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 earthquakes commonly occur at other volcanoes in the world, including volcanoes in California, that have not erupted for centuries or millennia. One variety of ground shaking called “tremor” is observed at Yellowstone's geothermal areas whenever water boils in a geyser.

The largest historic earthquake in the Rocky Mountains was a magnitude 7.3 earthquake at Hebgen Lake northwest of Yellowstone in 1959. It was caused by the extension--or stretching--of the Earth's crust. The earthquake displaced a 40-km-long fault (25 miles) that rose vertically up to 12 meters (40 feet).

Shaking from earthquakes can also change the way that Yellowstone's hydrothermal system behaves. The interval between eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser increased significantly following the 1959 earthquake.

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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...

Can earthquakes trigger volcanic eruptions?

Sometimes, yes. A few large regional earthquakes (greater than magnitude 6) are considered to be related to a subsequent eruption or to some type of unrest at a nearby volcano. However, volcanoes can only be triggered into eruption by nearby tectonic earthquakes if they are already poised to erupt . This requires two conditions to be met: Enough "...

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...

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...

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...

Can we drill into Yellowstone to stop it from erupting?

In some cases, limited scientific drilling for research can help us understand magmatic and hydrothermal (hot water) systems; however, drilling to mitigate a volcanic threat is a much different subject with unknown consequences, high costs, and severe environmental impacts. In addition to the enormous expense and technological difficulties in...

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...

What is the relationship between volcanism and the geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone?

Heat and volcanic gases from slowly cooling magma rise and warm the dense salty water that occupies fractured rocks above the Yellowstone magma chamber. That brine, in turn, transfers its heat to overlying fresh groundwater, which is recharged by rainfall and snowmelt from the surface. Water boiling at depth below the surface is hotter than the...
Filter Total Items: 9
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

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

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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).

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: Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone: When was the last supereruption at
Yellowstone?", "Have any eruptions occurred since the last supereruption?", "Is Yellowstone overdue for
an eruption?", "What does the magma below indicate about a

...
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?"

View

...
Attribution: Yellowstone
Image: Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey
October 17, 1989

Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey

Seismographs at the U.S. Geological Survey record (1) north-south horizontal, (2) east-west horizontal, and (3) vertical components of the earthquake.