Could a large Yellowstone eruption significantly change weather patterns?

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 relatively small 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines caused temporary, yet measurable, changes in global temperatures.

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When will Yellowstone erupt again?

We do not know. Future volcanic eruptions could occur within or near Yellowstone National Park for the simple reason that the area has a long volcanic history and because there is hot and molten rock, or magma, beneath the caldera now. USGS scientists monitor Yellowstone for signs of volcanic activity using seismographs (to detect earthquakes) and...

What was the extent of ash deposition from the largest Yellowstone eruptions?

During the three giant, caldera-forming eruptions that occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, tiny particles of volcanic debris (volcanic ash) covered much of the western half of North America. That ash was likely a third of a meter deep several hundred kilometers from Yellowstone and several centimeters thick farther away ( see this...

What type of eruption will occur if Yellowstone 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 take place every few years and form a crater a few meters across. Every few thousand years, a hydrothermal explosion will form a crater as much as a few hundred...

What is the chance of another catastrophic volcanic eruption at Yellowstone?

Although another catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone is possible, scientists are not convinced that one will ever happen. The rhyolite magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5-15% molten (the rest is solidified but still hot), so it is unclear if there is even enough magma beneath the caldera to feed an eruption. If Yellowstone does erupt...

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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Attribution: Natural Hazards, Alaska
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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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.