 2017

Ash and Lightning Above the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in 2010

Plume lightning during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland in 2010.

Attribution: Volcano Hazards
river meandering through wide valley, with wisps of stem rising at various spots. Illuminated at sunset, with golden reflections
December 31, 2016

MIdway Geyser Basin at Sunset

Midway Geyser Basin at Sunset, Yellowstone National Park

Image shows gray ash covering cars and a house
July 18, 2016

Ash Coating from Rabaul Volcanic Eruption

Ash buries cars and buildings after the 1984 eruption of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Credit: USGS

May 26, 2016

Forecasting Ashfall Impacts from a Yellowstone Supereruption

  • Yellowstone is one of a few dozen volcanoes on earth capable of "supereruptions" that expel more than 1,000 cubic km of ash and debris.
  • The plumes from such eruptions can rise 30 to 50 km into the atmosphere, three to five times as high as most jets fly.
  • Yellowstone has produced three supereruptions in the past 2.1 million years. The most recent was
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Attribution: Yellowstone
Image: Garden Wall Weather Station, MT
December 31, 2014

Garden Wall Weather Station, MT

The Garden Wall Weather Station is situated below the Garden Wall and adjacent to the Haystack Creek avalanche path in Glacier National Park. It provides meteorological data for avalanche forecasting and research, including wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, and net radiation measurements.

Satellite image of eruption cloud from Pavlof Volcano in November 2014
November 15, 2014

Satellite image of eruption cloud from Pavlof Volcano in November 2014

Satellite image from the USGS/NASA Landsat-8 satellite showing the eruption cloud at Pavlof Volcano on November 15 at 12:46 pm AKST (21:46 UTC). This is just a portion of the eruption cloud, which extended for more than 250 miles to the northwest at the time this image was collected. In this image, the distance from the erupting vent to the upper left corner of the image

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January 22, 2014

The Yellowstone Volcano: Past, Present and Future

Public Lecture on Yellowstone Volcano by Jake Lowenstern at Menlo Park, CA on January 23, 2014. The Q&A at the end of the talk can be found on the original source video (Source URL).

video thumbnail: Volcano Hazards
July 30, 2012

Volcano Hazards

The United States has 169 active volcanoes. More than half of them could erupt explosively, sending ash up to 20,000 or 30,000 feet where commercial air traffic flies. USGS scientists are working to improve our understanding of volcano hazards to help protect communities and reduce the risks.

Video Sections:

  • Volcanoes: Monitoring Volcanoes
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Attribution: Volcano Hazards
Large umbrella shaped cloud of volcanic ash viewed from a distance
June 15, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991

Giant ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, 1991 towering above farms and agricultural lands in the Philippines.