Yellowstone National Park, once the site of a giant volcano, has begun swelling up, possibly because molten rock is accumulating beneath the surface, scientists report.
Way to start the article, AP! The volcano under Yellowstone, properly known as a caldera, remains as healthy today as it was the last time it blew Idaho, Wyoming and Montana over the international date line. To give a sense of proportion, volcanoes resemble calderas in the same way that an electric Razr scooter and an Airbus A380 both fall in the category of powered transportation.
Calderas have craters like volcanoes, but in Yellowstone’s case it’s hard to see because Yellowstone Park is the crater. Here is a map of the crater with the rim in red:
All that cool geothermic activity that packs in the visitors? Actually a message from nature that you’re walking in a place where the line between you and an “interesting” geologic event is quite thin.
Smith and colleagues report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science that the flow of the ancient Yellowstone crater has been moving upward almost 3 inches per year for the past three years.
That is more than three times faster than ever observed since such measurements began in 1923, the researchers said.
So should we be worried or not? This justaposition from the article amused me:
“[T]here is no evidence of an imminent volcanic eruption,” said Robert B. Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah.
[…] “But we have no idea how long this process goes on before there either is an eruption or the inflow of molten rock stops and the caldera deflates again.”
“No evidence” of an imminent eruption is a bit less reassuring when you consider that no caldera has blown in the history of human civilization. We don’t have “evidence” because we have no idea what an imminent caldera burst would even look like.
None of this means that people should run around panicking. After all, calderas are still unknown in the history of human civilization, and it would be weirdly ironic if one just decided to blow while we’re trying to deal with global warming, peak oil and the Bush deficit. One existential crisis at a time, please.