Contact USGS

  • About
  • Observatories
  • Activity
  • Education
  • Publications

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

= Yellowstone National Park
= Caldera
Yellowstone Monthly Update
Tuesday, September 02, 2014 11:04 AM
 Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
 Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN
YVO's Mission
The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory provides timely monitoring and hazard assessment of volcanic, hydrothermal, and earthquake activity in the Yellowstone Plateau region.

Features   (archive)
Quick Links

FAQ About a New Ash Distribution Model Applied to Yellowstone Eruption
August 27, 2014

The likelihood of a volcanic supereruption from Yellowstone, or any other location on Earth, remains very low in any given year, yet the U.S. Geological Survey is frequently asked about the likely thickness and distribution of ash deposits if Yellowstone were to erupt. This prompted USGS scientists to use a new computer model called Ash3D to simulate the distribution of volcanic ash from a hypothetical large explosive eruption at Yellowstone. A research paper explaining the results was published in Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems on August 27, 2014, and we have developed some FAQ to help explain the background to this study.

The researchers discovered that during very large volcanic eruptions, ash transport is dominated by a rapidly expanding umbrella cloud that results in significant distribution of ash upwind from the volcanic vent. "In essence, the eruption makes its own winds that can overcome the prevailing westerlies that normally dominate weather patterns in the United States," explained USGS geologist Larry Mastin, first author on the manuscript and co-developer of the computer model. "This helps explain the distribution from large Yellowstone eruptions of the past, where considerable amounts of ash reached the west coast." The authors also note that a fraction of an inch or less of ash is likely to be deposited at distances further than 1500 miles, such as on the east and west coasts of the United States. To learn more, please read our Frequently Asked Questions about the model and its application to Yellowstone.

A Short Statement Regarding Recent Rumors
August 08, 2014

Though we love doing research at YVO, we prefer it when the research is on topics geological rather than the origin of false rumors. Nevertheless, we have received enough concerned emails and phone calls that we've spent some time tracking down a few of the statements made on various "alternative Internet news sources."

1) First, everyone should know that geological activity, including earthquakes and ground uplift/subsidence is well within historical norms and seismicity is actually a bit low at present.

2) Concern over road closures is much overblown. There's been one road closure of a small side road – just over three miles long – that was closed for two days. As one can imagine, it is not easy to maintain roads that pass over thermal areas where ground temperatures can approach those of boiling water. Roads at Yellowstone often need repair because of damage by thermal features as well as extreme cold winter conditions.

3) The park has not been evacuated. This one is pretty easy to verify by everyone. If the Old Faithful webcam shows people, or if news articles are coming out about a hobbyist's remote control helicopter crashing into a hot spring, Yellowstone is certainly open for business.

4) No volcanologists have stated that Yellowstone is likely to erupt this week, this month or this year. In one recent article, a name was attributed to a "senior volcanologist", but that person does not appear to exist, and a geologist with that name assures us that he did not supply any quotes regarding Yellowstone.

5) Finally, we note that those who've kept track of Yellowstone over the past decade or so, have seen a constant stream of "predictions" regarding imminent eruptions at Yellowstone. Many have had specific dates in mind, none had a scientific basis, and none have come true.

We will continue to provide updates on geological activity at Yellowstone, and educational materials to help understand the science around Yellowstone monitoring.

Virtually everything known about Yellowstone's spectacular volcanic past comes from the scientists who work at this observatory, at all our eight member agencies. We're the ones who mapped the deposits, figured out the ages of the eruptions, measured the gases, located the earthquakes, and tracked the ground movement. A few of us have been doing it for over forty years. We will continue to help you understand what's happening at Yellowstone now, and what's likely to happen in the future.

Using Seismic Waves to Image the Yellowstone Magma Storage Region
June 25, 2014

How do we know what's beneath Yellowstone, and how can we image the shallow magma? Seismologists at the University of Utah (a YVO member agency) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology undertook a study to image the Yellowstone magma reservoir through a technique called seismic tomography. Using improved methods and data from thousands of earthquakes; they discovered that the magma reservoir is much larger than inferred in previous studies. Read our website article to find out how the study was conducted and what they discovered. The complete results from this new approach are published in the Journal Geophysical Research Letters.

FAQ about Recent News Reports - Earthquake, Ground Uplift, Animal Movement, and Helium
April 02, 2014
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of news, real and imagined, about the Yellowstone volcanic system. Below is a brief FAQ about several topics that have appeared in recent news reports.

Has earthquake activity at Yellowstone increased dramatically over the last month?
With the latest swarms, earthquakes are elevated, but are not unusual for Yellowstone. Below is a bar chart that shows the last 20 years of earthquakes in the north-central part of the park. The previous uptick in earthquakes in this part of the park was during the previous period of uplift in this region.

Is the recent episode of ground deformation worrisome?
No. Current rates of ground deformation are well within historical norms. Please see our February 18, 2014 Information Statement, for more information about ground deformation at Yellowstone.

Are animals leaving Yellowstone National Park?
According to the park, any animal migrations are typical for this time of year. Most of the recent videos on the internet that show running bison were filmed weeks (at least) before Sunday's earthquake. Park spokesman Al Nash discusses this and other topics in a YouTube video.

Do helium emissions at Yellowstone signal an impending eruption?
No. YVO Scientist-in-Charge Jacob Lowenstern and colleagues recently published research on helium (He) emissions at Yellowstone in the journal Nature. The new research looked at apparent changes in the helium output of the Yellowstone area during its two-million-year volcanic history, compared with the previous two billion years of comparative stability. The research has nothing to do with current activity at Yellowstone, and has no implications about volcanic hazards. For a humorous and informative take on the new research, read the Los Angeles Times article, "It's up, up and away for ancient trapped helium at Yellowstone," or watch the video "Ancient Helium Is Escaping by the Ton from Yellowstone."

For additional information, see the April 1, 2014 Monthly Activity Update.
Featured Articles
Internet Mapping Service
Yellowstone Volcanic History
Yellowstone Hazards
University of Utah Seismographs
University of Utah Research Group
Images, Podcasts, Videos, and Webcams
Frequently Asked Questions

Quick Facts
Location: Wyoming and Montana
Latitude: 44.615° N
Longitude: 110.6° W
Elevation: 2,805 (m) 9,203 (f)
Volcano type: Caldera
Composition: basalt to rhyolite
Most recent eruption: 70,000 years ago—lava, current—hydrothermal explosions