Is Yellowstone About to Erupt? No.

Eighty two gazillion people have shared articles with me over the last couple of days that suggest Yellowstone is about to erupt. One of the worst of them comes with an absolutely ridiculous “threat map.” I have no idea where they got this thing, but I suspect squatting was involved:

Threat Map Corrected

If you want to know what’s going on at Yellowstone, check with the experts. The foremost among them is Robert Smith at the University of Utah. He’s been one of the lead scientists on nearly every breakthrough in research on the Yellowstone volcano in recent years. Here’s what he had to say about the recent earthquake: “…the earthquakes are in a system that’s dominated by faults as opposed to a system that’s dominated by magmatic activity.” In other words, the quakes aren’t even in the same area as the volcano’s caldera. Plus,the recent level of earthquake activity is completely within historical norms for Yellowstone.

And the running bison? That happens every winter. The footage of running bison predates the recent quake by at least several weeks.

Why are you seeing all these scary articles? It’s simple. People can make money by scaring you into clicking on their article or YouTube video and viewing their ads. Heck, you could argue that I’m guilty of the same thing, profiting from a scary (but clearly labelled as fictional) book series imagining a super-eruption at Yellowstone.

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Look, if you hear Robert Smith saying he’s worried–then it might be reasonable to worry, too. Or if you see the USGS’s alert level change from its current status of normal and green, then it would definitely be reasonable to worry. But the recent flurry of poorly researched internet articles are nothing but fear-mongering click-bait, and certainly not worth worrying about.

13 thoughts on “Is Yellowstone About to Erupt? No.

  1. Thanks, Mike. Liked your comments. Fear-mongering is much more profitable than rational truth, especially when it goes against the accepted narrative. The Yellowstone Hotspot track is over 20 million years old, at least in its expression from Oregon across to Wyoming. Indeed its center is now rather closer to the Wyoming-Montana line near the northeast corner of the park. I’m sure you’ve seen the map of the caldera track beneath the Snake River Plain (I particularly like this one — http://www.mantleplumes.org/RadVolcMigrations.html cowritten by Vic Camp who was a grad student when I was an undergrad in Geology at Washington State Univ.). It shows the half-dozen or so caldera that form the Snake River Plain and how they are progressively older to the west. When you you factor those events into the frequency calculations as well as do some even rudimentary secondary statistics (standard deviation and such), you’ll find even more solace. BTW, I heard a fascinating talk at the Geol Soc Am convention here a few years back that the Yellowstone Hotspot may have been coupled with the Farrallon Spreading Center, in much the way that Iceland is coupled to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. As it was overridden by North America, the elongated spreading center dipped south sending the huge mass of basaltic magma trapped beneath it flowing northward where it erupted as the Columbia Plateau Basalt province. North America continued westward over the hotspot, which burned its path eastward to its present site. And the thermal rise associated with the plume may be related 200+ km extension of the Basin and Range Province. OK, I’m getting too technical. But it is SO COOL! (Or is that HOT!) As for Robert Smith, I’ve been reading his work since I was a geology grad student at Illinois (UIUC) in the late ’70s. I agree, until I see him jump in the helicopter and bug out of Yellowstone or relocate out of Utah, I’ll continue to live in Denver and drive across the Snake River Plain every summer to visit family and friends in Washington state. Cheers!

  2. That map isn’t even correct.. If the Grand Tetons were to erupt , the whole earth would be covered with ash, and darkness . This is silly to think that it would only effect part of the United States . My hat is off to you for trying to calm this mess down.. But doomsday people will always say different ..

    • Yeah, the map is ridiculous. I just edited it to make it more visually clear what I think of it.

  3. thank you for clarifying this, I was wondering where there was someone that could explain what was going on and should we be worried or not

  4. I believe everything the government tells me, there’s no problem with vaccines, the food supply is safe, the water is clean…yes, yes, I believe the IRS, the USGS, the DHS, the folks at FEMA that take good care of us…yes, of course there’s no Fukushima radiation on the west coast (wrong, I took a meter there and the sand is indeed showing much higher readings than normal), there’s just so much wrong putting faith in the government…

    • Having some skepticism about the government is healthy. Rejecting evidence presented by multiple independent scientific and governmental sources is not healthy, but paranoid.

  5. Though I completely agree with you that Yellowstone is not about to blow, one should also take into consideration that because of the laws in place, just like with a deadly asteroid that might be coming towards the earth to obliterate us, the government has laws in place that allow them to keep from the public any information pertaining to a world wide calamity. This is put in place so that there isn’t mass hysteria during said events, BUT it also means that it’s highly likely that we wouldn’t hear about Yellowstone erupting until it was WAY too late. The amount of hysteria that would follow if they were to come out and say that it WAS about to erupt, would probably be crazy. Our best bet is to watch our leaders and such, if they are trying to get the hell out, then we probably should too…though I wouldn’t watch the famous volcanists during this type of event, because where would you be if you are the leading volcanist on Yellowstone, when it is about to erupt? Close by doing tests and monitoring, I would assume.

    • Good points. Now if Robert Smith suddenly books a long vacation in Australia, I’m going to start worrying.

  6. Sure sounds like a cover, don’t want to create panic because we’re not prepared for it to erupt but it is shifting and you can’t deny that…it’s been due for an eruption for the last 1,000 years. That’s 1,000 years of bent up energy….show me proof that it’s NOT going to erupt and I’ll believe you

    • Yellowstone is not overdue for an eruption. That’s another common untruth floating around the internet. The facts: the last four super-eruptions were 4.1, 2.1, 1.3, and 0.64 million years ago respectively. There’s no kind of pattern there other than natural randomness. In addition, the average period between eruptions over the last 30 million years has been 147,000 years. In other words, the caldera is cooling, and the average time between eruptions lengthening. As far as proof that it’s not going to erupt, nobody can show you that. It is going to erupt, there’s no question. But it’s extremely unlikely to happen in your lifetime. You’d be wiser to prep for getting struck by lightning than for a super-eruption at Yellowstone.

  7. Okay, I admit to being a nervous Nellie and as much as I’m scientifically minded, even solid probability arguments don’t comfort me (hubby’s a stats expert and he can’t reassure me). But, I promise I’ll buy the entire series…and maybe actually read them. 😉

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