Yellowstone has been violently shaken by approximately 300 earthquakes in May, raising concerns regarding an eruption the supervolcano could produce, one of which some say it is ‘overdue.’ The US Geological Survey (USGS) stated that 274 tremors had hit the national park in the last 28 days.
The tremors have been rather small, with the most massive one reaching a magnitude of 3.1 on May 29th. Some experts did warn that it is not necessarily the size of an earthquake that could probably blow up, but the amount of them.
Is a Supervolcano Due?
Portland State University Geology Professor Emeritus Scott Burns said: “If you get swarms under a working volcano, the working hypothesis is that magma is moving up underneath there.”
However, other specialists do not agree with the notion that an earthquake swarm close to a volcano could always be a sign of future calamities.
Jamie Farrell at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City believes this is just part of the natural cycle for Yellowstone volcano, saying: “Earthquake swarms are fairly common in Yellowstone.”
Later, the USGS has tried to calm the waters by stating that earthquake swarms in Yellowstone are rather common: “There are always lots of earthquakes, geyser eruptions, and the ground moving up and down. But that’s what Yellowstone does! Yellowstone being Yellowstone.”
Yellowstone’s National Park Service revealed that the area usually encounters at least 700 earthquakes per year, which means that Yellowstone can register about 3,000 in a year when considering the grand scheme.
The USGS says: “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.”
Drowning the Heat
The Yellowstone supervolcano, the part that is mainly located in the state of Wyoming, had last erupted on a massive scale about 640,000 years ago. As per the USGS, the possibility of another eruption is one-in-730,000. Although 640,000 years have passed since the last significant blowup, Yellowstone is getting closer to one, but which could be thousands of years away.
Some experts are trying to understand more about major eruptions, with one NASA researcher, engineer Brian Wilcox, claiming he found a unique method to stop a massive blow up, namely by pouring cold water into Yellowstone’s magma cavities.
About 60 to 70 percent of the heat produced by Yellowstone gets into the atmosphere, but the rest remains inside. After making a hole down to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) into the volcano, the NASA engineer’s idea is to pour high-pressure water, which will enable the cool liquid to take some of the heat.
Wilcox said that the concept could cost $3.5 billion and would additionally help by using the stream from the water and magma mix to produce carbon-free geothermal electricity at a more affordable price than alternative energy currently used.
Wilcox explained: “The thing that makes Yellowstone a force of nature is that it stores up heat for hundreds of thousands of years before it all goes kablooey all at once. It would be good if we drained away that heat before it could do a lot of damage.”
However, not everyone is convinced about the practicability in the engineer’s idea, with USGS scientist Jake Lowenstern saying that the concept is rather ‘fanciful.’