YVO Update: Activity at Yellowstone and Volcanoes of Desert Southwest

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There are thousands of volcanic features distributed throughout the southwest United States, which are grouped together in volcanic fields. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory monitors these volcanoes using a combination of techniques. While YVO hasn’t seen anything to suggest magma is on the move, the area is stretched and pulled apart to produce numerous tectonic earthquakes. YVO keeps an eye on these volcanoes and Yellowstone Volcano, as described in this monthly video update by Mike Poland, YVO Scientist-in-Charge.


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Length: 00:04:51

Location Taken: Vancouver, WA, US

Video Credits

Video edited by Liz Westby


- Hi everybody, I'm Mike Poland scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. 

This is the YVO monthly update for April 1st of 2021, no fooling. 

Now, before we talk about what happened in Yellowstone over the past month, I thought it might be fun to talk about what else YVO looks at in terms of volcanic activity even though we're the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. We also have the responsibility for monitoring the volcanoes of the Southwestern United States in the four corners region, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. And in fact, there is young volcanism in this area. For example, the Black Rock Desert Volcanic Field in central south central Utah has had an eruption about 10,000 years ago or so. The Zuni Bandera volcanic field West of Albuquerque in New Mexico had an eruption about 3000 years ago. And the youngest eruption in the region was out of Sunset Crater near Flagstaff in the San Francisco Volcanic Field. And that was just a little over 900 years ago. So in fact, it's more likely that magma will reach the surface in the Four Corners area than it will in the Yellowstone area. Where the most recent magmatic eruption was 70,000 years ago. So we do keep an eye on these volcanoes down here using a combination of techniques. 

And we do see activity from time to time. Although we haven't seen anything that suggests that magma is on the move. Now, for example, this is a map of seismicity in Utah over the last week, basically late March of 2021. And there's this seismic swarm right down here in sort of southern Utah. This is sort of on the border of the Black Rock Volcanic Field, but it has all of the characteristics of a tectonic earthquake swarm. And that's because this entire area of the western U.S. is stretching. You can see it in the topography with all these alternating valleys and mountain ranges. And that's a sign that the whole region is being pulled apart. We see lots and lots of earthquakes. In fact, just a year ago, almost a year ago today we had the magnitude 6.5 earthquake in central Idaho. And that was also related to this tectonic extension of the western United States. So we can tell from the type of seismicity this is tectonic seismicity, tectonic earthquakes but of course we keep an eye on it just to make sure that there's no magmatic component to it. 

Okay, well, now that you know a little bit more about YVO's background and what else we monitor, let's talk about what happened in Yellowstone during the month of March. 

There was no particularly noteworthy activity in the Yellowstone region during the month of March. The University of Utah Seismograph Stations which is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Yellowstone seismic network located 105 earthquakes during the month, which is pretty much average. The largest was only a magnitude 2.4 located right here in the northern part of the Park. There were also a couple of small swarms in the Old Faithful region, but that's again pretty average about 50% of all the seismicity in Yellowstone occurs as part of swarms. 

In terms of deformation we haven't seen changes in several years now. This is the last two years of vertical deformation at the White Lake GPS station, which is on the east side of the caldera at the Sour Creek resurgent dome. Each one of these dots is a day of data. And when you see the trend going down that means subsidence and up means inflation or uplift. And you can see over the last two years there's been this overall subsidence trend of just a couple of centimeters about an inch so per year interrupted by little seasonal variations which we see every year. And this has been ongoing since 2015. If we go over to the west side of the caldera and the Mallard Lake resurgent dome this is a GPS station located near Old Faithful. And that same pattern of overall subsidence for the last couple of years is apparent there as well. Again, happening at couple of centimeters about an inch or so per year. Finally, if we go over to the Norris Geyser basin that had been uplifting between 2015 and 2018, but that paused in late 2018, we didn't see much change through 2019 bit of subsidence at the end of 2019 and there's been really nothing since the beginning of 2020. So deformation at Norris continues to be pretty flat, no real changes there. 

And then of course, turning to everyone's favorite geyser, Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser basin that has had three water eruptions in the month of March, one here on March 3rd one here on March 18th and another on March 27th. This is the temperature record in the Steamboat outlet channel. All of this minor activity leads up to a major and then everything decreases as there's no more eruptive activity all. Then we get to more minor activity. And this pattern has been going on now for a couple of years with these three eruptions in March that brings the total number of eruptions of Steamboat for 2021 to seven. 

Well, that does it for the YVO monthly update for April 1st of 2020. Now, remember if you have any questions you can email us anytime yvowebteam@usgs.gov. Take care, stay safe, and we'll see you next month, bye bye.