Earthquakes in Yellowstone Do Not Mean the World is Ending – But They Could
In case you've been living under a rock (or maybe hiding there), there have been a lot of earthquakes at Yellowstone recently. For the record, we'd like to clarify that when we share news of these quakes, it does not mean the world is about to end - although it could.
The scientific geniuses just told Newsweek that the chance of an eruption at Yellowstone is 1 in 730,000.
An interesting thing happens every time we pass along the latest quake information about Yellowstone from the USGS. There's one group of people who immediately think that the super-volcano has awakened and we're about to blow sky high. Then, there's another group that immediately poo-poo's the quakes as meaning nothing. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but both groups are technically wrong.
It is true that earthquake swarms are normal at Yellowstone. Hundreds of quakes happen every week, most registering 1 or less on the Richter scale. It's a geological fact that this is a seismically-active area. But, it's not a regular thing for Yellowstone to have quakes over 2.5 on the Richter scale happening like they have frequently. The 4.5 that occurred last week was the strongest the region has seen in 3 years. But, the USGS cannot accurately predict volcanic eruptions.
But, for the crowd that wants to jump up and down and claim these quakes mean nothing, there's no guarantee of that either. The top dogs at the USGS that have studied volcanoes and earthquakes their entire career will tell you that there's no absolute way to know if a volcano (or super-volcano) is going to erupt. There is conjecture based on past data, but it's still a possibility that the recent quakes COULD lead to an event. On the other hand, it may not.
But, even the USGS knows what is possible. They have done extensive studies modeling what ash fall from a supervolcano might look like. To summarize, all of us in the Magic Valley would need new roofs, if we survived the initial blast. The map estimates are not pretty.
One reason many of us watch the Yellowstone quakes is due to the fact that Mt St. Helens had earthquake swarms leading up to a 5.1 that preceded its eruption back in 1980.
The Yellowstone super-volcano is one of the most interesting geological features in the United States. Yes, it's a potentially catastrophic volcano if/when it erupts. No, the odds are not high that it will happen in our lifetime. But, it is still an area to watch closely, just in case.