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

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

2016 (approx.)

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 around Yellowstone Lake, and led field trips into the Park. In this video, Dr. Pierce discusses his work at Yellowstone Lake and how he was able to detect subtle inflation and deflation (or “heavy breathing”) attributed to the subsurface movement of geothermal fluids. Dr. Pierce also talks about his work advising Montana State University students. 

September 14, 2014

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.