Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful National Park in the Wyoming wilderness, boasting photogenic mountain peaks, fertile forests and tranquil lakes. But beneath Yellowstone’s surface lurks a totally different picture. For the entire park is actually sitting on top a of active supervolcano caldera, packed with enough power to decimate an entire continent.
And USGS scientists have just made a seismic discovery about the most dangerous areas in Yellowstone, capable of triggering “larger events”.
A recent USGS report on the processes capable of forming faults at Yellowstone’s surface reads: “The Basin and Range Province, a region in the western United States characterised by alternating valleys and fault-bounded mountain ranges.
“The Basin and Range Province began forming at this latitude about 15 million years ago as the earth’s crust was stretched in an east-west direction.
“The eastern-most boundary of the Basin and Range Province reaches western Wyoming, including YNP and the Teton mountain range, and contains faults that are still active and capable of large earthquakes.
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“Whereas other faults in the park are considered to be capable of medium sized earthquakes (magnitude 5 or 6), Basin and Range faults could produce larger events (in the range of magnitude 7).”
Yellowstone has witnessed as many as 87 tremors in the last month, which some geologists have interpreted as an indication of an imminent eruption at the supervolcano.
The biggest of the recent earthquakes was a 2.5 on the Richter scale, striking on May 7, according to USGS data.
Most of the other earthquakes have been of similar strength, but experts believe quantity is as important as strength.
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Professor Scott Burns of Portland State University, has said a spate of small-scale tremors around a volcano signifies magma and gasses beneath the surface are beginning to concentrate.
Professor Burns said: “If you get swarms under a working volcano, the working hypothesis is that magma is moving up underneath there.”
However, others disagree about whether a spate of earthquakes surrounding a volcano could be a sign of things to come.
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.
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“There is no indication that this swarm is related to magma moving through the shallow crust.”
If the Wyoming volcano were to erupt an estimated 90,000 people would immediately die and two-thirds of the USA would immediately be made uninhabitable.
The large spew of ash into the atmosphere would block out sunlight and directly affect life beneath it creating a “nuclear winter”.