Dozens of nearly-imperceptible mini-earthquakes have made Yellowstone National Park tremble over the past few days - they might be early warning of an eruption so huge it buries half the U.S. under hot ash.
Located in Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone is famous for its geysers, including "Old Faithful," which blasts steam into the air like clockwork every day. Now geologists studying the recent mini-quakes in the park say we might be in for a big blast. Such blasts tend to come about once every 600 thousand years, and we haven't seen one for roughly that amount of time.
The last big explosion in Yellowstone, according to Scientific American, was roughly 640 thousand years ago, and it covered about 240 cubic miles in hot ash, scalding rocks, and magma. But don't worry yet, says SciAm's David Biello:
Although the earthquake swarm continues, according to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, the volcano alert level remains normal. And a slew of larger earthquakes have occurred throughout the western U.S., Alaska, Puerto Rico and even Pennsylvania in the past week without incident, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In recent years, Yellowstone's caldera has been rising thanks to uplifting magma beneath it-leading to more cracks, hot springs and even more frequent eruptions of Steamboat Geysers. Paired with the earthquakes, such magma movement might presage an eruption-either big or small. Unfortunately, scientists can't really predict when the next such eruption will happen, and the range of possibilities is large: from later today to a million years from now.
How will we know if we should start worrying? The real warning signs will be rapid changes in the shape of the ground as well as volcanic gases leaking from the ground, neither of which have been sighted-yet.
Right now, in some dark Hollywood pitch meeting, Jerry Bruckheimer is mud-wrestling with Michael Bay over the rights to a movie about this potential explodey Yellowstone disaster.
SOURCE: Scientific American
Thanks, Robert Atlas!
Photo by Nina Raingold/Getty Images.