Last year, the USGS (US Geological Survey) released a map detailing how the ground surrounding the massive Yellowstone supervolcano has deformed, swelled and dangerously shifted in the past few years due to the magma chamber.
Geophysicist Chuck Wicks of the USGS released the map, demonstrating movement surrounding the volcano’s caldera between 2015 and 2017, using the radar photos produced of Earth’s surface collected from satellites that orbit the planet.
In this short period of two years, the ground surrounding the Norris Geyser Basin swelled and rose up nearly 3 inches. Meanwhile, within the Yellowstone caldera a downdropping of the Earth occurred. In this map, the colored rings display where the elevation of the ground has shifted.
The uplift and subsidence is usually interpreted as due to addition or withdrawal of deep magma and related gases and water at depths five to 15 km [3 to 9 miles] beneath the ground surface,” the USGS reported. “This cycle of uplift and subsidence is common and seems tied to earthquake swarms; that is, swarms appear to release the pressure that caused the initial uplift…thus allowing the region to return to a period of subsidence.”
Remember the “earthquake swarm” at Yellowstone? That has basically been ongoing since June 12 2017. Around 12 to 18 miles out from the location of the Norris uplift, those swarms can also be found on this map. A whopping 1,562 earthquakes had taken place as of August 3, 2017 and who knows how many have occurred since then. The largest one was a magnitude 4.4 earthquake.
However, the occurrence of “earthquake swarms” is not exactly new for Yellowstone. For some perspective, research professor at the University of Utah Jamie Farrell said: “On average, Yellowstone sees around 1,500-2,000 earthquakes per year. Of those, 40 to 50 percent occur as part of earthquake swarms. This swarm is larger than the average swarm we record, but this is a normal thing to happen in Yellowstone (and other volcanic regions throughout the world).”
The University of Utah monitors volcanic activity surrounding Yellowstone.
For getting an accurate perspective on what is happening beneath volcanoes, understanding the deformation of the ground is said to be essential. Over time, major changes occur to the ground surface surrounding a volcano. Factors are at play such as sinking or cracking, swelling, and they can provide a very helpful warning that a volcano is changing in its behavior, and it could possibly indicate an eruption before it occurs.
So far, nothing too terribly unusual is happening to Yellowstone. Wicks reportedly created the latest map by comparing data from 2015 with the satellite info gathered in 2017. A technique known as InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) was utilized, and that uses radar waves as opposed to infrared or visible light. With this technique, researchers have the capability to track the deformation of the ground for instance, when there is cloud cover, or at night. The picture produced is said to be an accurate representation of the changes that have occurred in the ground.
Headlines are still being made about the volcano, and people worry about it causing disaster all the time, and rightfully so.
Scientists from NASA proposed drilling into the actual magma pool of Yellowstone to supposedly alleviate pressure and prevent an eruption last year. However, they also admitted that drilling straight into the magma pool at Yellowstone might cause a catastrophic eruption.
Without a doubt, Yellowstone is the most dangerous volcano in North America and probably the most imminent natural threat to the region period.
(Image credit: Newsweek/USGS)