When will the next large earthquake occur in Yellowstone?

Earthquakes cannot be predicted yet, but modern surveillance conducted with seismographs (instruments that measure earthquake locations and magnitudes) and Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments that measure slow ground movements help scientists understand the state of stress in the Earth's crust. Those stresses could trigger earthquakes as well as magma movement.

Yellowstone lies within a tectonically active region of the western United States. Large earthquakes have occurred there in the past, like the 1959 M7.3 Hebgen Lake earthquake just west of Yellowstone National Park, and they will occur again in the future, but it is impossible to know when.


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Can earthquakes trigger volcanic eruptions?

Sometimes, yes. A few historic large regional earthquakes (greater than magnitude 6) are considered by scientists to be related to a subsequent eruption or to some type of unrest at a nearby volcano. The exact triggering mechanism for these historic examples is not well understood, but the volcanic activity probably occurs in response to a change...

Are earthquakes at Yellowstone related to volcanism?

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 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...

Is Yellowstone monitored for volcanic activity?

Yes. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), is a partnership between the United States 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 Geological Survey. YVO closely monitors volcanic...

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...

Can you release some of the pressure at Yellowstone by drilling into the volcano?

Scientists agree that drilling into a volcano would be of questionable usefulness. In addition to the enormous expense and technological difficulties in drilling through hot, mushy rock, drilling is unlikely to have much effect. At near magmatic temperatures and pressures, any hole would rapidly become sealed by minerals crystallizing from the...

Do earthquakes large enough to collapse buildings and roads accompany volcanic eruptions?

Not usually. Earthquakes associated with eruptions rarely exceed magnitude 5, and these moderate earthquakes are not big enough to destroy buildings and roads. The largest earthquakes at Mount St. Helens in 1980 were magnitude 5, large enough to sway trees and damage buildings, but not destroy them. During the huge eruption of Mount Pinatubo in...

Can an eruption at one volcano trigger an eruption at another nearby volcano?

There are a few historic examples of simultaneous eruptions from volcanoes or vents located within about 10 km of each other, but it's very difficult to determine whether one eruption caused the other. To the extent that these erupting volcanoes or vents have common or overlapping magma reservoirs and hydrothermal systems, magma rising to erupt...
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Date published: January 21, 2014

The Yellowstone Volcano: Past, Present and Future

What is all the buzz about in the Yellowstone area? Is it really dangerous? On January 23rd Jake Lowenstern, Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory will explain what is happening now with earthquakes, ground uplift, and steam explosions.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Date published: May 14, 2001

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Established

 The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park and the University of Utah have signed an agreement to establish the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory to strengthen long-term monitoring of earthquakes and the slumbering volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park.

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House damage in central Oklahoma from a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in 2011
February 23, 2017

Damage in central Oklahoma from a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in 2011

House damage in central Oklahoma from the magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011. Research conducted by USGS geophysicist Elizabeth Cochran and her university-based colleagues suggests that this earthquake was induced by injection into deep disposal wells in the Wilzetta North field. Credit: Brian Sherrod, USGS

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

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.

Earthquake damage from the 1959 Hebgen Lake event in the Yellowston...

Earthquake damage from 1959 Hebgen Lake event in Yellowstone Plateau

This house fell into Hebgen Lake during the 1959 earthquake and floated along the shore until it came to rest here. The owner of the house, then-70-year-old Mrs. Grace Miller, escaped only after kicking out her front door and leaping a 5-foot-wide ground crack as her house dropped into the lake.