Some researchers and residents around Yellowstone are beginning to wonder if the hundreds of small earthquakes that have been happening in the area are a grim forecast of a disaster in the making. Simmering beneath the glorious majesty of the snow-capped mountains and lush green meadows of Yellowstone is one of the largest volcanoes in the world. Scientists say that millions of years ago, the volcano erupted with a blast a thousand times more powerful than the eruption at Mount St. Helens, with ash being catapulted as far away as Louisiana. However, geologists say that there is no risk of any eruption like that happening again, and even a minor eruption is not likely any time soon.
Still, some researchers and residents around Yellowstone are beginning to wonder if the increasing frequency of small earthquakes that have been happening in the area are Mother Nature's warning that major fireworks are about to begin. But the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, which monitors Yellowstone for seismic activity has not changed the alert level of the volcano, which is still at "normal."
Online disaster forums such as Armageddononline.com have been abuzz with keeping Internet visitors apprised of daily events happening at Yellowstone. One site even went so far as to post a warning accompanied by the logo of the U.S. Geological Survey, advising everyone living within 100 miles of Yellowstone to leave because of dangerous poisonous gases that are escaping due to the recent earthquakes. The site has now been taken down after complaints that site visitors might believe it was an official source. USGS attorneys are investigating to determine whether federal charges should be levied against the site's owner because of violating the USGS trademark.
Yellowstone and the surrounding areas experience hundreds of earthquakes each year, often in "swarms" of quakes in rapid succession. For a week beginning on December 26, 2008, there were approximately 900 earthquakes, which was evidently the most energetic earthquake swam in more than 20 years. Almost all the quakes were too weak for most people to even notice, but the most powerful quake was a 3.9 magnitude temblor, only strong enough to cause slight damage. here has been no public speculation about what caused the December swarm, but scientists are analyzing the data they gathered and it could take months before they are able to issue a statement in conclusion.
"I could come up with 100 different theories without any evidence for them and they would all be equally likely," said Jake Lowenstern, the scientist in charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. "Unless you have some reason to say that's what's going on, then you're not going to get a whole lot of people convinced by your speculation." Hank Heasler, a geologist at Yellowstone, furthered Lowenstern's statements by saying that the odds of a huge eruption are about the same as the odds of a meteorite hitting Earth. According to a paper co-authored by the two, large hydrothermal eruptions occur only about every 200 years, leaving behind football field-sized craters.
New equipment has been installed in the park in recent years, and geologists hope the data gathered from those sensors will help to provide a definitive picture of what activity is causing the swarm of earthquakes. In the meantime, Loewenstern and others are content with biding their time, at least for this generation. "Statistically, it would be surprising to see an eruption the next hundred years," Lowenstern said.