Is Yellowstone Overdue for an Eruption?
Written by Andrew-Rossi on February 4, 2021
With one of the world’s largest active supervolcanoes right next door, you can’t help but wonder – how long before Yellowstone decides to blow its top?
The volcanic activity at Yellowstone National Park is what makes it the incredible sight it has been for hundreds of thousands of years. But that activity is driven by powerful forces, that shaped that same landscape we cherish.
Is Yellowstone overdue for an eruption?
That is the question answered by Mike Poland, the Scientist-In-Change at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a consortium of nine state and federal agencies that provide timely monitoring and hazard assessment of all the activity in and around Yellowstone: volcanic, hydrothermal, and earthquake.
Poland’s answer to the ominous question is blunt and scientific: no.
“One of the most common misconceptions about Yellowstone (is that) a big explosive eruption at Yellowstone is overdue, something I’m sure you’ve all heard. This isn’t true, and there’s two reasons why this is the case.”
The two reasons Poland cites are based on years of observation and scientific interpretation.
- Volcanoes don’t erupt on schedules – eruptions occur when there is enough magma under the surface, and enough pressure to push it to the surface. Yellowstone has neither of these things.
- After thousands of years, Yellowstone isn’t going up – it’s pushing down.
Yellowstone’s massive magma chamber isn’t very molten – only 5% to 15%. That amount isn’t enough to trigger the massive eruption everyone fears.
Meanwhile, Yellowstone’s magma chamber is slowly working its way further into the Earth’s crust. There’s no pressure forcing that magma upward – the opposite of eruption conditions.
Even if Yellowstone erupted on a regular schedule, it still wouldn’t erupt anytime soon.
Poland goes further.
“Occasionally you’ll hear that there’s 600,000 years or so between Yellowstone eruption, and the last one was 631,000 years ago. Well, the last part of that’s the only part that’s true. 631,000 years ago, the Yellowstone Caldera formed. But before that was the Henry’s Fork Caldera – that was about 1.3 million years ago. And before that was the Huckleberry Ridge Caldera, and that was 2.1 million years ago. And if you look at the time period between those, the average eruption interval between these explosions is actually 725,000 years or so, which means that actually, we have another 100,000 years or so to go.”
The facts are clear – Yellowstone isn’t predictable, but it is observable. And its current activity tells scientists that it won’t be blowing its top anytime soon.
“Yellowstone is not overdue, and frankly, if you hear someone on a documentary or on the internet or something say Yellowstone’s overdue, you’ll know right off the bat that they don’t know what they’re talking about at all.”