How far in advance could scientists predict an eruption of the Yellowstone volcano?

The science of forecasting a volcanic eruption has significantly advanced over the past 25 years. Most scientists think that the buildup preceding a catastrophic eruption would be detectable for weeks and perhaps months to years. Precursors to volcanic eruptions include strong earthquake swarms and rapid ground deformation and typically take place days to weeks before an actual eruption. Scientists at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) closely monitor the Yellowstone region for such precursors. They expect that the buildup to larger eruptions would include intense precursory activity (far exceeding background levels) at multiple spots within the Yellowstone volcano. As at many caldera systems around the world, small earthquakes, ground uplift and subsidence, and gas releases at Yellowstone are commonplace events and do not reflect impending eruptions.

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What is a supervolcano? What is a supereruption?

The term "supervolcano" implies a volcanic center that has had an eruption of magnitude 8 on the Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI), meaning that at one point in time it erupted more than 1,000 cubic kilometers (240 cubic miles) of material. In the early 2000s, the term “supereruption” began being used as a catchy way to describe VEI 8 eruptions...

Why are there so many earthquakes at Yellowstone?

Almost all earthquakes at Yellowstone are brittle-failure events caused when rocks break due to crustal stresses. Though we've been looking at Yellowstone for years, no one has yet identified "long-period (LP) events" commonly attributed to magma movement. If LP events are observed, that will NOT mean Yellowstone is getting ready to erupt. LP...

When was the last time Yellowstone erupted?

The most recent volcanic activity at Yellowstone consisted of rhyolitic lava flows that erupted approximately 70,000 years ago. The largest of these flows formed the Pitchstone Plateau in southwestern Yellowstone National Park. Learn more: Yellowstone Eruption History The evolution of the Yellowstone Plateau Volcani Field: Past, present, and...

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 do scientists know what’s going on beneath the ground at Yellowstone? Is Yellowstone monitored for volcanic activity?

Yellowstone Volcano is monitored for signs of volcanic activity. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), is a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, the University of Utah, the University of Wyoming, UNAVCO, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the Idaho Geological Survey, and the Wyoming State...

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...

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 hot is Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is a plateau high in the Rocky Mountains, and is snowbound for over six months per year. The mean annual temperature is 2.2°C (36°F), barely above the freezing point of water. However, Yellowstone is also an active geothermal area with hot springs emerging at ~92°C (~198°F) (the boiling point of water at Yellowstone's mean altitude)...
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Date published: May 6, 2019

The National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS) will help USGS better monitor nation’s most dangerous volcanoes

In September 2004, USGS scientists detected sudden, but unmistakable, signs that Mount St. Helens was waking up. Volcano monitors had picked up the occurrence of hundreds of small earthquakes and other signals that the volcano’s crater floor had begun to rise. Within a week, several eruptions blasted clouds of ash into the atmosphere, and soon after, a new lava dome emerged in the crater.

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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

July 18, 2016

Inside USGS, No. 6, Ken Pierce, Heavy Breathing of Yellowstone Caldera

Dr. Kenneth Pierce studied the geology and geomorphology of the greater Yellowstone area for nearly his entire career with the U.S. Geological Survey. From 1965 to present, Dr. Pierce has mapped glacial deposits, pioneered Quaternary dating techniques, conducted research on the Yellowstone Hot Spot, studied the geothermal areas, explored the geology of archaeological sites

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
Attribution: Yellowstone
September 14, 2014

Inside USGS, No. 4, Robert B. Smith

Robert B. Smith of the University of Utah has been collaborating with USGS scientists on Yellowstone geologic topics since the 1960’s. In this interview Bob describes nuances of the Yellowstone volcano story. He shares details of his past and present work and explains how the University of Utah and USGS have a long history of working together on Yellowstone geology.

Attribution: Yellowstone
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).

December 8, 2009

Inside USGS, No. 3, Robert Fournier, Yellowstone

USGS emeritus geologist RobertFournier describes his career working on Yellowstone geysers and hydrothermal systems from the 1960's through 2014. Bob's work along with his USGS colleagues revealed the details of Yellowstone's explosive volcanic past and how its spectacular geysers and other hydrothermal features work.

Attribution: Yellowstone
December 8, 2009

Inside USGS, No. 2, Patrick Muffler, Yellowstone

USGS emeritus geologist Patrick Muffler describes his career working on Yellowstone geysers and hydrothermal systems from the 1960's through 2014. Patrick's work along with his USGS colleagues revealed the details of Yellowstone's explosive volcanic past and how its spectacular geysers and other hydrothermal features work.

Attribution: Yellowstone
December 8, 2009

Inside USGS No. 1, Robert Christiansen, Yellowstone

USGS emeritus geologist Robert Christiansen describes his career working on Yellowstone geology from the 1960's through 2014. Bob's work along with his USGS colleagues revealed the details of Yellowstone's explosive volcanic past including mapping and dating of past super eruptions 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 640,000 years ago.

Attribution: Yellowstone
Image: Alaska Volcano Observatory Operations
February 8, 2009

Alaska Volcano Observatory Operations

USGS scientists Tina Neal (left) and Melissa Pfeffer (right) analyze data as it returns from several volcanos around Alaska.

Attribution: Region 11: Alaska
video thumbnail: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to provide a tour of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory: "What is YVO?", "How
do you monitor volcanic activity at Yellowstone?", "How are satellites used to study deformation?", "Do
you monitor geysers or any other aspect of the Park?", "Are

Attribution: Yellowstone
video thumbnail: Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic features at Yellowstone: "How do we know Yellowstone is a
volcano?", "What is a Supervolcano?", "What is a Caldera?","Why are there geysers at Yellowstone?",
and "What are the other geologic hazards in Yellowstone?"

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Attribution: Yellowstone