Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: Recent unusual geothermic and seismic activity in Yellowstone Park foretells a coming cataclysmic event in the area.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2003]
Origins: The spectacular natural beauty that is Yellowstone Park is the result of a massive volcanic eruption which took place 600,000 years ago. That cataclysmic event spewed enormous amounts of ash — enough to cover all of the western U.S., much of the midwestern U.S., northern Mexico, and some areas of the eastern Pacific
Yellowstone sits atop an underground volcano. To this day, geothermal activity continues in the area, the presence of the park's geysers bearing witness to this ongoing state of affairs. The park has weathered
The park is constantly in a state of flux, so changes to the state of its features is to be viewed as the ordinary course of things. ("Change is what we expect in Yellowstone," said the park geologist, Hank Heasler.) Yet the perceived radical nature of the geological events of the summer of 2003 leave some worried that a sizeable volcanic event is in the offing.
Norris is the hottest and most seismically active geyser basin in Yellowstone. In the space of a few days in July 2003, acidic ground water dissolved parts of the unpaved trails through it, and the ground temperature in that area shot up to
Each year the area experiences a noticeable change in the color and steam discharge of many of its existing geysers and thermal pools, an event known as "the annual disturbance." The annual disturbance in 2003 was larger than usual and lasted longer than
On 21 August 2003, a magnitude 4.4 earthquake occurred under the southern boundary of the park. Earthquakes are commonplace in Yellowstone (it's one of the most seismically active places on the planet, enduring hundreds of shakings a year), but by far the greatest part of the tremors weathered are of the almost unnoticeable variety. Quakes of a magnitude of 4 or higher are relatively rare, usually taking place only every other year. Within the last few years, seismic activity in the park has decreased mightily, down from a half-dozen to twenty quakes to only one or two a day which causes some to be fearful because according to one widely accepted theory, a multiplicity of small quakes serves to release pressure building along fault lines (where one tectonic plate pushes up against another). If this pressure is not let off in small amounts, so the theory goes, it will intensify until it is all released in one massive quake. The U.S Geological Survey labels this belief a myth:
Seismologists have observed that for every magnitude 6 earthquake there are 10 ofIn 1959 a deadly quake (7.5 on the old Richter scale) hit near the park. It dislodged a huge slice of a mountain west of the park, buried
New measuring techniques have revealed the presence of a bulge under Yellowstone Lake that rises
Although experts at the U.S. Geological Survey concede the 2003 happenings in the Norris Geyser Basin have been a bit unusual, they do not appear to believe they are volcanic in origin:
There is no evidence that magma beneath the enormous Yellowstone caldera is directly involved in the recent changes at Norris or Nymph Lake. Though magma as shallow asWhether recent events and findings at Yellowstone represent nothing more than a slightly unusual blip in the park's geothermal and seismic history or whether they herald a coming disaster can't be definitively stated. Although there is no indication any of the changes suggest an impending eruption, park officials are writing a hazard plan in case the region grows more active.
Barbara "in suspected terrain" Mikkelson
Last updated: 21 July 2007
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