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Yellowstone: last big eruption was 640,000 years ago

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  • npat1@juno.com
    The volcano erupts with a near clockwork cycle of every 600,000 years, according to the Web site armageddononline.com, which notes the last big eruption was
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2004
      "The volcano erupts with a near clockwork cycle of every 600,000 years," according to the Web site armageddononline.com, which notes the last big eruption was 640,000 years ago.
      ... bozeman daily chronicle

      My question/concern: The IPCC accounted for scenarios of anthropogenic GHG emissions in their outlooks for the end of the 21st century. However, what if Yellowstone releases its accumulation of GHGs during this century... would that change the IPCC outlook?

      In previous posts, I have expressed my concerns that changes in the weight distribution of ice, and the density and distribution of ocean waters, could add to tectonic/volcanic activity (a GW feedback of sorts). Recently, there has been an increase in quakes. Might there also be increases in volcanism, thermal plumes?

      Yellowstone a hotspot of contention
      Thursday, January 01, 2004

      By SCOTT McMILLION Chronicle Staff Writer
      The Internet news about Yellowstone National Park's volcano sure didn't look cheery.

      In fact, it was ghastly.

      "We are overdue for annihilation," claimed one Web site.

      "There is no question that this thing is going to explode momentarily," asserted another.

      And it went on from there over the past couple of months in chat rooms and e-mail messages.

      One widely posted e-mail claimed the park contained a "dead zone" that was spreading outward, killing everything. Yellowstone Lake was "filled with dead fish floating everywhere."

      Plus, there was a conspiracy afoot.

      "Our wonderful news media is not telling the public a thing about this," the anonymous, but widespread, message maintained.

      It cited as a source the Kansas City Star, which the author of the e-mail presumably saw as a nonparticipant in the conspiracy of silence.

      Like many others from around the nation, a Star reporter had written about the Yellowstone volcano -- a topic that isn't new to most people living in or near the park -- but he had made no calamitous predictions in the Oct. 7 article.

      In fact, the story downplayed any concerns of imminent catastrophe.

      "A good solid newspaper article got falsified on the Internet," said Hank Heasler, the park's geologist. "It's interesting how the anarchy of the Web contributes to misinformation."

      Some people didn't see it that way. Apparently believing anonymous e-mail instead of the newspaper, they denounced the Star, "angry that we hadn't done more about the 'Yellowstone catastrophe,'" wrote Yvette Walker, the paper's readers' representative. Others e-mailed the reporter, telling him he was "either helping the government whitewash the Yellowstone story, or that he's an unwitting dupe."

      Yellowstone was designated as a national park in 1872 because of its unique and fascinating geology. It contains the world's largest set of thermal features: fumaroles and mudpots and geysers that are heated by a "hotspot" of magma under the park's surface.

      That hotspot also constitutes the base of one of the world's largest volcanoes, though it's largely invisible and hasn't erupted for 70,000 years.

      Three times in the past 2.1 million years, the park has blown its top, covering much of the country in deep layers of volcanic ash and wreaking havoc with global weather systems. The last big eruption was 640,000 years ago, and there have been 30 smaller ones since then. The most recent was 70,000 years ago.

      Things are still moving around, though.

      "Yellowstone is one of the world's largest active volcanoes," Heasler said.

      All this has been well known for decades.

      Yet for a considerable period this fall, alarmed people called the park, worried about a mega-explosion.

      "The phones did ring off the hook" for a while in early October, said Stacy Valle, a park spokeswoman.

      But why all the renewed interest, all the heightened fears?

      Part of it stems from new research last summer that detailed a "bulge" on the floor of Lake Yellowstone. It's probably related to thermal activity, Heasler said, but it isn't necessarily new.

      Rather, new technology just defined it better.

      Heasler compared the new underwater mapping to a person with poor eyesight finally putting on a pair of eyeglasses. For years, that person might have admired the shapes of distant hills, but didn't see the trees on them until purchasing spectacles.

      That person's world got more interesting, but that doesn't mean the trees weren't there before, Heasler observed.

      The bulge discovery was outlined in newspapers and broadcasts around the country. Then rumor mongers and apocalyptic types on the Internet got involved.

      "The volcano erupts with a near clockwork cycle of every 600,000 years," according to the Web site armageddononline.com, which notes the last big eruption was 640,000 years ago.

      That site also sells "books, videos and DVDs related to the end of the world" and says it gets 90,000 hits a month.

      Some of those people called the park.

      "There's been a lot of energy and effort devoted to the concerns people have about the park blowing up," said Heasler, who lives in Yellowstone and hasn't packed any bags.

      Another Web site connected the Yellowstone situation to a planetary link with Mars.

      When the National Park Service last summer closed part of the Norris Geyser Basin, the most geologically active place in the park, it added to the speculation. Soil temperatures there reached 200 degrees and a new thermal feature opened up and started splashing acidic mud across a trail.

      For obvious reasons, the area was closed to the public. It was reopened when things cooled off.

      It's all pretty interesting stuff, but not all that unusual at Norris.

      "It occurs basically yearly," Heasler said.

      The idea that Yellowstone is "overdue" for a giant eruption is a "gross overstatement," according to the Web site of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, a project that combines the research talents of the federal government and the University of Utah.

      A more likely event, Heasler said, would be a magma flow, events which happen all the time around the world.

      If the big one does come, it will give warnings and modern instruments likely will detect it, Heasler said.

      The park's frequent, low-intensity earthquakes -- there were an average of six a day in 2002 -- probably would become a lot more intense if a major eruption was brewing, Heasler said.

      The park likely would be evacuated, as would parkside communities, he said, and the media is unlikely to let a story like that go untold.

      "All that's good stuff for a novel, but isn't worth spending a lot of time on now," Heasler added.

      The park is a fascinating geology lab, showcasing changes that normally take hundreds of thousands or millions of years.

      "Here, it's on a daily basis," Heasler said. "The thermal features are normal," but that means they're always rearranging themselves, sometimes causing paths or areas to be closed for reasons of public safety.

      "Is that unusual?" he asked. "Heck no. Just ask the boardwalk crew. But we see no sort of indication of any sort of impending eruption."


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