The supervolcano spreads beneath the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and gets its nickname for its ability to inflict devastation globally. It is being monitored by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) for signs that a supereruption is on the way, something that hasn’t occurred for more than 640,000 years. Robert (Bob) Smith of the University of Utah made a fascinating breakthrough in understanding how the volcano system works after noticing a change in the water level in Yellowstone Lake.
His discovery was revealed by geologist Dr Robert Christiansen during the documentary “Inside USGS” on YouTube.
He said: “One of the most interesting additional data came after the first fieldwork and the completion of the initial geological studies.
“Bob Smith of the University of Utah was interested in seeing if we could look for signs of contemporary deformation in the Yellowstone caldera.
“He had recognized some of these indications, particularly in the changes in lake levels of different parts of Yellowstone Lake, and because it is so large, he felt there were indications that the lake basin itself was sloping.
The Yellowstone volcano poses a significant threat
USGS constantly monitors Yellowstone
“Because of this, the lake level rose at one end of the lake and fell at the other end.”
Dr Christiansen explained how his colleague discovered the caldera was rising under Yellowstone Lake.
He added: “He was interested in seeing if we could actually measure it by direct means.
“So one of the things I did at that time was to raise money to get the USGS topographic division into the party.
“We felt that with the deformation that appeared to be there, there should be measurable changes in the elevations of the park.
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Robert Christiansen spoke during the series
“Eventually we raised the funds and surveyed, and the data was provided to Bob Smith and his team who, in turn, integrated it into a series of elevation changes along the caldera.
“They showed that the caldera had risen by about two-thirds of a meter over a 50-year period and correspondingly less elsewhere.”
Subsequent studies would go on to show that this was normal behavior for Yellowstone, as scientists observed periods of lifting, followed by lowering.
Dr Christiansen added in 2014: “Then there was a dome-shaped lift and a rather spectacular amount of lift, indicating that the magnetic system was active.
“Either magma was penetrating the crust or it was heating the hydrothermal system, causing it to expand and elevate the crust – something was happening.
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Recent studies show that the system is “ falling ”
“There was further investigation which showed that after a period of continuous uplift for about a decade, there was a period of stability for about a year, followed by a breakdown.
“So now we know that the Yellowstone caldera is not just rising, but sometimes up and down with some kind of breathing movement.
“Its overall deformation appears to be inflationary, but it is not a constant thing and there are periods of deflation.”
A recent study also suggested that the hotspot may currently be in a state of “decline”.
The results were based on the analysis of volcanic deposits scattered over tens of thousands of miles in the region.
The caldera is located within Yellowstone National Park
University of Leicester volcanologist Thomas Knott said in June: “We found that the deposits previously believed to belong to multiple smaller eruptions were actually colossal sheets of volcanic material from two previously unknown super-eruptions at around nine and 8.7 million. years ago “.
The two super-eruptions occurred during the Miocene and lead to six super-eruptions for the region in this era, suggesting that the area experienced such eruptions on average once every 500,000 years.
In contrast, in the past three million years, the Yellowstone hotspot has seen only two super eruptions.
Scientists believe this may indicate that the frequency of such events is slowing significantly.