Summary of 2010 Madison Plateau, Yellowstone Earthquake Swarm
Retrospective analysis shows that the 2010 Madison Plateau swarm began on January 15, 2010 with a few small earthquakes and picked up in intensity on the 17th of January. By the end of February 2010, earthquake activity at Yellowstone had returned to near-background levels, but activity has picked up somewhat in early April 2010. The swarm is located about 10 miles (16 km) northwest of the Old Faithful area on the northwestern edge of the Yellowstone Caldera. Swarms have occurred in this area several times over the past 30 years. Visual observation of landforms and geothermal features by Yellowstone National Park personnel did not show any changes that could be attributed to the earthquakes.
This swarm is now the second largest recorded swarm at Yellowstone. It was longer (in time) and included more earthquakes than last year's swarm beneath Yellowstone Lake (December '08/January '09). Calculations, by the University of Utah Seismology Research Group, of the total seismic energy released by all the swarm earthquakes corresponds to one earthquake with an approximate magnitude of 4.4. The largest recorded swarm at Yellowstone remains the Fall 1985 swarm, which was located in a similar location, in the NW corner of the Yellowstone Caldera.
As of April 6, 2010 a total of 2,347 earthquakes had been automatically located for the entire swarm, including 16 with a magnitude greater than 3.0; 141 with M2.0-2.9; 742 with M1.0-1.9; and 1,361 with M0.0-0.9. The largest events were a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8 that occurred after 11 PM MST on January 20, 2010. Both events were felt throughout the park and in surrounding communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
See the University of Utah Seismograph Stations for the most recent earthquake data. Analysts continue to work through all the automatic earthquake locations, and are refining hypocenter locations, depths and magnitudes for inclusion in the earthquake catalog. As the events are refined, they are listed on the UUSS website and loaded into the ANSS catalog . Seismograph recordings are also available online by clicking on the station of interest on the Yellowstone seismograph network station map.
Swarms are common at Yellowstone
The number of earthquakes per day throughout the swarm was well above average at Yellowstone. Nevertheless, swarms are common at Yellowstone, with 100s to 1000s of events, some of which can reach magnitudes greater than 4.0. There were about 900 earthquakes during the December 2008 - January 2009 Yellowstone Lake swarm. The largest earthquake was a magnitude 3.9. The 1985 swarm, also on the northwest rim of the caldera but several miles from the current swarm, lasted for three months. During the 1985 swarm there were over 3000 total events recorded, with magnitudes ranging up to M4.9.
Although we give earthquake counts for previous swarms, it is not strictly correct to compare small differences in the number of earthquakes from one swarm to another. The number of earthquakes located depends on how close the earthquakes are to the monitoring equipment, the type and number of the seismometers in the network, and the software for analyzing the earthquakes. Our current monitoring capabilities allow for us to record many more earthquakes than we recorded in 1985, especially on the lower end of the magnitude scale. Even in the past year, the difference in the swarm locations and a change in software used to analyze the earthquakes makes it difficult to directly compare the earthquake count from last year's Yellowstone Lake Swarm to the current swarm. However, the earthquake count is still a useful number, especially for comparing the number of earthquakes from a swarm to other days during that year. To see the differences throughout the year in earthquake counts, please see Graphs of earthquake activity for the years 1994 to 2009.
Seismologists Continue to Review the Earthquakes
Earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 2.5 are automatically located and then automatically plotted on the University of Utah Map of Recent Earthquakes. The smaller events must be analyzed by a seismic analyst who determines which are the correct earthquakes from a specific area. Because the smaller events need to be individually located, they are added to the map later than those that are automatically located. The delay in reporting the smaller earthquakes is usually not very noticeable, except when there are large numbers of very small earthquakes. The smaller earthquakes can be viewed on the University of Utah Yellowstone seismic network helicorders. Please keep in mind that all of the earthquakes will be analyzed but it will take time to get to the smaller ones.To learn more about why seismologists need to review earthquakes see our Frequently Asked Question, How are Yellowstone earthquakes analyzed and mapped?
If you feel and earthquake, please report it.
Many of the larger (> M 2.5) earthquakes have been felt in the Park and in the surrounding areas. If you feel earthquakes, please fill out a form on the USGS "Did You Feel It?" web site. Information collected from the form is used for scientific research. Maps are generated by the form information for each felt earthquake. For more information about what others have felt, see the shake map created by responses after the M3.8 on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 23:16.
We Continue to Monitor Yellowstone Volcano
YVO staff from the USGS, University of Utah, and Yellowstone National Park continue to carefully review all data streams that are recorded in real-time. At this time, there is no reason to believe that magma has risen to a shallow level within the crust or that a volcanic eruption is likely. Yellowstone National Park is in a region of active seismicity associated with regional Basin and Range extension of the Western U.S., as well as volcanism of the Yellowstone volcanic field. Pressurization due to crustal magma bodies of the Yellowstone hotspot and associated shallow geothermal reservoirs can also contribute to earthquakes. Scientists continue to research the origin of these and other Yellowstone earthquakes.
The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a partnership of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.
Other items of interest
- Closest online helicorder: YMR. It is also interesting to view helicorders that record the seismic activity from further away, such as YTP. YTP is more than 60 km away and therefore filters out the smaller earthquakes.
- Earthquake Data: ANSS catalog search
- Jan 8, 2009: Yellowstone Lake Swarm Summary Page, compilation of swarm information for the Dec 2008 - Jan 2009 Yellowstone swarm.
- Oct 2004 Web Article: Earthquake Swarms at Yellowstone
- Yearly earthquake plots: Graphs of earthquake activity for the years 1994 to 2009
- The Old Faithful webcam provides views of Old Faithful along with weather information.
- Although the current swarm was not triggered by a large earthquake such as the January 12, 2010 M7.0 Haiti earthquake, in Nov 2002 there was a swarm of earthquakes at Yellowstone that were triggered by the Nov 3, 2002 Denali earthquake. See the University of Utah Press Release: Alaska Quake Seems to Trigger Yellowstone Jolts Small Tremors Rattle National Park After Big Quake 2,000 Miles Away. And the later release in May 2004: Quake in Alaska Changed Yellowstone Geysers
- Jan 2004 Web Article: Frequently asked questions about findings at Yellowstone Lake
- Nov. 2007 Web Article: Recent ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera
- Swarm paper by YVO scientists: Earthquake swarm and b-value characterization of the Yellowstone volcano-tectonic system
- March 2007: Preliminary Assessment of Volcanic and Hydrothermal Hazards in Yellowstone National Park and Vicinity.
- Nov. 2006: Volcano and Earthquake Monitoring Plan for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, 2006- 2015
- 2006 Paper on Supervolcanoes:
- 2006 Web Article: Satellite Technologies Detect Uplift in the Yellowstone Caldera
- NVEWS report May 2005: An Assessment of Volcanic Threat and Monitoring Capabilities in the United States: Framework for a National Volcano Early Warning System
- 2005 Article: Truth, fiction and everything in between at Yellowstone
- 2005 Fact Sheet: Steam Explosions, Earthquakes, and Volcanic Eruptions — What's in Yellowstone's Future?
- 2004 Fact Sheet: Tracking Changes in Yellowstone's Restless Volcanic System
- 2003 Web Article: Notable Changes in Thermal Activity at Norris Geyser Basin Provide Opportunity to Study Hydrothermal System