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Monitoring Earthquakes in Yellowstone National Park

The Yellowstone region is one of the most seismically active areas in the United States. It experiences an average of around 1,500 to 2,500 located earthquakes per year! The majority of these earthquakes are too small to be felt by humans but are detected by a sophisticated network of about 50 seismometers called the Yellowstone Seismic Network (YSN).

Installation of a broadband seismometer, Yellowstone National Park...
Installation of a broadband seismometer, Yellowstone National Park.

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations (UUSS) operates YSN, and earthquake data are transferred from Yellowstone to the UUSS in real time using a radio and satellite telemetry system. UUSS scientists analyze the earthquake data and report information out via their website.

It is challenging to keep data flowing during harsh winter months, because many of the transmission sites are on tall peaks that experience heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures. Seismometers sometimes go down for short periods of time because the solar panels or antennas get covered in snow and ice. Seismometers that go down during the winter may not be accessible until the spring.

Over 50% of Yellowstone earthquakes occur in swarms

Map of Yellowstone earthquakes as located by the University of Utah...
Map of Yellowstone earthquakes as located by the University of Utah Seismograph Stations from 1973 – 2017. Red circles are all quakes, and blue circles are earthquakes that were part of swarms.

Since 1973, there have been over 48,000 earthquakes located in the Yellowstone region. Over 99% of those earthquakes are magnitude 2 or below and are not felt by anyone. Earthquake swarms (earthquakes that cluster in time and space) account for about 50% of the total seismicity in Yellowstone and can occur anywhere in the Yellowstone region, but they are most common in the east-west band of seismicity between Hebgen Lake and the Norris Geyser Basin. Most swarms are small, containing 10-20 earthquakes, and short, lasting for 1–2 days. However, large swarms that can contain 1,000's of earthquakes and last for months do occur on occasion.

You can read a more detailed account of earthquake swarms and the history of earthquake monitoring in Yellowstone in the January 22, 2018 edition of Caldera Chronicles.

Earthquake Data (from the University of Utah)

Background Information